„We want to change the norm“ – Anne-Marie Imafidon bringt Frauen in Tech-Jobs

„We want to change the norm“ – Anne-Marie Imafidon bringt Frauen in Tech-Jobs

Es gibt zu wenige Frauen in MINT-Berufen. Die Mathematikerin und Informatikerin Anne-Marie Imafidon will das ändern. Mit ihrer Organisation Stemettes fördert sie Mädchen von kleinauf und räumt so mit einem Irrtum auf: MINT-Jobs seien vor allem etwas für Jungs.

Am 21. und 22. Oktober findet in Bonn die beyondwork2020 Konferenz statt – zwei Tage lang diskutieren europäische Vertreter*innen aus Politik, Forschung und Wirtschaft über die Arbeitswelten von morgen – und jede*r ist eingeladen (natürlich auch Ihr!) vor Ort oder online teilzunehmen. Auch wir werden mit DEARWORK an beiden Tagen dabei sein und freuen uns auf Euch. 

Vorab wollen wir Euch eine der Speaker*innen vorstellen: Anne-Marie Imafidon. In ihrer Heimat eilt der 31-jährigen Londonerin der Ruf des Wunderkinds voraus. Mit 20 machte sie ihren Master in Mathe und Informatik an der Oxford University und war damit die jüngste Absolventin dieser Fächer überhaupt, mit 24 gründete sie ihr mittlerweile vielfach preisgekröntes Sozialunternehmen Stemettes. STEM ist die Kurzform für Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics, bei uns bekannt als MINT (Mathematik, Informatik, Naturwissenschaften & Technologie). Da Frauen in MINT-Berufen stark unterrepräsentiert sind, hat sich Anne-Marie mit ihrer Organisation zum Ziel gesetzt, Mädchen von kleinauf für die Themen zu begeistern und mit einem großen, tief in unserem Denken verankerten Irrtum aufzuräumen: MINT Berufe seien vor allem etwas für Jungs. 

Am 22. Oktober hält Anne-Marie im Rahmen von beyondwork2020 um 9 Uhr eine 30-minütige Keynote über ihre Vision für eine auf die Zukunft vorbereitete Arbeitsgesellschaft, die wir Euch schon jetzt ans Herz legen möchten. Wir haben ihr vorab ein paar Fragen stellen dürfen.

The idea behind Stemettes is that everyone can come back, get more involved and build up more knowledge. Is the goal that everyone gets involved in the Stemettes program long term?
The STEM industry actually needs women quite a lot. So what’s going on, why is it so hard to pull women into tech jobs?

Anne-Marie, you’re a woman on a mission. With your social enterprise Stemettes you want to inspire young women into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. For your work with Stemettes you’ve been awarded many times – among others you’ve been honoured by Queen Elizabeth II. What is the idea behind Stemettes?

We want to change the norm. It should be normal for anyone of any gender to say that they want to be a technologist. Whereas at the moment when a boy says this, the general reaction is: Cool! You mean like in the movies, like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates? Thumbs up! But when a girl says the same, people are asking: You really want to get your hands dirty? At this moment the norm says that technical women don’t exist. And that is nonsense! They do. And there are lots of types of them. There is a lot of value which they bring to technological conversations and this is what we want everyone to understand.

„It should be normal for anyone of any gender to say that they want to be a technologist.“

Anne-Marie Imafidon, Stemettes

Currently, in the UK only 21 per cent of the people working in STEM jobs are female, in Germany, it is only 11 per cent. You once said that you are aiming at pulling two million females in the UK into these kinds of jobs. Why this number?

We had once calculated that it needed two million women working in STEM jobs to take us to 30 per cent. When you have 30 per cent, things begin to change. Then, women no longer comprise a small minority, they have a voice and are represented. From 30 per cent it also gets much easier to go even higher towards 50 per cent.

How did we actually get here: Why are so few women working in these fields?

Again, due to the above mentioned societal norms and stereotypes. And due to a lack of future strategies. For instance in the 80s when the industry started to sell game consoles they decided to just focus on one specific type of boy. An image was created that whoever is gaming needs to be a bit technical and that gaming girls are kind of weird. We can also look back even further in history – at the notion of workforces. Who should have the jobs that make the most money and are the most important? At the end of the 19th century, in the early era of data processing, punched cards used to be a very female, very difficult job. That is, until people realised there was a lot of impact in this work. Suddenly, men came, claimed it, and the salaries and associated power went up. There is a long tradition in our human history which assumes that women should be at home where they do certain things as their brains are just not as good as those of men. Marie Sophie Germain, a French woman from the 18th century, for instance, loved maths. She ended up doing her university mathematics course by correspondence. By studying only in the written form she could pretend she was a man. After she got her degree she said: I am a woman! I did all of it! I was able to understand it! Ha! But then later when the Eiffel tower was built and the names of 72 scientists of the day, who were her contemporaries were put on the monument, leaving out one very important name: hers. All of these things add up to the fact that today we don’t think technical jobs are for women. There are stereotypes that even women are responsible for, like when we say “I didn’t get that maths thing” or “I am scared of computers”. And then decisions are made based on that in all business areas – in recruitment, in promotion, in remuneration, etc.

„The fault is on the industry. It is not the women who need to change to become more technical – the industry needs to change its assumptions and its culture.“

Anne-Marie Imafidon, Stemettes

The girls and young women you’re addressing with your Stemettes activities should be between 5 and 25 years old. Why this age group?

We start that early because that’s when children are in their formative years. As an adult, you’ve had certain experiences, formed your views, you have baggage that is hard to remove, whereas a young person has less fear, less conditioning. When we get young girls to meet lots of engineers and technicians, and we get them to eat, share one space and relax with them, the distance between the girl and the engineer becomes smaller or doesn’t build up at all.

Zur Person: Anne-Marie Imafidon,

31, gilt als renommierte Vordenkerin im Bereich innovative Technologien und ist Kurationsmitglied des Institute of Future of Work. Die Mitbegründerin des preisgekrönten Sozialunternehmens STEMettes gilt als eine der einflussreichsten Frauen im Bereich Technik im Vereinigten Königreich. STEMettes hat bereits rund 40.000 junge Frauen dabei unterstützt, MINT Berufe zu ergreifen. Aktuell arbeitet sie mit Medienunternehmen wie BBC und 20th Century Fox daran, mehr Frauen als Technik-Vorbilder zu etablieren.

The idea is that everyone can come back, get more involved and build up more knowledge. Is the goal that everyone gets involved in the Stemettes program long term?

Of course, not everyone is a technologist. But if there is something that interests you, where you want to know more, we have options. You can keep coming – we are a resource, a community, a network, a trusted advisor and we’re here to help and support. What we do is almost like a pyramid: You start at the bottom, you see our Instagram, we have our own Stemettes Zine online which you can work through alone or with your parents, we offer many activities like the workshops. You can come back to these events, you can get a mentor, you can bring a STEM club to your school, you can start a long term program. And if you continue to follow this, at the end of the program, there is simply no reason why you couldn’t go to the industry. You bring all of that knowledge, confidence, the network, the awareness and an understanding of your options.

What exactly happens during the events?

It’s important to know that we don’t preselect. No one has to pass a test or anything to participate. One can just come, get some free food and a little bit of STEM knowledge. During the hands-on events, everyone gets creative. We do 3D-modelling, coding,  networking… One can build things that are related to what one likes or related to solving problems. It’s very creative, so then everyone develops a sense of ownership of some part of STEM.

Why is that important? Do you have an example?

Last year we were in the North of England and we did a workshop based on health with young girls because the company we were hosted by builds technology for the health sector here in the UK. So we said to the girls: Build something about healthy living. And there were some five-year-olds who built an app about eating fruits because fruits are healthy. At the end of that weekend, they presented the app that they had built and they couldn’t stop laughing because their fruits had faces and they found it funny. And for me, that is technology. It is not a scary thing – it is something creative and enjoyable, and if you want apples and oranges with faces that talk to each other, you can do that! You don’t even need confidence for making an app, it is fun, you’re five! This girls group won that weekend, so next time they come back they’re already a winner, they’ve done this before, anything that comes next is fun. It can be slightly harder and so they start to build their confidence. In the long term, this means: If they’re older and they’re getting into a technical scenario they’re like “I was doing this when I was five. And I did it in a room with 50 other girls, so don’t tell me girls can’t do this!”

„At the end of the program, there is simply no reason why you couldn’t go to the industry. You bring all of that knowledge, confidence, the network, the awareness and an understanding of your options.“

Ann-Marie Imafidon, Stemettes

Who is visiting your workshops? How do you make sure to address all kinds of girls – and not only those who have parents already supporting their careers?

Free food plays an important role. Some are coming for a hot meal and everything else that happens is a bonus. And then it’s word of mouth. We’re in touch with many different communities, groups and schools. And we are very inclusive. We focus on girls – Stemettes is a girls’ place so we have all kinds of them; black, white, Asian, tall, small, with disabilities… But it’s okay for a brother to join too, as long as he doesn’t come on his own.

The women in your programs and attending your events shouldn’t be older than 25. What about the ones older than that? Does this mean: If I once took a wrong direction in my career I have to stay on that track?

As an adult, there are all kinds of networks and conferences where you can exchange with others. When you think you want to get into technology, you can find access to it. But for a child or teenager, it’s much harder if you don’t have anyone in your family who works in that field or knows something about it. We are filling this gap. That is why we decided to just focus on younger people. If you’re over 25 and you want to get into STEM, not only is it not too late but actually, the industry needs you quite a lot. So I really think this is the work of the industry to make sure that they bring in different types of people who would be interested but who didn’t do it when they were younger, that they have the right recruitment processes, that they advertise at the right places, that they’ve got the right culture also to keep them because that is the other important thing. It is not just coming in, it is staying. I personally believe that women’s tech groups are vital to feel the sense of community and strength in numbers, but really, we should spend even more effort working with the managers, working with those hiring, with the leadership teams, saying it is not women’s fault that they’re not in these jobs, it is the industry’s fault that they’re not staying. And then bringing others in. It is really easy to say women need to change, women need to be mentored. This person has their own degree, why are they not in technology? Well, what have you shown them, what is your offer? Because if it is a good enough offer why wouldn’t they come? People search for jobs all the time, the fault is that of the industry, not the women. It is not the women who need to change to become more technical; you need to change your assumptions and your culture.

Last question: Talking about all industries, not only the STEM field, what is your personal vision for a better working environment?

Of course, I also have this vision of a less discriminating, more diverse, more inclusive working culture. But primarily my vision is that the people in any given workplace in any given work culture have a sense of belonging as a collective. And this means from entry-level to leadership everyone belongs. Today not everyone has the same amount of value in the workplace, and that means there are certain people who have a very high sense of belonging. They’re listened to, they’re promoted, they’re given positions of responsibility. So we need to find a way in which everyone has access to a higher sense of belonging and the power can be shared truly based on talent, not what someone looks like or their gender.

Foto oben: Anne-Marie Imafidon im SAL in Schaan 2018 | COPYRIGHT: DANIEL SCHWENDENER