The Stemettes are working to combat a serious lack of women in the science, technology, engineering and maths sectors.
They are on a mission to turn this on its head, tapping in to a pool of brain power and letting girls and young women know that a career in the STEM industries is a possibility for them, just as much as anyone else.
Founding Stemette Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE (yep, awesome) worked in technology for Deutsche Bank after studying at Oxford University. It was when she attended a women’s tech conference that it dawned on her for the first time; she was a ‘woman in tech’. She wanted girls to feel as comfortable and capable as she did – and so the Stemettes was created in February 2013. By December, the girls were discussing their plans at Number 10.
Offering school events, workshops and mentoring, they have reached 14,000 girls so far – inspiring them to explore all the opportunities available to them, even if they didn’t know it.
We’re catching up with three of the Stemettes – Anne-Marie, Leila and Charlotte – to find out more about their trailblazing initiative.
So where does the inspiration come from for such an organisation?
Leila sees the general perception being that the education and opportunities for students will be better for those at private schools than those at a state school. She says:
‘I wanted to be a part of something that was helping kids achieve more, and have more opportunities without it being dependent on government funding.’
It’s not that they are involved in education exactly, as Anne-Marie points out – ‘we’re more about opening young women’s minds to what’s available. It’s more like careers education, or extra-curricular.’ Their approach to getting the attention of young minds is pretty faultless – ‘free, food and fun is our ethos.’ And who could argue with that?!
Women’s access to roles, obstacles to opportunities and equal treatment obviously differs enormously between countries, regions and cultures. What’s consistent is that to some degree, gender inequality continues to be present everywhere. Leila comments that the main obstacle to women achieving their potential is the views of society – ‘we are seen to be carers, we are supposed to be maternal, to have children and not have a career. And that’s particularly true in sectors such as maths and science.’
‘It’s also a matter of confidence around STEM. If you don’t think it’s something you can do, then you’re never going to say it’s something you want as a career.’
So what about now – have the Stemettes seen progress in gender balance?
Leila points out that equal pay still doesn’t exist – ‘if anything, I think we’ve gone backwards slightly. People think feminism isn’t cool, or that it’s no longer needed because we have equality.’
But there is some good news, as Anne-Marie says ‘but progress is being made. There were 13% of women working in tech and now it’s 21%. It’s not fantastic, and there’s a lot of work to do. But we are moving in the right direction.’
The incredible work they have done – working with 14,000 girls so far – has not been overlooked. Anne-Marie was awarded an MBE this year, and says ‘it’s an honour because it’s going to help increase the profile of the Stemettes. It puts us in a better position to have an impact on the mission we are on.’
So what does the future hold for Anne-Marie, Leila, Charlotte and the Stemettes gang? They’ve set their sights on reaching 2 million girls by 2020. And from what we’ve seen so far, it’s easy to imagine their success. Wishing them all the luck!
Follow the Stemettes and their uhhhhmazing work @Stemettes