Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon has worked on STEM subjects with more than 40,000 young people, and is now trying to encourage more women to embrace entrepreneurship
Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon is, by all accounts, a child prodigy and an entrepreneur. In 2001 she became the youngest girl to ever pass A-level computing, at the age of 11, and in 2013 founded her own organisation, Stemettes. As she talks to us, she bring up the glaring imbalance in the number of female versus male entrepreneurs in the UK tech sector, even today:
"If you want to start a business, that's a lot of risk, and some women are not in a position to take on additional risk because of home responsibilities placed upon them."
Imafidon graduated from the University of Oxford with a Master's Degree in Mathematics and Computer Science in 2010. Predictably, the employment offers came thick and fast, from companies including Goldman Sachs, HP and Deutsche Bank.
Now, she's putting her skills to work enabling a more diverse and balanced STEM workforce in the UK.
Stemettes is a social initiative that aims to draw the next generation of young women into STEM sectors. It has already worked with more than 40,000 young people across Europe.
But Imafidon is also calling on tech firms to have a better awareness of the hurdles facing women who want to get their own business off the ground.
"You might need capital. And of course, if we look at wealth distribution as well, many women cannot afford to dip into that capital. So, there are quite a few things that can get in the way of what it means, mechanically, to become an entrepreneur, or to start a business and even to be a leader.
"There's also the issue that there may be elements of experience you need and if you're not promoted earlier on in your career, or don't get given the projects you need to learn more, then you could find it more difficult to become a leader."
Don't just celebrate Richard Branson
Imafidon says it is even possible to generate real change by simply "getting the word out".
"I do think things are changing," she said. "I think there's also something about the storytelling of women that are doing this [entrepreneurship] to prove that as much as it might be difficult, it's not impossible. And so it's important for us in STEM to celebrate them as much as we might celebrate a Richard Branson, or any of the other entrepreneurs that people normally talk about…
"I think it's one of those things where sometimes people say ‘If you can see it, you can be it'…So, that's going to be super important."
We have a skills gap. Let's do something about it
So, why does any of this matter?
In the Alison Rose government review of female entrepreneurship published last year, the Treasury investigators found that fewer than one in five SMEs in the UK are led by women.
Women outnumber men in the UK by around 1 million. Yet, there are twice as many male entrepreneurs as females.
Many IT leaders agree that the widening skills gap is one of the biggest challenges facing our sector.
In response, the government has announced an aim to increase the number of female entrepreneurs by 50 per cent by 2030: equivalent to around an additional 600,000.
To get there, Dr Imafidon suggests that policy changes to encourage "culture nudges" could help tackle well-meaning, but unconscious, biases.
"A recent example of what I mean is the conversation around parental leave, and the prospect of having almost compulsory parental leave," she said.
"Even if it's not in law, if we have this across the industry, then there is a recognition of the unpaid labour that women do in the home. And it's not just caring about children; there are different things that get put on women's plates that we're not paid for and aren't always recognised.
"By actually encouraging men and other people to be a part of sharing those responsibilities, and pushing them to do it, it will mean that we have more equality; we will actually be level pegging when we come to the office to work."
The Women in Tech Festival 2019
These are some of the suggestions she will be discussing at Computing and CRN's inaugural Women in Tech Festival, on Tuesday 17 September.
As one of the keynote speakers, Imafidon wants attendees to walk away with a tangible sense that leadership is well within their grasp.
"I run women in tech conferences too, and I have seen how powerful they can be, having these spaces where knowledge is shared by peers," she said.
"There's so much that goes on in your day-to-day lives, that sometimes you do need to take a breather, look outside and gain some perspective and new inputs, and that's what helps renew you.
"It also helps you going through the ups and downs that are part of any career, including a tech career.
"I hope people are inspired. That's the main thing."