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Why It's Vital to Inspire Girls to Get Involved in STEM subjects

05/02/2014 13:06 GMT | Updated 06/04/2014 10:59 BST

"It was amazing. What do I have to do to work here? I don't want to leave!" - some of the leaving comments from girls after our 'STEM in a Day' workshops.

Launched in February 2013 by Head Stemette, Anne-Marie Imafidon, the Stemettes project aim is to inspire the next generation of girls into Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM) fields by showing them the amazing women already in STEM, via a series of panel events, hackathons and exhibitions. Far from being a solely feminist aim, it has been widely recognised by a number of recent roundtables, reports and people of power that the need to get more girls 'Stemming it up' has a very economical driver. We're suffering from a skills shortage in an industry of such economic importance, yet are missing a huge chunk of one gender from the talent pipeline.

Along with 3 cabinet ministers and about 26 other people representing various schools, universities, companies and 'grassroots insurgents' in this space, Anne-Marie spoke at a roundtable at 10 Downing Street in December. That this is an issue that needs addressing has been recognised for some time now, but on this day these great minds were picking their brains as to what exactly needs to be done, and how all the elements of this movement can best be brought together to co-ordinate a national effort.

One of the pivotal elements that Anne-Marie wanted to stress in tying this movement together is parents. If parents are clued up on STEM and its importance and exposed to real life Stemettes themselves (normal women, not our preconceived image of a "science geek" or "tech nerd"), then STEM can be continued after school hours at home. Grow this mentality and soon a sense of community and belonging, being the "norm", rather than the outsider, will begin to take root amongst similarly minded girls, our little Stemettes. This philosophy has been at the heart of all the Stemettes have done to date.

With immense support from O2 via their Think Big programme, activities such as girls' hackathons (where girls create their own apps, games, data visualisations or website over a 2-day stretch), networking game events and a day of STEM workshops with the opportunity to see 3D printing, learn to code and mix chemical cocktails has been made possible - giving 700 girls around the UK the opportunity to explore what it is to be a Stemette. The funding we have received has offered a sense of stability which could make the Stemettes a permanent and ever-expanding organisation, rather than just a one-off series of events which didn't quite manage to stick.

Their wholehearted support we've received from O2 Think Big in-kind, as well as in cash, has given the project such a boost in its infancy. The way in which the project has captured attention (from both men and women, individuals and businesses) across the globe has been absolutely awe-inspiring - it took off with a speed which had never been anticipated. Coverage in the Telegraph, Times and Evening Standard sprouted from seeds sown by the support we received early on. Being on stage at O2's Campus Party event in August has led to EU Innovation Commision recognition, and the ready supply of laptops to events has meant that girls have no barriers to attending events. The initial support from them has paid off and has led the way for partnerships with multinationals who are signing up to be a part of the project and help girls have positive childhood experiences with STEM. Support from the likes of O2 Think Big, believing in small projects as they do, acts as a springboard, without which the Stemettes would be operating on a much smaller scale.

[video embed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_JzyNCg0NM ]

In 2014, the Stemettes continue to scale up with their £8,000 funding from O2 Think Big, as this support will mean better coverage across the UK (for every London event we host, we hope to put on an event outside of London), supported by a full-time project manager come co-ordinator whose role it will be to act as 'air traffic controller' for Stemettes activities, workshops and engagements. More hackathons, more panels and more frequent and varied 'STEM days' with schools will all be made possible. More broadly, it has pushed the boundaries of what we believed was attainable and, as a result, the Stemettes continues to surprise even ourselves.

Our reach, impact and potential has grown tremendously, but our core principles are unchanged; to maintain authenticity in all we do, and to give girls access to the skills, opportunities, inspiring women and role models needed to make them believe that girls can do Science, Technology, Maths & Engineering too, then act on that belief.