This article first appeared in ICAS’ CA magazine.
As CEO of Stemettes, Anne-Marie Imafidon is on a mission to ensure that careers in Stem are open and welcoming to all. She explains how accountancy can take the lead when it comes to inclusive workplaces
Introduction: Laurence Eastham
Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE has parlayed her beginnings as a child prodigy into a successful career in business and advocacy. First making headlines for passing A-levels in mathematics and computer science aged just 11, Imafidon went on to become the youngest person to achieve a master’s degree from the University of Oxford eight years later. That academic landmark led to a five-year spell with Deutsche Bank as an analyst and strategist, but Imafidon’s greatest role has been the founding of Stemettes in 2013.
The social enterprise runs a variety of activities, creating a support network for girls and young non-binary people to explore their interest in Stem and discover the careers that could follow. It has attracted partners including Legal and General, Bank of America, GCHQ and the Department for Transport to help to spread the message far and wide. Ever the polymath, Imafidon splits her time between running Stemettes and a busy schedule of speaking and consulting engagements. Here, she shares how employers can apply its learnings to the workplace and why diversity and inclusion will ensure that the accountancy profession thrives for decades to come.
I was lucky in that I had a strong family network that encouraged my curiosity from a young age. I remember as a child taking apart the VCR player to understand how the videotape went into this black rectangle object and then The Lion King appeared onscreen. It was naughty, perhaps, but not just for naughty’s sake. Capturing that feeling – and creating a support network for children – was why I created Stemettes. A lot of people did not have the benefit of that positive formative experience when it came to Stem education.
Our ethos is that Stemettes is free, fun and there’s always food. That contrasts with a lot of other programmes, where you’d have to pay hundreds or thousands for your child to attend. We pay for laptops, broadband, food and, often, travel. It means as wide a variety of children as possible can attend.
It speaks to the power of altruism, too. We’ve all noticed that young people, at school and entering work, are very aware of today’s problems and want to make a difference. Traditionally, that idea of helping people was associated with professions like medicine, but now there’s a broad understanding that an engineer or an accountant can drive change, too. Young people want to know how they can use their skills for good. For example, we recently partnered with Standard Chartered to run “hackathons” to design product and business solutions for sustainability issues.
From school to workplace
The private sector has a big responsibility here. I see the role of government as being to maintain basic standards. We shouldn’t need to be convinced by reporting requirements and levies – it’s clear the private sector stands to gain a lot by diversifying. It’s costly if groups of people are disengaged and feel like they’re not empowered or fulfilling their purpose. And it can be costly when you’re not able to address the issues your clients are facing because you don’t have diversity of background or thought. There are benefits to innovation and keeping pace with fast-moving developments in areas like technology, too. If you see regulation as the only reason to diversify, then it’s likely you won’t do it properly.
For those firms looking to improve accessibility and diversity, don’t go it alone. An easy thing to do is partner with organisations like Stemettes, where an expertise has been developed. Much in the same way you bring in a partner to audit your financials, bring in a partner to discuss your workplace. It allows you to take an external look at your organisation and discuss the routes that people have into your workplace. Good examples in accountancy are apprenticeship programmes and the removal of degree requirements, but consider what other doors to your organisation you can open. It creates a different sense of enthusiasm when you actively open the door for someone.
That’s not the end of the journey either. Diversity becomes inclusion when everyone is treated as equals and taken seriously in the workplace. Otherwise, there’s a danger that diversity is treated as a handicap once you’re inside the building.
To put it simply, the glass ceiling is made of bad managers. The hardest conversations I have with organisations is when the barriers to diversity and inclusion are coming from their current staff. Culture is the average of everyone’s actions. So, what’s going on culturally that has made this become an issue for you and, for example, led to a high attrition rate of particular demographics? That leads to questions about the make-up of hiring panels, but also the kinds of jokes that managers are allowing in their teams.
I don’t typically experience this with our partners at Stemettes, but I have been on speaking engagements where it is immediately clear how management is driving a toxic workplace culture. If you don’t address that, you can talk about diversity until the cows come home, but no one is going to want to stay in your business. It needs to be stamped out immediately.
Good intentions will only carry you so far when it comes to the power dynamics within an organisation. Your intentions are based on you being the person who holds the power and has the agency. When you actively bring different people in, it’s no longer about you, it’s about them, and the average between you. It’s not about bringing someone in and then acting as you always have done. There has to be a change. Think about how you use your influence. You may have to relinquish some control now that there are different types of people in your environment.
For example, so many work policies are based around the assumption that someone has a housewife. Travel and accommodation expenses may be covered for a work trip, but the cost of childcare may not. If you want women there, single parents there, and so on, then you need to change how you’re using your power. And this will only grow in importance following the pandemic. If you want to bring people with disabilities into your organisation, then you need to continue to embrace flexible forms of working. In particular, the pandemic is an opportunity to reset how we do things and wrap them into the policies that we offer employees.
Diversity and inclusion are important for the future of every profession, including accountancy. We can’t just assume that people will become accountants for the same reasons that others became accountants in the past. If you’re only selecting one certain kind of person to join your business, then what happens when they aren’t made like that any longer? It could spell the end of your firm. A desire to maintain the health and legacy of your business should be impetus enough to begin doing things differently.
I see the impact of diversity and inclusion every day at Stemettes. We make sure that we introduce children to diverse role models. That includes gender, age, background, occupation and seniority, too. In one of the very first panel sessions we ran, there was a girl who made a connection with a consultant from Accenture because they both had an interest in taekwondo. It suddenly opened her eyes to the different career paths that were available to someone with her skills and interests. Sometimes, it can be as simple as that.