Increase female-friendly recruitment schemes. For example, schemes that support and encourage women coming back from maternity leave. Maternity is a very trying period for every woman, after having gone through the rigors of labour and taking care of a new born to settle them into their new world. It is very stressful having to leave their babies by going straight into full time work. This usually causes a lot of women to lose ground.
As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the gender wage gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Grace E Olugbodi. Dr. Olugbodi is the creator of the multi-Award winning math board game called “Race To Infinity” and the author of “Make Math Fun: How to Increase Your Child’s Grades and Confidence Through Games” book. Grace graduated with 1st Class Honours in BSc Computing with Information Systems and holds an MSc in Financial Markets with Information Systems. She then went on to become an Investment Banker and Java Software Programmer for many years in five different Investment Banks, programming on the Systems that traders use for stock trading. After 8 years in Investment Banking, Grace and her husband started a business in Health & Nutrition offering specialised cooking utensils, which has now been running for over 10 years. She is currently the Chair of Governors in a Primary School and the Chair of the Finance Committee. She is also the Governor in charge of Creative Curriculum, teaching and learning for the school; as well as a Trustee and Director on the Student Union Board of one of Central London’s largest Universities. Grace also sits on the board of a Multi Academy Trust comprising six schools as a Trustee and Director. In 2015, Grace co-authored a book that hit #1 BestSeller on Amazon in 7 different categories, titled “Get in the Game.” Grace’s real passion is teaching parents, tutors and teachers a special method that successfully helps children make math fun, enjoy math more, increase confidence, reduce mathematical anxiety, and helps increase kids’ opportunities for success. Her game, Race To Infinity, designed, tested (with a lot of help from her two children) and finally launched in December 2016 has won 4 National & International Awards in the last 2 years and been endorsed and approved by reputable organisations including National Numeracy, Tower Hamlets Education BP and the Good Toy Guide (including numerous headteachers, teachers, Heads of Math Depts in Schools, Education Celebrities, parents, children, large tuition centres and tutors). The Race To Infinity math game has been awarded the prestigious AmazonCHOICE BADGE and the Amazon BESTSELLER BADGE several times by Amazon.Co.Uk and Amazon.Com itself. In 2018, Amazon asked to partner directly with Grace’s company. They became a partner, such that Amazon itself now buys her Race To Infinity game wholesale and sells retail. Grace has won numerous Awards in the last few years, including the Micro to Small Business Award 2019 for the Royal London Borough of Greenwich (one of only 3 Royal Boroughs in London) Business Awards 2019, and a couple of Women Inspiring Women National Awards. Grace has been invited to and spoken on several reputable platforms including the BBC (BBC Business Live), Barclays Plc and the London School of Economics. In July 2019, Grace was interviewed Live on BBC NEWS TV about her Race To Infinity math game. This was also aired Live on BBC WORLD TV. In the same July, Grace was awarded a Honorary Doctorate Degree (Doctor of Philosophy) by London Metropolitan University, one of Central London’s largest Universities, in recognition of her work in helping children fall in love with Mathematics. She is a Speaker for Inspiring the Future and a National Numeracy Challenge Champion. She has also been quoted on NBC, FOX, ABC, and CBS News, and has been featured in UK local, national and international media including the UK Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and several international newspapers including The Guardian.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?
As a child, I was a curious girl with curls in my hair. My father played chess with us and I loved playing board games with the family. My parents always loved to challenge us, so they would always push us to try out seemingly impossible things.
When I was 10 years old, my father supported me in math, and made math fun and creative for me.
I had been an average C student in Mathematics and always saw the “math people” as so lucky. During one particular summer however, something significant happened with my math-confidence. What my father did with my math learning increased my self-confidence and later brought offers my way that I could otherwise only have dreamt of.
This period was during the summer between Primary (Elementary) School and Secondary (High) School. By the time I got into Secondary School at the turn of the first term, I was an A student; but I did not realise it at the time.
At the end of that academic year, I was told I was the best student in math in my whole Year group, out of 300+ students. I was shocked; actually gobsmacked. I could not believe it. That had to be a joke.
It turned out it was not a joke. I won the Math Prize. That gave me great belief and sent my confidence soaring. I continued to win Math Prizes in school. That was how my story started.
Little did my father know, that that was the beginning of him changing his little, curly-haired daughter’s life.
Unknown to me at the time, my father had given me a gem, a precious stone. I was to later make helping children fall in love with math, my mission. This was to change my life.
Fast forward nine years, I started University. Because of my love for math, I studied a BSc Computing degree, in which I had a First Class Honors result, just through choosing the most math-like units wherever there was a choice. I then worked in Investment Banks for several years as a Software Programmer.
My Masters degree was in Financial Markets with Information Systems, which I studied full time at the same time as working in an Investment Bank full time. I also remember doing my MSc dissertation while at the same time being pregnant too.
One day during my first year while studying for my BSc at University, I went to the Student Union Building; as I usually went there to help in the Peer Support programme, to support fellow students not doing so well with Math and Programming. When I got there on this particular day, I saw an advert asking for volunteers to go into schools and help children who were struggling with math build their math-confidence, through games and through creative ways.
This advert made my heart bleed for these children because that was not my experience. It was obvious that these children were suffering from mathematical anxiety and had low confidence. That was just not right. I felt heartbroken. I volunteered and joined the non-profit Foundation, and went into schools to help these children through games and creative ways. We attended once a week during the selected children’s lunch break. They had to give up half an hour of their lunch break to come and play games with us each week.
Within just six weeks, we saw remarkable feedback in the children’s results and their new attitude towards math. Their teachers reported that the children were engaging more in class, and had increased confidence in math. By the end of the year, the children had all raised their math levels.
Through my experience, I realized there are three key problems surrounding children math learning. Too many children:
1. Hate Math, don’t see the point in doing it, or find it a boring chore.
2. Do not believe they can get good at it; usually because they have been inadvertently told that by a parent or a teacher.
3. Do not have effective, creative, fun methods of doing and practising math.
Sadly, many children experience low self-esteem and low self-confidence as a result, which can affect their life and future. I find this heart breaking as it can also easily lead on to Math Anxiety.
However, the bigger problem is that too many parents are afraid of math themselves and don’t know how to help their children. The world is a lot more competitive and demanding now, and the youths of this generation are finding it harder to do well or get good jobs without math.
In the USA, UK and many other countries around the world, statistics show that mathematical anxiety among children and adults is rife.
As an example, in the UK, government statistics show that half the adults in the UK have numeracy levels no greater than that of an 11-year old. They have found it is costing the economy around £20 billion a year.
After my initial experience with those children in schools, I started to think. All the while I was studying my MSc while working as an Investment Bank Software Programmer, I was also thinking of how I could help parents help their children with math effectively. I wanted to think up a way parents could do this effectively, without having to teach math themselves. There were just not effective enough methods out there.
In 2003, I made it my mission to turn math into a game that every child would love to play every time.
I decided to start working on creating my own math board game that would achieve just this, and help children globally learn and practise math while playing, without realizing they are learning. After all, math is a common language we all share. Numbers are numbers, everywhere.
I realized the solution is to catch them young and started planning for the game to be aimed at children aged 6 to 13 years.
I believe that everyone can improve their math skills. I also believe that talent is overrated — there is no such thing as a “Math person”. Math is simply a skill, and any skill just needs practice, with the right guidance, to get good at it.
I want to make a difference to society and impact children globally just as I have done with my two children who have become excellent at math. I want to see children all over the world loving math, enjoying math, doing math with ease, being math confident and reducing mathematical anxiety.
Years later, I created my first math board game called Race To Infinity. That was my baby. I also wrote my book titled “Make Math Fun: How to Increase Your Child’s Grades and Confidence Through Games”.
I had started originally with little or no funds, and had created my first math game on paper.
In 2015, when the game was ‘ready, my mentor from Virgin StartUp said it was wonderful but that the game board itself was wrong and needed re-doing. After years of work I had to start again. With no spare money, I had to be resourceful.
Between myself and my two kids, we played that game about 450 times to test it. I could not launch it if it was not perfect. I ran workshops and kept tweaking the game until I was satisfied. On a shoe-string budget I printed 100 copies of the final version and sold non-profit for proof of concept. Then I saved to print the first 1,500 games.
I learnt to sell on Amazon like my life depended on it and the game became successful there. I worked hard and reinvested to improve the product and did four additional language translations of the rules to make five translations available (English, French, German, Spanish and Italian). We are now currently working on starting the Arabic and Japanese translations.
I built this game through resilience, grit and determination.
No printer would print only a 100 games for me, so I grafted my way through to achieve what I needed to achieve. I used four different printers in four different locations. Each printer was about half hour to an hour’s drive apart, and I collected all the components from each and drove all to the Finishers’ to put the components of the 100 games together. I was with the Finishers’ in the factory and together we put the components of each game together and shrink-wrapped them to become fully packaged board games. I still remember filming a video of the first game when it was coming out of the machine.
When I saw the first game of my finished product come out of that machine, I did not know whether to laugh or to cry, because it had taken me so long to complete in my opinion. I actually did laugh and cry at the same time.
I now specialize in helping children fall in love with Mathematics by creating educational and math board games for children. The games have been specifically designed to have replay-ability; that is, that ability of a game to bring a child back to want to come and play it over and over again. I also worked to design our math games to teach and develop other life skills such as creative thinking skills, critical thinking skills, decision making, logic, deductive reasoning and spatial awareness.
To solve the math problem, I have created a program incorporating the notion of play learning. This program motivates children to do math with stress free, creative, fun and stimulating methods. It’s a 5-step methodology that sells them on the big WHY, and includes unique games that bring fun to math, alongside my online hub, my book, stories, workshops, consultations, and math shortcuts videos. This system is making a difference to how children, and even parents view math, making children happier and parents worry less.
I also do a lot of volunteering. I speak about how math changed my life and how parents can help their children build more math confidence, make math fun, reduce math anxiety and help them build more opportunities for a successful future.
I also build video online courses to support parents to learn how to help their children with math without having to learn math as they know it to be.
I am Chair of Governors (Chair of Trustees) in a school, and a Trustee and Director on the Student Union Board of a University. I also take part in various other activities and Public Speaking.
After the Race To Infinity game release in December 2016, I had some satisfaction that I am walking with purpose. I have since been pleasantly surprised at the uptake of the game and how well it has been received. I have had hundreds of have fantastic testimonials and endorsements from parents, children, head teachers, math co-ordinators and huge organizations.
One of the first ones I had was from a Director from a large International Tuition Centre. He said “children were actually queuing up to play the game and coming back to ask for it over and over.”
I have since had Amazon who asked to partner with me, such that they now buy wholesale and sell retail, and have so many endorsements from large organizations all over the world. I also have partnered with billion-dollar companies like the Berkeley Homes Plc.
Race To Infinity is now available in 10+ countries and has won several Awards, mostly National and International awards (UK and USA) in the math game, family game and Home Education/Homeschooling categories. I have also won a few personal Awards.
The games are now fast developing into a product line which we are working to get into retail worldwide. I am also expanding my programme to include a membership site for parents and will further license out my methods to be able to take it further global. I continue to live out my purpose and mission.
I am addicted to helping children fall in love with math. This is my addiction, my heartbeat.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?
Last year, as I exhibited our games at a National Show, a lady walked up to me and said she was an Amazon buyer. She said they had been watching what I had done with the Race To Infinity game on Amazon so far and that they loved the product and my work so far. She said they believed they could take me much further and asked that they would like to partner with me.
I was shocked, and scared. Although it sounded like a really good thing that a trillion-dollar company would search me out and that I was flattered, I was still worried. I thought I must be in trouble. My fulfilment house must have sent the wrong products to Amazon accidentally instead of my game.
Long story short, it was actually real. The next day I received an email from the lovely Amazon lady confirming everything. We (BeGenio) are now partners with Amazon, such that Amazon now buy our Race To Infinity games wholesale and sell retail.
That was the beginning of good things to help me achieve my mission and help kids. It has kicked off so many other things.
I have been very lucky in that it has all continued. Race To Infinity has won quite a number of National awards just between last year and this year. Most of the major excellent happenings have been within the last six to seven months alone.
One such one was the BBC interview. Just a couple of months ago in July, I was interviewed live about my Race To Infinity Math game on BBC NEWS TV and BBC World TV(which aired live), spoke at the London School of Economics in the Women Who Change Lives Series on Social Entrepreneurship, won the Royal Borough of Greenwich Best Business Awards 2019 in London (Best Micro to Small Business Category) and have been awarded a Honorary PhD Doctorate degree by one of Central London’s largest Universities in recognition of my work in helping children fall in love with Math (July 2019).
Race To Infinity has been voted one of the Top 10 Best Games in The School Run and has won several Amazon #1 BESTSELLER and AMAZONCHOICE Badges.
The morale of the story is that I feel totally blessed that my purpose and mission is becoming a reality. I simply am trying to help children fall in love with math, build confidence, reduce Math Anxiety and build more opportunities for a successful future.
All of these pieces of recognition and wonderful support have come from other people and organizations that have been kind enough recognize the importance of raising children who are numerate in all nations, in this new world we live in.
Just some days ago, I was invited to run Race To Infinity math game workshops and math tricks workshops to help kids build confidence in math, alongside some huge companies like Deloitte, VISA, Proctor &Gamble, EY and GlaxoSmithKline.
Can you share a story about the funniest or most interesting mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The biggest mistake I made was not launching the Race To Infinity game earlier. After all, I had my prototype for many years, but I was too afraid to launch it. I thought it was going to fail.
However in 2015, when I literally could not sleep easy at night anymore and had no rest from not launching my dream and helping other kids love math and be confident in math, I made a decision.
I remember standing in the kitchen and declaring openly. I said: “If it will kill me, I will get my Race To Infinity math game out.” I also declared that: “If it is the last thing I do, I will get the board game out”. “Let it fail, I will get the game out”. That was it.
After overcoming a few more show-stopping challenges, at the end of 2016 I launched the Race To Infinity math game and started selling in 2017. I have not been able to believe the success of it so far. I am still pinching myself, wondering how I got so lucky. I believe I made my own luck, with help from above. I am not sure I can take the credit, but I worked incredibly hard and actually even suffered. I sowed blood, sweat, tears and more.
I learnt a big lesson.
Try everything. If you do not try, you will never know. Never.
If something does not work, pick yourself up and try again.
I had to create a brand new game board in 2015 when my mentor said the mechanics of the game and the way of playing the game was fantastic, but that the board was all wrong. I did not even know how to draw. I still do not.
I almost did not launch the game. I look back at all the innocent children that would have missed out, that would not have increased their confidence through playing the game like numerous kids have. It does not bear thinking about.
I often think about all the testimonials I get from parents all over the world saying math will never be the same again and how their children’s math skills have improved. I think about numerous parents that have told me their child learnt their 12 Multiplication Times Tables just by playing my Race To Infinity game. When I look back, I thank God that I launched this game as I almost did not launch it.
I keep wishing I did not wait so long.
Don’t give up. Believe in yourself. If you do not, nobody will.
Get involved in your niche in your local community and volunteer.
Anything you get involved in can lead you to anything, or lead you anywhere. By chance, by stroke of luck, by serendipity, by providence, or through destiny. What started out as volunteering led me to my passion and mission.
Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. Even in 2019, women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. Can you explain three of the main factors that are causing the wage gap?
The Gender Wage Gap is a sensitive topic, one that has been going on for a while now. It all boils down to fairness, equal opportunities, eliminating inequality, caring about pay discrepancy, fostering inclusion and diversity. It is about humans feeling valued and not marginalised.
There are a lot of factors causing the Gender Wage Gap to exist. Three of the main ones are:
1. Little or no transparency and accountability where salaries being paid to males and females who are of similar levels of experience, are concerned.
2. Too many women not feeling able, confident enough or “good enough” to apply to senior positions, leaving those positions to more men than women. If women are not getting the experience they need at such levels, when they eventually get to those levels, they do not feel they are worth paying the same as their male counterparts. As such they do not tend to ask for the same amounts. This is continuing to lead to imbalance as women do not generally ask for what they should be worth, whereas men do.
3. Women losing ground after maternity. As a woman, I can say through personal experience that having been out of work for months focussing on something else, that is, raising a baby, you are sort of “put back” by the time you come back. It’s not uncommon for some of your male counterparts to have moved ahead while you are away nursing the baby. Maternity usually happens more than once on average for most women, which means losing ground generally happens more than once.
I was lucky in that my field (Software Programming) was a field that had scarcity of Programmers for Investment Banking in terms of supply. So being a female, or male, did not matter much. There was no room for gender preferences.
Many other women though, have to go through this period. They lose some ground each time they have a baby and some never go back to work, leaving more positions unfilled by women.
Can you share with our readers what your work is doing to help close the gender wage gap?
It goes without saying that my support staff get paid appropriately for their skills whether they are male or female.
In my own career, despite being one of the only females in the environment, there was no question of me not being paid for my skills; my skills were in short supply and therefore in demand.
Therefore, we are advocating the STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), and that jobs based on Mathematics are some of the highest paid jobs around.
The key, is to catch them young. If we can raise girl children to also be confident in math and in their own ability and self-worth, they will be applying for the senior positions.
We focus on math because Mathematics teaches resilience and sparks curiosity, the ripple effect of which includes a positive mental attitude, cognitive development and numerous life skills that create a fulfilling career and life.
Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the gender wage gap. Please share a story or example for each.
We as women have a whole host of other challenges that men do not have.
The Gender Wage Gap is definitely one such topic that we must focus on, on a broader societal level.
Talking from personal experience, when I was in Investment Banking, I did not actually suffer any of the negative symptoms of the Gender Wage Gap, or so it seems.
I have personal experience of being in a man’s world. In all my years in Investment Banking, every time I was in a team, I was almost always the only female in the group. In my last two jobs in Investment Banks as a Programmer, I have to say that our pay amounts were very close or the same. In fact, I remember earning more than at least one male colleague with the same amount of career experience that I had.
The reason, I believe, was because I made myself stand out and had gone into a field that many did not want to go into. I imagine there was demand for Programmers but not that many more for supply.
Therefore, the Software Programming section of the IT (Information Technology) recruitment industry had to treat everyone the same. There were no men or women so to speak, we were one. We were not plenty enough to perform pay preference experiments with, in a field where there was already some scarcity.
To be qualified to be paid on same level as men, I had to ask for the same sort of pay amounts my male counterparts asked for; and I had to do what they did, that many other men (and even more women) did not want to. Lots of people in the IT industry did not seem to like programming at all and would rather do any other IT role (but programming).
Well, that was a blessing in disguise for the rest of us who were females. It left the opportunity open to the few women who cared to be programmers, to make up the numbers for the relatively few men who were happy to be Software Programmers. The recruitment agencies and employers could not care less whether I was male or female.
I had graduated from University with First Class Honors in BSc Computing and Information Systems. I chose to do more math-like units and more programming units as I wanted to become a Software Programmer, because of my Father’s influence on me in making math fun and creative for me when I was 10 years old. I had five programming job offers when I finished at University; much more than many, if not all of my male counterparts. For many years, I worked in 5 different Investment Banks in the City of London, in and around London Wall and I believe in those years, the Gender Wage Gap for me as a female, during those years was closed.
There were other forms of female discrimination I suffered, but the Gender Wage Gap issue is not one of them to my knowledge.
Hence, I can name five ways I am certain can start to close the Gender Wage Gap further from my personal experience.
It starts from when kids are being raised. Confidence plays a big part. When I was naming what I would like to earn each time I applied for a job, I never considered or thought for a moment that I should ask for less because I am female. It did not for once cross my mind.
I simply looked at what people (not women only, just people generally) with the same amount of experience earned in the programming world in Investment Banking, and named those figures.
There are simple, but strategic things we should be doing to close the Gender Wage Gap. I list them as follows:
- Publish the salaries of both genders with equal experience. Having organizations publish these would increase transparency and therefore, accountability. If this is mandatory, just like CEO’s salaries, the action will start to have salary decision makers think a little more when deciding on salaries for both males and females.
2. Educate women to ask for what they are worth for their pay, when applying to jobs. For example, it is important to raise girls to be self-confident and confident in their abilities.
3. Encourage women to apply to more senior positions.
4. Increase female-friendly recruitment schemes. For example, schemes that support and encourage women coming back from maternity leave. Maternity is a very trying period for every woman, after having gone through the rigors of labour and taking care of a new born to settle them into their new world. It is very stressful having to leave their babies by going straight into full time work. This usually causes a lot of women to lose ground.
5. Encourage females to study more STEM-related subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Those roles are in the Technology field where there are massive shortages. Just like my personal experience, there is likely to be less gender pay discrimination in this career field and related ones.
I strongly believe we need to help girls know and believe that they CAN DO Math. Math is also a subject that once a person is confident about, will generally have that self-confidence spreading across several parts of their life.
In summary, paying attention to these five points will make a big difference in closing the Gender Wage Gap.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would create a fun math global movement, online and offline. I would turn parents into math fun buddies using the special tried-and-tested method we used in schools to turn children’s math-confidence around within six weeks. I would create a math centre with an arts twist to show the link, and a touch of sports; and turn my story into an inspiring film. I would use this to show parents exactly how to support their children with math, successfully and change their lives positively, without having to actually teach math themselves. I would use specially selected games, that I have tried and tested over the last 20 years of my experience in the Creative Educational Games Industry.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is a lovely quote by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.
“The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” — Goethe.
Looking back now, I realize that that moment in 2015, that I decided and said aloud that I was going to finish creating the game and find the confidence to launch it into the market, everything I needed to do just that began to move in my favor. Providence moved. It will for you too, once you decide.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Oprah Winfrey, because she is so inspirational. A normal woman like me, with a normal background, that has such made such major strides in life, and inspired so many people. A private breakfast or lunch with Oprah will do more to turn my mission into reality; will make my dream come true, help us spread this positive math message, and inspire countless other women.
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.