Q&A With AdannaOnoniwu, founder of the InspireIT mentoring program for young women.
Women and girls pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math (known as STEM fields) often find themselves the only girls in the room. It’s a frustration that Adanna Ononiwu of Nigeria knows all too well. Ononiwu recently launched InspireIT, a free mentoring program for girls and young women entering STEM fields.
"The world needs more female software engineers,” Ononiwu writes on her blog, adannanuela. “The industry is woefully short on women, and we're being deprived of a potentially unique perspective on problem solving and creativity that they could bring to the table.”
Guided by her own success as an IT project manager and graduate of Anglia Ruskin University’s Information Technology Management program, Ononiwu pairs young women with mentors from around the world. She hopes to motivate women who chose this field to persevere; she also hopes to bring more girls into the room.
Q & A
Where did you get the idea for InspireIT and how did it come about?
When I was doing my degree in computer science, there were few women in the class. When I was doing my master’s degree, I was the only female in my class. I wondered, “Why are we not more inclined [to enter the computer science field and STEM in general]?” I decided to do something about it. I want to encourage more girls to get involved in STEM. … By helping to get more girls involved, further underlying factors why young girls and women do not actively get involved in STEM can be identified too, though lots of research has been carried out in that area.
How does this mentoring program work, and what is its relationship to Nuecla Service Inc.?
Nuecla Services is still growing (in Nigeria). I have three male and three female employees including me who work on a part-time basis. We help find mentors in IT who can mentor the girls and women. They are drawn from all over the world. I have more mentors than mentees. That’s why I kickstarted the One-on-One campaign (the InspireIT team speaks with girls and women “one-on-one” about InspireIT and how it will benefit them). I really want more young girls to get involved. It’s easier to catch them young and make sure they really know what the field is all about. Mentoring our young girls at an early stage will help them to make the right choices as regards their career and have an idea of what to expect in the university.
What keeps you fueled and inspired in your work? Who are the female computer scientists or engineers you most admire?
I love helping people grow and I love technology. I admire Annie-Marie Slaughter a lot. She is a great thinker and the way she has risen to the top of her career is incredible. I admire Okonji Iweala too for her zeal in trying to create a positive image for Nigeria. I look up to Anita Borg and Ada Lovelace as computer scientists because of their positive contributions to programming. I also admire my former lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, Dr. Rajshree Mootanah.
Tell me about your partnership with fellow World Pulse member Poh Ching.
Poh Ching is a wonderful lady. She is my Deputy. She will be collaborating with me on how to move InspireIT forward as well as recruiting volunteers for InspireIT. Her enthusiasm blew me away. I am hoping to collaborate with more women, especially World Pulse members. I am hoping that the “Queen Bee Effect” will be reduced with InspireIT (The Queen Bee Effect describes a woman in a position of authority who views or treats subordinates more critically if they are a woman who has succeeded in her career, but refuses to help other women do the same).
Tell me more about the unique perspective you think girls and women bring to STEM.
I read a book titled Lost Talent, Women in Sciences by S.L. Hanson, and I was very intrigued because of the analysis that findings are mixed concerning the grade in which boys’ and girls’ attitudes about mathematics and science diverge. Sometimes women need just a little push and in this technology era, women getting involved in writing codes will help in developing more devices to assist women.
What are the greatest joys and triumphs you’ve experienced in your work?
Graduating successfully with the men in my class during my master’s program was amazing. Some men have a way of looking down at you if you are a woman in STEM. Some of the men feel women are not strong enough to compete with the men in the IT industry. Women can encourage one another and help the industry grow.
What advice do you offer to girls interested in STEM?
I would advise them to believe in themselves, be sure you are ready to accept criticism (because there will be loads of it) and never quit. Connect to a mentor – it really helps. They should rally round and help InspireIT grow. Be an avid reader.
What is your vision for the future of women in STEM and their leadership within these fields?
My vision is to get more young girls and women involved in STEM globally. In Nigeria for example, the ratio of girls to boys who have ICT (Information and Communication Technology) skills is very low, and less than 23% of women have skills in ICT. With the advancements in technology, I am hoping that more young girls and women will be more involved in STEM and become global leaders in their fields through mentoring.
What does it mean to you to be a female leader in a male-dominated field? What do you want your legacy to be as a female leader in STEM?
Being a female leader in a male-dominated field is tough. Most men will want to “shout down” your ideas if it does not suit them while some will encourage you, but it is not easy at all. One needs to be very confident to be a leader in a male-dominated field. I want to be remembered as one of the female leaders who helped to reduce the “Queen Bee Effect” in STEM through InspireIT.
Editor's note:Connect directly withAdannaon World Pulse.If you are involved in a mentoring program or interested in exploring the topic of mentoring, join theLeadership Groupand continue the discussion.