There’s no doubt that the Stemettes are challenging a real societal problem – the declining numbers of women working in Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM) fields. It began in the 60s at least, when the numbers of women working in technology began to decrease, and it has got declined ever since, with numbers of women working in STEM decreasing year on year from 2011 to 2012 by four per cent.
The problem, though having come into the limelight in a significant way in the year, has been very well documented in the past 30 years or so. The inspiration for the Stemettes founder and ‘Head Stemette’, Anne-Marie Imafidon, to start the project was the Kings College Longitudinal Report – ASPIREs project – and a report published by WISE. In this, the decline in women working in STEM fields was quantified and problematised.
Of the girls who do study STEM at university, two thirds of them will not go into a STEM career path – many of them aren’t convinced of the ways they can leverage their STEM skills to get into a fulfilling STEM career, or are unaware of the options available to them. A gap in knowledge and exposure that organisations such as the Stemettes aim to tackle, and university careers services and STEM departments should be doing more to combat.
Taking action In 2013 when the Stemettes began, there was certainly more report-writing than action-doing going on. The tendency was to comment on the problem with increasing concern instead of acting on the problem with increasing urgency. However, this is changing. More and more, we are coming across amazing and inspirational teachers (men and women) who are pushing their girls to seriously consider a career in STEM; they work with the Stemettes to put on hackathons, they invite amazing female scientists into their schools to give talks, they run day long workshops and they get their girls on-board.
One such teacher is Fiona Kempton from Norwich High School, who wants to put on a series of Hackathons for other schools in the Norwich area. Also, Rosemary Russell, from the Ursuline Academy Ilford, recently took a group of girls from London to the Big Bang Fair in Birmingham. While there, they won the CREST Award for Communication and Real World Context.
Working with schools and corporates, the Stemettes take a different approach to most – this is why we have a wide base of schools and companies with whom we work. Based on experience on similar schemes when she was younger, and observations of organisations overseas we have experience in running the most high impact and effective events when it comes to inspiring girls, aged five and up, to seriously consider going into a STEM career.
Achieving results Through panel events, hackathons, exhibitions and mentoring (launching later this year), our Little and Big Stemettes meet all sorts of amazing women who work across the entire breadth of STEM. We go into schools, but we prefer to take the girls out of school and get them into the offices of a STEM employer to show them where they could be working; it gets them more engaged and has a bigger impact. From gamers, to weapons analysts, to biochemical engineers, to women working in tech at big multinational corporates, to a Maths MSc student.
After just one highly interactive interaction with the Stemettes, the results are immediately visible – 22 per cent more girls want to pursue a career in STEM.
Equally, we see real and tangible results. One of our little Stemettes, Kamille, travelled to Oxford from Kent on both days of our autumn hackathon last year. She did such a great job and coded up such a wonderful product that one of the supporters on the day felt compelled to offer her an internship at his company there and then. That is the Stemettes success story – and it can be achieved through a one-time Stemettes intervention.
And with our Student to Stemette mentoring programme kicking off in June this year, there will be more where that came from. All of the girls who take part in the mentoring programme will have monthly meet-ups with a woman working in STEM at Deutsche Bank and also take part in a week long Spring Week of work experience. Girls will experience what it is really like to work in STEM and also have the opportunity to fly out to the USA free of charge for the Grace Hopper Celebration in Phoenix, Arizona – the largest tech event specifically for women in technology in the world.
Scaling up for the Stemettes This year is all about scaling up for the Stemettes and taking what we do outside of London. Already taking part in and running events in London, Manchester, Cambridge, Newcastle, Norwich, Hertfordshire, Portsmouth and many more, we are a good deal nearer to bringing the Stemettes to schools all over the country.
We know the value of the work we are doing. We have a current computer science student who sits on our panels and helps at our events who says she is one girl out of hundreds who take computer science at her university. She said when she discovered the Stemettes she wanted to cry – she felt like she had “come home”.