Episode 1: STEM Role Models

Why STEM role models from all walks of life are essential for young people.

Artwork by Eden Brackenbury

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When Becky Rush was young, her aunt Liz would take her into the country during the school holidays and do experiments with her. The time spent with her aunt played a huge role in the education and career Becky eventually followed.

Not everyone has an aunt Liz. When it comes to finding inspiration for our career choices we tend to look in other places, such as the media. But what if people like us aren’t well represented in the fields we’d like to follow? If we can’t see people like us, then it’s hard to believe people like us belong there.

In this episode we discuss how science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) role models from all walks of life are essential for young people, and what needs to be done to ensure that those who want to be it, can see it.

Featured Guests
Becky Rush, student
Kim England, Global Community Director at Pearson
Anne-Marie Imafidon, CEO of Stemettes
Dr Sara Thomas, Scotland Programme Coordinator for Wikimedia UK’s Women in Red
Janneke Niessen, Founder of Inspiring Fifty
Daljit Kaur, Head of STEM innovation at Loughborough Grammar School
Stacey Higginbotham, Tech journalist and podcaster

And a shout out to an unsung hero Janelle Shane. Go to aiweirdness.com to find out more about her work with neural networks.


Quotes from the episode

“So I ask them, ‘do you want to work in tech?’ They’re like ‘Mmm, no!’ and I ask them if they want to work at Snapchat or Instagram and they say ‘Yes!’ and they don’t see that that’s also tech. And that’s why we need to show them what tech is, and how learning to code, learning digital skills, translates into what they can do later on in life.” — Jannekke Niessen: Founder of Inspiring Fifty

“An average Wikimedian on English Wikipedia is male, technically inclined, formally educated, English speaker, from the majority Christian country, from a developed nation, and from the northern hemisphere. So there is a bias towards the global north.” — Dr Sara Thomas from Women in Red

“I looked back and was a little bit frustrated that given the experience I’d had, like if there was anybody that was looking for girls that were technical, you would have found me, and been like, ‘Hey Anne-Marie. Join the X-Men. You’re one of the X-Men and come and join our organisation…’ I’ve never had that at all the entire way.” — Anne-Marie Imafidon from the Stemettes


Further Reading

The Scully Effect — Research by 21st Century Fox, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, and J. Walter Thompson Intelligence that presents the findings of the first systematic study of the influence of Dana Scully, a character on 90s TV show The X Files, on girls and women pertaining to STEM.

Stemettes — Stemettes is an award-winning social enterprise working across the UK & Ireland and beyond to inspire and support young women into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths careers (known collectively as STEM).

Women in Red — Women in Red is a Wikipedia project, focusing effort to create articles about notable women that do not currently exist there.

Hack a Hairdryer Was Sexist, But It Also Might Have Worked — Stacy Higginbotham interviews Tricia Berry, the director of Women in Engineering Program at the University of Texas at Austin.

Saving Bletchley Park — How #socialmedia saved the home of the WWII codebreakers

Black Girls Code — Black Girls CODE is devoted to showing the world that black girls can code, by reaching out to the community through workshops and after school programs.

The Grace Hopper Celebration — The world’s largest gathering of women technologists

Girl Guides Survey Results — The biggest survey of its kind asks the opinions of over 1,900 girls and young women aged 7 to 21 across the UK about a range of issues, emerging pressures and what they need to support their happiness, wellbeing and opportunities in life.

Data from The National Center for Women and Information Technology — Compelling statistics on women’s participation in computing on a single page

Project Prep — A novel by Janneke Niessen about the wonders of working in tech aimed at girls and young women.

Download a STEM Role Model Poster— We’ve produced this beautiful set of STEM role model posters for you to download for your school or workplace.


Episode Credits

Written by Tracy King
Hosted by Leigh Alexander
Season Producer Renay Richardson
Exec Producer Nathan Martin
Exec Producer Anjali Ramachandran
Sound Design by Jason Oberholtzer
Made by the team at Storythings


Transcript

BECKY: One person that really inspired me when I was a kid was my Aunt Liz. She was a science teacher, is a science teacher, and was trained to be a nurse at the time as well.

HOST: That’s Becky Rush. Becky has spent the last three years studying Digital Media Development at the University of Brighton. But her life is just about to dramatically change.

BECKY: Next week I am graduating and then in a couple of weeks after that I will be starting my first graduate job, but as a, a mid level developer at BBC news in the Visual Journalism Team as a web developer.

HOST: This will be Becky’s first full time job, working as a developer for one of the world’s biggest media groups. But her early interest in science and technology was inspired not just by media, but the outdoors. Becky describes trips into the countryside with her Aunt Liz, who would fill their time with fun and exciting science experiments.

BECKY: The experiment I remember best that we did was having a little pressure pad. I think it was a kit from like the early learning centre or something. We made these little rockets that you would jump on and they would fly off into the sky and see how far they go and race them with each other and like she just sort of showed tips for how to make the rockets more aerodynamic and things like that.

HOST: It was also Aunt Liz that provided Becky with her first computer.

BECKY: Liz had got one from the school that she been working at, they were gonna chuck it out. So I just remember having this huge box of a computer in our room. I don’t think it was before we had internet at home and I remember just sitting on it and playing with computer games and Paint, mostly Paint, and it still had the etchings of the school name and the side of it. And that was my first experience of having a computer.

HOST: There is a moment in our young school life when we are asked to make big choices about our future. But we can only make choices based on what we know and what we see. We look to the people around us, whether it is people in the media, people at school, or people in our family for clues that tell us ‘I could do that’. For Becky it was her family.

BECKY: I’ve grown up with my mum being a particular inspiration for me. She works in admin at the hospital and then I realised that actually most of my family does, so she has four sisters and a brother and they were either teachers or work in healthcare and most of my cousins seem to work in healthcare as well, paramedics or nurses or GP managers and stuff. So it’s been, there’s a lot of influence in my life around healthcare and technology as well because one of my cousins is an app developer. I’ve been fortunate enough to have that sort of influence on me throughout my life actually.

HOST: The family history in healthcare informed Becky’s choices after her GCSEs. She worked for several years in a local hospital as a patient access clerk answering phones, but then decided it was time for a change.

BECKY: I spoke to my manager and she moved me into her team, which was just her actually, we created a little team…working in data analysis, so we would match up missing test results to patient records and create reports that went to Public Health England and stuff like that. And that I found much more satisfying and interesting from what I had been doing.

HOST: And that was it. She started to really enjoy working with data and after speaking to her app developing cousin, Becky decided that tech was going to be her life from that point on. The support of her family and manager had been crucial to her career choices, but it was that early role model of her science teacher Aunt Liz that really sowed the seed, and showed Becky that STEM is something women do too.

For some it can be a stranger, or even a place that helps shape people’s careers choices. Here’s Kim England, a Global Community Director at Pearson.

KIM: For a very long time I’ve been an admirer of Sue Black from a distance… she sparked my interest when she started the campaign to save Bletchley Park. And the reason for this is because I was actually born in Bletchley, And I think it’s such a massive part of our history. Sue has done a fabulous job of not only saving Bletchley Park, but she’s really enriched the lives of the people who live in Milton Keynes by drawing attention to this fabulous place and everything that actually happened there during the Second World War.

HOST: Sue Black is a British computer scientist who was instrumental in saving Bletchley Park, the site of World War II codebreaking.

KIM: Now more than ever, we’re hearing about some of the most fabulous people from our history, from our present and women who are going to be amazing in tech in the future. And I think Sue is really leading the charge in terms of giving women in tech a voice and I just think she’s fabulous

HOST: In this episode, we’re going to discuss how Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, what we call STEM, role models from all walks of life are essential for young people, and what needs to be done to ensure that those who want to be it, can see it.

This is Nevertheless, a podcast about learning in the modern age. Each episode we shine a light on an issue impacting education and speak to the women creating transformative change. Supported by Pearson and hosted by me, Leigh Alexander.

ANNE-MARIE: I have always been a very creative person. I have always enjoyed understanding how things work and understanding, like, logical things and understanding whether it’s theorems or whether it’s understanding processes and being like, oh actually if I do the same thing again, here’s what that process or here’s what that function does to that thing, right.

HOST: That’s Anne-Marie Imafidon. She was a child prodigy from East London who became the youngest girl ever to pass A-level computing at just eleven years old.

ANNE-MARIE: My earliest memory is being about four and typing the story of Little Red Riding Hood on my dad’s computer and changing her hood from red to purple because purple is a slightly better colour and it was probably gibberish because I was four but saved it in the computer and then had to go to bed because bedtime is a thing, and then woke up the next morning and was kind of really excited at the fact that even though that computer had been off and I’d been asleep, my story was still in that computer. To this day that’s still what kind of excites me about these kind of technical things and you can make something, make anything from a database to a website to an AI assistant to an app and when you’re there, someone else is deriving value or use from it.

HOST: At twenty she received her Master’s Degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from Oxford, and is now the CEO of Stemettes, an organisation dedicated to championing the work of women in STEM.

From that early inspiring moment of saving her story in the family computer, Anne-Marie began her passion for technology. But while she studied at a level far beyond her peers, it wasn’t until her teens, during an internship in the IT department of a bank, that she realised technology could be a career.

ANNE-MARIE: Oh my goodness, these people play with tech all day and people build it and I’m in this department and the people in that department are using the tech that we’ve just built or the project managing we’ve just done, or whatever. So I really enjoyed that. I enjoyed how much I was being paid because again, I never had pocket money. It wasn’t like a thing in our house. And like we never really… I mean there’s five kids in East London, there wasn’t a lot of money around. We weren’t poor, but I wasn’t saving up to buy X, Y, and Z because that just wasn’t how things were in my house. So it was like, okay cool, this is something I’m going to do, I’m gonna, really enjoy it and I’m going to work in it.

HOST: It was during this part of her career that Anne-Marie was sent to a conference in the USA to talk about the cloud and collaboration tech that she and her team had been building. And that’s where everything changed.

ANNE-MARIE: On one occasion we were sent to a conference in the States to talk about the technology we’d been building and it just so happened that conference was the Grace Hopper celebration of women computing. That year there were three and a half thousand women there. This last year there were 18,000 women.

HOST: This was her ‘Road to Damascus’ moment. It was here that she realised throughout her life she had been in a minority. Once Anne-Marie realised that her industry was not diverse, she saw it as a problem to be solved. How many other girls are there out there who are like her, but who don’t have the same encouragement or environment? She founded Stemettes as a way to reach and support those girls, offering ‘free food and fun’ at hackathons and other events across the UK which have so far reached over 38,000 girls.

A diverse workforce is better for everyone, but STEM in particular has a diversity problem.

When women do work in STEM, it’s not usually in senior positions. Professors in academia are mostly male, and just a quarter of senior managerial positions across the entire UK STEM workforce are women.

This diversity problem is also a role model problem.

The theory goes like this. If you can see someone who looks like you, whose life experiences are like your own, then you know you can do what they’ve done. Those life experiences often include discrimination or bullying. If your teacher or university lecturer or manager or the owner of the company you work at is someone like you and has been through similar experiences, then you know you can aspire to that position too. It also means that you know those senior networks are open to you, that you are welcome.

It’s a theory borne out by much evidence. Studies including research by GirlGuiding UK show that women take different education and career paths as a result of the isolation that comes from a lack of diversity and role models.

**

The internet is only one place we see role models. Women are also grossly under-represented in the sort of media young people look up to, like film and television. When we do get screen time it’s not as equals or superiors or in powerful jobs like, say, surgeons. The Geena Davis Institute is a charity which analyses media, and has found that women are sexualised or stereotyped in films, TV and advertising in a way that men simply are not.

The findings of their research are startling. Out of nearly six thousand speaking or named characters in popular films, only 30% were female.

Only a quarter of the films studied had a female lead, and almost all had more male characters than female. It’s the same in advertising, where only a third of adverts feature women. When women are shown in ads, it’s not in a position of power or leadership, but in the kitchen.

Here’s the role model kicker: Men are nearly twice as likely to be shown doing a job that requires what’s known as “integral intelligence”. That’s jobs like doctor or scientist or engineer. Our girls are looking at the TV screen and they are not seeing themselves in STEM. They are not seeing role models.

When they do see role models onscreen, it works. For decades, something called The Scully Effect has been cited as a contributing factor to women entering STEM careers. It’s named after the character Dana Scully in the sci fi show The X-Files, which was first broadcast in the 1990s. The character of Scully, played by Gillian Anderson, is a medical doctor and FBI investigator, the rational partner to her male colleague Mulder. It’s long been claimed that the character of Scully, a high-achieving woman in STEM, has had a positive role model effect. But it wasn’t until 2018 that it became a proven fact. In 2018 the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media undertook a major study to test the Scully Effect. Nearly two-thirds of women that work in STEM said Dana Scully served as their role model.

***
As we’ve seen visibility of women at home and in the media are key factors in encouraging young people and students to choose a career in STEM. But what about the thousands of women all over the world whose achievements in STEM aren’t visible?

SARA: There is something incredibly valuable and incredibly satisfying to, to put something out on the Internet to surface a story that wasn’t there before to make something available for everyone in the world that simply wasn’t there before. So to tell a story that wouldn’t have been told otherwise.

HOST: That’s Wikimedian Dr Sara Thomas. When sees Wikipedia, she also sees a challenge. Her peers and role models, women in STEM, are largely absent from Wikipedia’s six million English-language articles, not because their achievements aren’t noteworthy, but because of bias in Wikipedia’s own process. For a start, the majority of Wikipedia editors, volunteers who create new articles, are Western men, and were simply creating articles about other Western men, despite North America and Europe only making up a quarter of internet users. Who or what is noteworthy enough for Wikipedia is being heavily filtered through the biased lens of its volunteer editors.

Sara Thomas recognised this bias and decided to do something about it. She is Scotland Program Coordinator for Wikimedia UK, a charity which supports Wikipedia editors. She also volunteers as an editor with Women In Red to turn red links — where a woman is mentioned on a Wikipedia page but does not have her own profile — into blue links, women with a Wikipedia page. In three years, Women In Red has added over 17,000 women to Wikipedia. In July 2018 the volunteer editors are focusing on women in Sub-Saharan Africa. Sara spoke to us from a Women In Red meetup in Edinburgh.

SARA: Women in Red have a number of monthly edit-a-thons, a number of monthly focuses, and as you say, one of them this month is women from sub-Saharan Africa. So one of the issues that we have in terms of systemic bias is it’s not just a bias to do with gender, it’s also with a lot of things.

Our average Wikimedian on English Wikipedia is male, technically inclined, formally educated English speaker from the majority Christian country, from a developed nation and from the northern hemisphere. So there is a bias towards the global north and it’s important to us, and I’m seeing this in chat in between, I work with Wikimedia UK and I hear a lot of this, there’s talk about we need to do more around coverage for underrepresented subjects including the global south.

HOST: Wikipedia’s own standards for what constitutes ‘noteworthy’ can also be biased. Proof of achievement, in Wikipedia world, is via mainstream media coverage, and mainstream media also skews heavily male, and heavily white. Recent research by the Guardian shows the problem even reaches children’s magazines, with only 5% of cover stars from an ethnic minority.

Studies into who is invited onto current affairs and news programs or quoted in newspapers as an expert show that three quarters are men. When women do appear in newspapers, it is not because of our expertise. A report by feminist campaign group OBJECT stated that newspapers routinely engaged in, to quote, “excessive objectification of women in some parts of the press, reducing them entirely to sexual commodities in a way that would not be broadcast on television, nor allowed in the workplace because of equality legislation”.

Only a quarter of worldwide news stories are about women, but they are mainly written by men. A 2016 study by City University London showed that 94% of British journalists are white.

It’s no wonder that the media citations essential to Wikipedia are in short supply for women and people of colour.

SARA: It can be more difficult to prove notability for women, and when you’re looking at English Wikipedia, you’re looking at a number of different countries. So again, you might be looking at somebody who doesn’t realise that you know, a national newspaper for an African country is just as notable as something from say, a different part of America. We have all of those kinds of interplays, but it can be more difficult.

Somewhere like Women in Red is a great starting point for showing people how to get around those policies and how to understand those policies and guidelines and understand this whole back end of Wikipedia. But yeah, create an account and edit, come find us. We will be more than happy to help you.

****

HOST: Another woman who is determined to change the role model landscape is entrepreneur Janneke Niessen. She’s the founder of Inspiring Fifty, a Europe-wide organisation dedicated to increasing diversity in the technology sector by making role models more visible in the media.

JANNEKE: First of all, we also connect these women and we get very good feedback from them also, how they help each other and how much it brings them, that they are more in the news. And we also actively approach journalists and conference organisers to put these women forward because in the end it’s really important that it’s not just a list of women, but actually make sure that their voices are in the media, are on stages.

HOST: Janneke is also an author, and has lectured on the subject of digital media at Amsterdam and Leuven universities. She recognised that role models aren’t always adults. Children’s own peers can set the example. She decided to create a book for young girls to encourage them into STEM.

JANNEKE: All the research shows that they actually move away from tech quite early around 10, 11, 12 years old. And it’s also the same time where they actually make really important decisions with regards to their education. But at that age they think it’s boring. They think it’s difficult and worse they think they are not capable of it. And that’s what I really wanted to change because every girl should have the opportunity to choose whatever they want to choose, but preferably based on correct information. And because we all know it’s not boring, it’s not difficult and definitely girls can do it, they are really good at it and the problem is not so much that they, that it’s really true that they hate it, but they just have the wrong idea of what it is.

HOST: The book she created is called Project Prep, and it tells the story of four young girls who create a fashion app from scratch. Janneke feels strongly that outreach should tap into all of the interests of girls and not just the stereotypically ‘nerdy’ ones, because so many girls don’t realise their everyday interests like fashion or social media are related to technology.

JANNEKE: So ask them, do you want to work in tech? They’re like mmm, no, and ask them if they want to work at Snapchat or Instagram and they say yes and they don’t see that that’s also tech. And that’s why we need to show them what tech is and how learning to code learning digital skills translate in what they can do later on in life and how the things that they do like, how they involve a lot of tech as well.

HOST: Janneke’s philosophy is ‘if they can see it, they can be it’. Recent research by Microsoft shows that the number of girls interested in STEM doubles when they have role models. The report also states that girls who have STEM role models evaluate themselves as higher performers across every STEM subject.

JANNEKE: It’s not one silver bullet, it’s a lot of small things that will contribute to getting them to choose tech and then also making the older role models, the adults more visible will help too, so they can see where all these women ended up, what kind of jobs they have and they can see how it would, what would be fitting for them.

HOST: Janneke’s sentiments are echoed in the teaching industry. Daljit Kaur is head of STEM innovation at Loughborough Grammar School in Britain. She agrees that one of the biggest barriers to diversity in STEM is stereotypical ideas about what science or technology actually are.

DALJIT: For so long engineers has been such a male dominated field. And if you look at the image, that’s been portrayed as a male person.

HOST: Daljit tackles this directly, by putting diverse role models in front of pupils. She organises female engineering graduates from Loughborough University to attend workshops at schools, to directly inspire the pupils and show them that engineers can look like them, and engineering can be applied to everything.

DALJIT: Basically, I’ve gone into primary schools and I’ve said to the kids, your parents might wear makeup. You might be applying a bit of foundation on. Do you think that’s engineering? No, no, of course not. So it’s trying to change that word engineering. Trying to get them to get to know this is engineering.

HOST: This philosophy recognises that while gender stereotypes are part of what stops young girls studying STEM, the fact remains that fashion and makeup are core interests of the teen demographic and outreach can embrace that. But it doesn’t always go to plan. In 2015, tech giant IBM released a video intended to encourage girls into STEM. The video was called ‘hack a hairdryer’ and invited girls to reinvent the hairdryer. The backlash was severe. Accusations of sexism and stereotyping flew around Twitter, and IBM eventually apologised and took the video down.

The dilemma is this. If we want to bust stereotypes, maybe we shouldn’t be using heavily-gendered language or examples like makeup and hairdryers. But, what if it works? What if those examples are genuinely relatable to girls? Why should those interests be excluded or ignored?

In an article for Fortune magazine, tech journalist and podcaster Stacey Higginbotham interviewed Tricia Berry, the director of Women in Engineering Program at the University of Texas at Austin, about the hack a hairdryer campaign. Stacey writes,

“Tricia Berry explains that her organization used to do a group activity focused on building small robots using a tooth-brush head and a little motor. The robots were called bristle bots. Last year, during the engineering fair the organization held for girls, they switched gears to instead build a butterfly robot using the same components with the addition of wings the girls could color.

Participation soared.

“The response was so different,” Berry said. “Was it sexist because we made it into a butterfly? I don’t know, but anything to grab their attention and make [tech] relatable.”

Stacey Higginbotham takes this concept of relatability further. She believes that engaging girls in STEM doesn’t have to mean conforming to gender stereotypes, but is about offering a wide range of options which can also include the butterflies and beauty and pink princesses. So you might include a hairdryer in a whole range of things for young people to ‘hack’, rather than just focusing on one thing.

STACEY: I think you should just let girls be girls and if you like pink and if boys like pink, anyone can like pink if they want it. And in science and engineering the key isn’t just to have quote unquote girly things. It’s to have a range of things and right now the range of things you can do in science and engineering is relatively narrow at the instruction and getting people interested layer. I think there are a lot of women who get out into the world and who are like, oh, I really want to change this or take action about something. And they realise that to do this they should’ve studied coding, which is a terrible thing to have thought. Right. Uh, so I think, I think the issue is just to get people interested is to offer a huge range of things that appeal to anyone and everyone regardless of their gender. So yes, hack a hairdryer, build a battle-bot, make an Arduino-powered dog feeder. Just have a bunch of things that get people interested.

HOST: She takes this approach with her own daughter, using a free service called ‘If This Then That’ or IFTTT to bring basic coding and logic into her home in a practical and fun way.

STACEY: There are two things kids relate to. One is there a particular set of interests to is an almost instantaneous feedback for a lot of these things. And the younger the kid, the more quickly that payoff has to come. So I’ve done things with my daughter, like we use IFTTT which is a service that lets you create if this, then that commands for smart home gadgets and the web. So we actually use that service every year at Halloween to kind of create a haunted house for, for us.

HOST: Stacey’s educational use of If This Then That is also fun. The app lets you send commands to your smart home gadgets like Alexa, or web-enabled electrical outlets, to say ‘if this happens, then do that’. For Halloween, she showed her daughter how to build a ghost on top of a hairdryer which is then connected to a motion sensor via the app. If someone walks past the motion sensor, the hairdryer switches on and the ghost flutters around.

STACEY: Those kind of things appeal to kids, boy or girl because they let them do something. They’re thinking through the problem. They’re creating a chain reaction and they see the results right then? Plus it’s something they care about, like having an awesome haunted house. That’s how you appeal to kids in a non-gendered way and sure some of it could be gendered, but a lot of it’s probably just going to be what they would call fun.

HOST: Stacey is showing that role models can begin at home. If role models expand the perception of who is a scientist or engineer, perhaps embracing non-science interests can expand the perception of role models.

*****

Many STEM outreach programmes talk about diversity, but what is meant by that? Diversity can mean gender, it can mean race or ethnicity, nationality, disability, sexuality or age. Are STEM diversity initiatives at risk of trying to make one size fit all? Does diversity itself need to diversify?

The National Center for Women and Information Technology notes some alarming statistics. While 26% of the entire USA computing workforce are women, only 3% are black women.

This is a problem also seen in the UK. At a recent British political initiative, an all-party parliamentary group for diversity in STEM, one panelist raised the issue of ethnic minorities in engineering.

Dr Nike Folayan, the Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers, told the group that while 25% of engineering graduates are from ethnic minority backgrounds, only 6% of working UK engineers are. That means that BAME engineering graduates are not transitioning into the workplace, and Dr Folayan works to find out why.

She campaigns for better representation in her industry, and in 2016 coordinated a major initiative called Transition — a series of ‘employability’ workshops to help address the unemployment challenges facing engineering graduates of colour. Her interventions are working; 70% of attendees gained employment within 12 months of graduating.

But while one-to-one interventions work, the biggest diversity challenges come from a lack of data. Dr Folayan points out that there is currently no data for proportion of BAME women working in engineering. Indeed, the data gap became startlingly apparent when we researched this episode.

The failure of a ‘one size fits all’ approach to diversity is echoed in studies. A 2017 literature review from Birkbeck analysed studies of the experiences of African-American women academics and PhD students and found that while mentoring is particularly beneficial, women of colour face different forms of discrimination and therefore need additional support strategies.

There is change in the air. In March this year, the Marvel film Black Panther made headlines for its breakout star Letitia Wright’s portrayal of scientist and inventor Shuri, whose innovations help…well, to save the world. If the Scully effect holds true, then Shuri is an essential role model for black girls. Children from the American charity Black Girls Code attended a special screening of Black Panther as the guests of tennis champion Serena Williams and her husband, tech entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian, an event documented on Williams’ Instagram. Superheroes are one way young girls of colour might learn that they are welcome in STEM. We return to Stemettes CEO Anne-Marie Imafidon:

ANNE-MARIE: It’s interesting when we’re talking about STEM role models, I looked back and was a little bit frustrated that given the experience I’d had, like if there was anybody that was looking for girls that were technical, you would have found me and been like, hey Anne-Marie, join the X-Men, you’re one of the X-Men and come and join our organisation or a community or a program and I’ve never had that at all the entire way.

So yeah, I kind of started Stemettes as a response to all of that and the fact that we now have this Instagram generation where it’s not just about theorems and theories, but actually this is like real life from real stuff that they interact with anyway.

HOST: In the first ever episode of Nevertheless we interviewed Sue Black, who is mentioned at the start of this episode. In it Sue talked about her Stem Role Model Dame Stephanie Shirley and questioned why someone with her achievements weren’t as well know as male innovators. Sue has worked tirelessly to bring recognition to women whose achievements have been overlooked, inspiring may to choose a career in STEM. We return to Kim England again…

KIM: I think if I ever met Sue Black I’d probably be star struck at for a couple of minutes… then I would just say thank you. Actually I would say thank you for doing what you’re doing. Please keep doing what you’re doing, um, and in and continue to inspire another generation of women in technology.

CREDITS:

Nevertheless is a Storythings production — Series Producer is Renay Richardson. Executive Producer Nathan Martin and Anjali Ramachandran. This episode was produced and written by Tracy King. Music and sound design by Jason Oberholtzer and Michael Simonelli, supported by Pearson, and presented by me, Leigh Alexander.

This season we’re shouting out some unsung heroes in STEM and the first person I’m shouting out is Janelle Shane. Go to aiweirdness.com to find out more about her work with neural networks.


Nevertheless is a a podcast celebrating the women transforming teaching and learning through technology. Supported by Pearson. Subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Soundcloud, TuneIn or RadioPublic.