Statistics have shown the number of women working in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (WISE) industries is at a dismal twenty-five percent, according to the WISE Campaign.
Whilst the gender-gap is on the gradual decrease, women remain underrepresented making up less than half of Science Professionals (43.2%).
Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, British Mathematician and Co-Founder of Stemettes Social Enterprise, informed “KCW Today” about how she is on a mission to increase the number of women in the field, starting at school-age. Stemettes works across the UK and Ireland to inspire 5-22 year-olds to pursue this field, setting themselves the goal to reach 30% of women in the sector. They want to inspire the next generation of females into STEM fields by showing them the amazing women already in STEM via a series of panel events hackathons, exhibitions and mentoring schemes.
“There’s quite a limited reach on what science can do, if you only have one type of person doing it; we still need a lot of movement in the sector.”
A child prodigy who completed a Computing A-level at aged eleven and obtained a MSc. in Mathematics and Computer Science from Oxford at 20, Imafidon loved exploring how algorithms could be used to solve problems. She had the realisation that ‘all the things I had been playing or tinkering with could actually be used for employment’; debunking gendered expectations that kinaesthetic ability is exclusive to boys.
Imafidon claims ‘there is not a part of life that STEM does not touch’ with science and art working hand in hand. She pointed out the importance of encouraging discussion about art in STEM; frequently mentioning ‘STE(A)M’.
It is a growth industry which covers a broad spectrum; design, project management, inventing, building things, designing shoes and smart materials. “The creativity you’re able to express using this technology is absolutely incredible”, even in terms of mathematicians, the ‘prospects are diverse where you can be in charge of insurance policy or even investigating the probability of planes falling out of the sky and having a crash’.
“You have to work within certain constraints to solve a problem. For example, there is data visualisation where people work on charts or graphs so people can envision what the information means.”
According to Imafidon, technology needs to be adopted across schools in the same way as English or the Arts are taught, so children can ‘identify’ with the syllabus.. By focusing on the creativity and innovation of building something new, rather than simply giving them technology to play with, the next generation can ‘regain a sense of agency’.
“We need to help girls get a sense of ownership over something they are doing, rather than telling them they must solve a problem.”
“This messaging does not inspire people to see it is something they can do and so should do.”
Imafidon incorporates creativity into everything she does at Stemettes, holding Hackathons, where children spend the day computer programming and creating new apps and coding events: a US STEM Conference, and a Stemette Companion app provides free event listings for these. In a recent “Artificial Intelligence Hackathon” workshop, a girl built a chat bot to tell her mother when she scored badly on a test, giving her an opportunity to practice having that conversation before she told her mother.
Girls tend to keep using these tools and improving their skills, building something different which could help their personal, parents or siblings lives, claimed Imafidon.
“The More than Mentoring Programme” at Stemettes consists of twenty to twenty-five pairs of girls aged 5-21 working with women in industry for four months; working towards a similar target to Hanson. It is a ‘sponsorship relationship’ in terms of industry experts using their influence to get their mentee closer to a Science or Tech position.
Their personal connection and change in trajectory from taking part in the scheme cannot be overlooked, with one of the girls making Forbes ‘thirty under thirty’ list of entrepreneurs for Science”.
Hannah Blair, also an Ex-Stemette, has recently received £25,000 as part of the “Female Technology Sponsorship Programme” which will support her Virtual Reality App, vrcalm, for supporting dementia sufferers. Imafidon receives regular letters and testimonials from previous Stemettes who have seen their lives changed, pursuing science policy and STEM Society initiatives.
She revealed the growing sisterhood at Stemettes which could possibly aid the issue of female retainment in the sector:
“Some of the girls won’t have gone into STEM, but they know they have a network and know they are not alone.”
Since 2013, just under 40,000 young people have attended their events and ninety-five percent have increased interest in the sector, according to the website.
Stemettes seems to be in line with society’s progress, Hanson Robotics has recently created a 14” AI robot “Little Sophia”, coding companion and teacher for ages 7-13. It includes tutorials through Hanson’s AI Academy to introduce children, especially girls, to coding and STEM in a ‘fun, safe and interactive way’ in light of the gender gap.
Stuart Young, Head of Physics at St James Preparatory School, has also told “KCW Today” about his school’s STEM opportunities with Years 8-10 children collaborating with EDF and “Bright Futures”. Fifty-five percent of the Kensington school’s girls pursue Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Maths at A-level. “In the past at STEM club we have programmed Raspberry Pis, used a tenon saw and mitre to create a frame, made magic braid bracelets from leather, built kits, taken apart old machines to learn how things are put together.
“If we recognise an interest in the young, it is our duty to find ways to encourage that curiosity. Children have it naturally in abundance.”
See the Stemettes website here: https://stemettes.org/