Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE was a child prodigy and one of the youngest students to achieve a Maths and Computer Science Masters from Oxford University (aged 20).

Today she’s better known as the CEO and cofounder of Stemettes, an organization which has helped 40,000 girls realize their STEM potential since its launch in 2013.

As ‘Head Stemette’ Imafidon pioneered the groundbreaking Outbox Incubator (the world’s first business accelerator for teenage girls). She’s also behind the Stemillions app (used by 3,000 girls) and a new social media platform called the Stemettes Society (currently in beta).

Imafidon previously launched a web design consultancy for SMEs and worked at Deutsche Bank advising on technology.

The STEM advocate runs the Women Tech Charge podcast with the Evening Standard, advises the Government on closing the digital skills gap and is an avid campaigner for better representation of women and girls in technology in the media.

In 2017 she received an MBE for services to young women and STEM sectors.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I grew up in East London, where I was the eldest of five. I was a child prodigy and always really loved maths and technology.

After studying at Oxford, I went to work in The City and was invited to speak at the largest women in tech conference in the world, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

There were thousands of women there, and I reliased my experience of maths and technology hadn’t just been strange because I’d had it so early, it was strange because I’d been a girl. I set about trying to change that with Stemettes.

Our latest project, the Stemettes Society, is a closed social network for girls, young women and non-binary people under the age of 25 who are interested in STEM.

We want to help them become role models and changemakers who can support eachother.
That could be with advice on making decisions about their GCSE or A-levels, or just having girls at University saying, ‘Hey, ask me anything’.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

For me, it goes in cycles. I’m constantly changing where I think I’m going to end up. I think it has to be like that because technology is constantly changing.

At first I wanted to be a management consultant, then I wanted to work in a bank. Now I honestly don’t know (I’ve got aspirations around broadcasting).

I’m constantly trying to evaluate what I’m best placed to do and what fits my idea of success, which has always been to wake up in the morning and do what I want.

I’d advise having a ‘Plan A’, so you know what direction you’re heading, but also to be open to new information so you can update it and build a new ‘Plan B’.

Anne-Marie ImafidonHave you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

My biggest challenge remains the same: having to work with people.

Anything that involves human beings has always been a challenge for me—I’m used to maths algorithms that just work, even when they are difficult.

I’m constantly learning how to manage, how to hire, how to deal with partners. At Stemettes we’re now adding a charity side, so figuring out how to work with donors will be another massively different kind of relationship.

People are messy. You have to understand that you can’t see everything, what’s happening internally. You have to learn how to be okay with uncertainty. But you can always learn from talking to people.

I’ve learned to never assume who a person is or how they will be. You have to expect the unexpected without any kind of prejudgement.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I usually say Outbox, our tech incubator for teenage girls, but really it has to be all the programs we run at Stemettes because of the impact they have in changing perceptions.

We’re giving girls an opportunity to grow up with a different social norm and giving them a shared experience of what a majority female industry looks like.

That will stay with them forever. It’s a shared bond.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?  

Ultimately, I’m a problem solver.

I can focus and see a problem as something clearly defined. That means that other people can support and help without too much work or convincing.

When I was a child prodigy I was solving maths problems rather than societal problems but it’s possible it’s the same thing, just more complex.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology? 

Always find your tribe. You don’t have to do it alone.

In the press and media, it’s always Mark Zuckerberg or some other figurehead they bang on about. You don’t see that they have a team, advisors and mentors behind them.

Alexander Bell didn’t invent the telephone on his own.

Your people could be alongside you or ahead of you, and you should work hard to help those behind you because it’s an investment. It pays back multiple times over.

Anne-Marie Imafidon, Founder of STEMettesHow important is it to see female tech role models in the media?

It’s incredibly important. If you see someone like Yewande Biala (a smart biochemist who went to university early) on Love Island, that helps to normalise women in STEM.

It’s crazy that scientists still just exist just on The Big Bang Theory or The IT Crowd as some kind of sectioned-off programme, never just eating or cooking or kissing someone.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Yes there are barriers, but if something is worth doing, you will always face barriers.

There’s a sense of purpose for any woman in the industry at the moment, whether you like it or not. Technology is going in a certain direction—and like colonies of ants or bees—we all have a part to play in pulling it back to where it needs to.

That means taking on counterproductive work policies, and the people hiding biases within your workplace who will get in your way.

We have to face those things and change them with our own power and influence through communication and collaboration. It’s a hard fight, but it’s the good fight. And if you hit a wall, you need to make a door.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

Be willing to listen. There’s a distinct lack of listening right now.

If a company genuinely wants to change, there will be people facing bias in that organization who are crying out for change. Those people are leaving exit interviews, they are raising issues with affinity networks, they are speaking out loud.

Organisations have to make sure they are listening otherwise they can’t know what action to take.

There is currently on 15% of women working in tech if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry? 

Compulsory shared parental leave.

If someone is part of the making of a baby and they have to stay away from work, there’s a lot of intangible things they will learn. When they come back to the organization, they’re a fresh set of eyes and are able to see the holes they couldn’t before.

If you don’t have an understanding of what it’s like to be at home, you end up making backwards policies that say certain things must happen in the office at certain times. So if you don’t understand about external responsibilities you can’t bring about long-lasting change.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc? 

The second season of my podcast Women Tech Charge is actually coming up in October, so you should tune in to that.

In terms of books, I’d recommend Inferior by Angela Saini  (it’s all about how science has got women wrong). And there’s my kid’s book called How to be a Math Whiz which is due out later in the year.

In September I’ll be at the Women in Tech Festival in London and at the me Convention (from Mercedes-Benz and SXSW) in Frankfurt, Germany. I’ll obviously also be at the We Are Tech City conference so I’ll see you there!

You can hear from Anne-Marie at our WeAreTechWomen conference on 22nd November – Book your place here