The problems experienced by American girls and women involved in STEM are, sadly, far from unique in the world — a report from the UK government indicates that, while women make up 46 percent of the nation’s overall workforce, they only account for 15.5 percent of its STEM workforce.
In an effort to increase female representation in those industries, the UK Women’s Business Council has suggested “broaden[ing] girls’ aspirations and their understanding of career options by creating more effective partnerships between schools, career development professionals, parents and employers.”
Stemettes, a UK-based educational operation founded in 2013, is doing its part to satisfy that aim by coordinating events that are designed to educate and inspire the next generation of female STEM leaders.
“We have a lot of creative, inventive girls and women who are not realizing their potential or enjoying fulfilling careers, as they aren’t entering the career in STEM that would fit them best,” Anne-Marie Imafidon, the founder of Stemettes, says. “We’ve got a skills gap here in the UK — as a society, we need the best talent and brains working on our biggest problems.”
With the funding and assistance of sponsors, supporters and partner organizations, volunteers at Stemettes execute hackathons, panel discussions, mentorship programs, exhibitions and more.
It’s a young organization, but Stemettes has already succeeded in making an impact — it was even named EU Digital Impact Organization of the Year for 2014 through the Ada Awards, which are offered by the Digital Leadership Institute in Brussels, for its work.
“When [the girls] make real progress, it gives us the motivation to work harder,” Imafidon says, recalling how the organization has affected its participants. “My favorite moment [in my work with Stemettes] has been a girl presenting her D3 data visualization project to a stunned judge who gave her an internship on the spot — in the middle of judging.”
Imafidon earned her Masters’ degree in mathematics and computer science from the University of Oxford before turning 21, and was one of just three girls in a class of 70 studying those subjects — an experience that was called to mind when she heard the keynote address given by former tech executive Nora Denzel at the 2012 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference in Baltimore.
The speech was pivotal for Imafidon, as it made her pay even closer attention to the gender disparity in the UK’s STEM world. She then strengthened her resolve to help create “a world where girls are just as interested in becoming princesses and pop stars as they are in become coders and chemists.”
Stemettes is planning to ramp up operations going forward, and its plans include the launch of an educational incubator for girls at or below the age of 21. “[Girls will] spend six weeks living with us in a massive house in the middle of London, will get funding for their ideas and mentorship to make it real,” Imafidon says. “We’re really excited.”
Every effort is another manifestation of the organization’s desire — of Imafidon’s desire — to bring further understanding of and appreciation for the STEM fields to everyone, regardless of gender. “I think the more people … that understand that STEM is about creativity and solving problems, the better. It’s not just for boys or a particular part of society. It’s for everyone to give it a go and further humanity.”