Getting women into STEM careers is key to economic growth

As part of our female innovation series, we explore the work of Anne-Marie Imafidon, who wants to encourage more women to enter the fields of maths and science

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Imafidon wants to normalise maths, so that it becomes more routine for girls to do it

In spite of her impressive academic credentials, Anne-Marie Imafidon is one of the most down to earth CEOs you could ever meet. One of four gifted children, she gained GCSEs in computing and maths by age 10, A-levels by age 11, and had completed a master’s degree at Oxford University by the age of 20. Imafidon has since worked for a plethora of blue chip companies from Lehman Brothers to Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, where no doubt the six languages she spoke by the age of 10 came in handy.

In 2013, aged just 23, Imafidon set up Stemettes, a social enterprise promoting women and girls who are considering STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and maths). Through sessions and ‘hackathons’  – coding sessions for girls  – Imafidon promotes confidence in girls who show an interest in STEM.

The revelation over the poor number of women in STEM-related careers came to Imafidon after she had completed her masters and was invited to speak on women in computing in the US. Imafidon said: “It wasn’t until then that I even realised: I was a woman in tech.”

Her mission, through Stemettes, is to normalise maths. “You’re allowed to say you’re not good at maths in public and joke about it, but you’d never dream of saying you’re not great at English or can’t read,” Imafidon said. “People ascribe maths to a genius and all the stereotypes that come with that: crazy hair, smelling, liking cats, drinking coffee and working in the dark.

Imafidon believes it’s a fear of failure that holds many women back from pursuing STEM careers

“If you’re a parent and pro-maths, you’re seen as a tiger mum. Though trying to understand maths means we have a better chance of survival – whole global systems run from it.”

Imafidon explains that if she becomes a mother, she doesn’t want her kids to see her as an oddity or feel that their parent works in a shrinking sector for women: “On a macro level, I know tech is driving so much of our GDP. There’s a shortage of people in those careers, why don’t we have more girls in this industry for our own sakes?”

Yet it’s a fear of failure that Imafidon believes holds many women back: “There’s a difference between men and women’s confidence in their own abilities: if you have a job description, and it has 10 points on it, a woman might have eight of them but won’t apply. A man may only have three, but will apply for it anyway and wing it from there.”

These patterns form early on, she explained. On the rare occasions they do run mixed groups, Imafidon believes they have to put in double the resources for boys: “Girls have a much better grasp of things, for the boys, so many things just don’t come together and they need more help.”

Having done this for four years, Imafidon has worked with around 15,000 girls directly, giving the Stemettes an insight into what works at a grass roots level, normalising maths, and making it fun for girls to succeed in.

Imafidon now wants to carry the message more mainstream: “I’m on a mission to get a female character on Eastenders: she’s doing a PhD in Maths and she’s normal.”

When she’s not sitting on a couple of boards, including Durham University’s Computer Sciences department, or running Stemettes, or speaking internationally, Imafidon likes to “catch up on sleep and watching TV”.