Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon
Introducing children to the work of female STEM role models is an important way to inspire girls and young women into STEM careers while challenging stifling industry stereotypes.
Traditionally, STEM subjects aren’t thought of as ‘creative’. Yet they are, of course – and this was why they fascinated Anne-Marie Imafidon when she was a girl.
“I realised that I could learn about a principle and then apply it in lots of different ways,” she says. “That’s so creative! Applying knowledge is something I love about STEM, and computer science in particular, which I always thought was so clean, logical and repeatable. As far as I’m concerned, STEM is the gift that keeps on giving.”
It helped that Imafidon was something of a STEM child prodigy. At 11, she passed A-level computing – the youngest girl ever to do so – and was just 20 when she received her master’s degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from The University of Oxford.
Now she is CEO of STEMettes, a social enterprise working to inspire and support young women into science, technology, engineering and maths careers.
Increasing the visibility of female role models
It’s not rocket science, but one way of getting girls and young women interested in STEM subjects is to increase the visibility of female STEM role models.
“No-one ever needs to say to a girl: ‘Did you know you could become a police officer?’,” says Imafidon. “That’s because we see female police officers in TV and film dramas all the time and they’re part of the culture.
“Women in STEM need the same profile. But it’s not enough to make young people more aware of, say, female engineers. We have to make their parents, guardians, teachers and influencers more aware of them, too.”
Getting female STEM role models into schools is an important way to inspire children and challenge industry stereotypes; but, because of the coronavirus pandemic, that won’t be possible for the foreseeable future. However, Imafidon has been using online workshops to fill the gap.
Recently, as part of the STEM Mode In series of online events, she invited structural engineer, author and women in engineering champion, Roma Agrawal, to talk to children via a Zoom meeting.
Women in STEM need the same profile. But it’s not enough to make young people more aware of, say, female engineers. We have to make their parents, guardians, teachers and influencers more aware of them, too.
“They got to see Roma, hear from her, ask her questions and carry out some activities themed around her work,” says Imafidon.
“It’s important to make women like Roma visible, create an awareness of who they are and what they do, and then give girls a connected activity that they can remember, understand and be inspired by.
“Young women need to be aware of the breadth of career opportunities that STEM offers. More knowledge will help them make better, more informed decisions.”
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Understanding the breadth of STEM career opportunities
The STEM industries can play their part by broadening routes to entry. “The routes to a career in engineering need to be broad as they are for IT, for example,” says Imafidon.
It is crucial companies are ensuring that women can move up the career ladder – and around in their careers – as easily as their male counterparts.
Imafidon’s advice to anyone thinking about a career in STEM is to find a community and tap into it, whether that’s online or in person.
“Interact with each other and compare and contrast your experiences,” she says. “Don’t do it alone. Find a tribe – like our STEMette Society – that will carry you along, and together you’ll learn new things and create brilliant ideas.”