The existing state of affairs, where women in STEM are concerned is not one that leaves much to be admired. It is not befitting, and not a true representation of what women are capable of. Women deserve a lot more credit for their abilities. Women are just as good as men in STEM. Or should I say can be just as good, and capable of just as much success.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Grace E Olugbodi
Grace E Olugbodi is the creator of the multi-award-winning math board game, Race To Infinity, and the author of Make Math Fun: How to Increase Your Child’s Grades and Confidence Through Games.
Grace graduated with 1st Class Honours in BSc Computing with Information Systems from London Guildhall University and holds an MSc in Financial Markets with Information Systems from London Metropolitan University. In 2000, she became an Investment Banker and Java Software Programmer in five different Investment Banks.
Grace’s passion is teaching parents and teachers a special method that makes math fun, increases confidence, reduces mathematical anxiety and helps increase children’s opportunities.
Grace struggled to excel at math when she was ten years old. During her summer holidays, her father taught her how to enjoy math by making it fun and creative.
Her attitude to math changed and she loved math from then on. Back at school, Grace started to excel at math and won the school prize for math, out of over 350 students.
Grace learned that anyone can enjoy math and excel — when math is made fun and creative. She credits all her career success to the confidence she gained through becoming confident with math.
Grace is on a mission to change the way children learn math so that they are equipped to fulfill their potential in life.
She is the Chair of Governors and Trustees 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.
She is also a Trustee on the Multi-Academy Trust made up of 6 Primary and Nursery Schools.
Her Race To Infinity game launched in December 2016 and has won several National & International Awards and has been endorsed and approved by organizations including National Numeracy, Tower Hamlets Education BP and the Good Toy Guide.
Numerous Headteachers, Heads of Math Depts, teachers, parents, children, tuition centers and tutors have all enthusiastically endorsed the game.
It has been awarded the prestigious Amazon CHOICE BADGE and the Amazon BESTSELLER BADGE several times by Amazon.Co.Uk and Amazon.com.
In 2018, Amazon asked to partner directly with Grace’s company and they became a partner, so Amazon now buys the 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 at the Royal London Borough of Greenwich Business Awards 2019.
Grace has been interviewed on BBC News and BBC World and spoken at Barclays Plc and the London School of Economics.
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.
UK’s Department of International Trade has recently named Grace an Export Champion for 2020.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I am an ex-Investment Banker as a Java Software Programmer. I love math because when I was young, at the age of 10 years, my father supported me with Mathematics and made math fun and creative for me. That all started in a summer. I went back to school after that summer and I was shocked to become the top in class having being just average before then. My love of math went on to inform my career path, leading me to get a First Class Honors result in my Bachelors Degree (BSc Computing and Information Systems), then a Masters Degree in Financial Markets with Information Systems.
While I was in University in London, I started volunteering with an Education Charity even as a student while studying, and we went into schools in London to help children who were struggling with math increase their math confidence, through creative ways and games. We helped them increase their math confidence within just six weeks.
I was amazed by the difference brought about by what we had done with making math fun, for those precious children. Their teachers told us after just six weeks that the children had started to be more engaged in class, putting their hands up more, and being more confident in class. By the end of the year, we were told that all of the children had raised their math levels, bar none.
I realized through this experience that there are three key problems surrounding children’s math learning experiences. I found that:
Too many children:
- Hate math, don’t believe they can get good at it, and find it a boring chore.
- Don’t see the point in doing it, and cannot relate math to real life.
- Do not have effective, creative, fun methods of doing math at home.
Sadly, many children experience low self-esteem and low self-confidence as a result, which can affect their life and future.
This is where I started to think about how to support parents to help their children too.
I then realized there was a bigger problem though.
I discovered that too many parents are afraid of math themselves and don’t know how to help their children.
The world is a lot more demanding now, and this generation are finding it harder to do well or get good jobs without good enough math grades.
Government statistics in the UK show that half the adults in the UK have numeracy levels no greater than that of an 11-year old, and that this is costing the UK Economy £20 billion a year. In America, the statistics are even worse due to the larger population.
Since 2003, I made it my mission to turn math into a game that every child would love to play every time, and reduce mathematical anxiety in children and parents.
I later had an idea that was to change my life and take me down a different path. I decided to create a board game that would help parents and teachers teach children basic, fundamental math through play. I wanted children to learn and practice math, without realizing they are learning.
I launched that game, called Race To Infinity, at the end of 2016. The multi-Award winning Race To Infinity math game has since distributed over 28,000 copies.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
For a project that I thought would fail, I was amazed about the amount of endorsements I have received since the launch of the Race To Infinity game three-and-a-half years ago.
I have also been pleasantly surprised and humbled with the amount of awards I received. This includes an Honorary Doctorate from one of Central London’s largest Universities, in recognition of my work to help children fall in love with Mathematics.
Amazon Plc also asked to partner with us so that they now buy wholesale and sell retail, and I was interviewed LIVE on BBC NEWS TV and BBC World last July regarding the Race To Infinity game.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was pretty naive when I started out three-and-a-half years ago. My team and I launched into the broader games industry not knowing what we were in for or what we were about to encounter. The shock of realizing it would take a long time to gain ground and create more products has been amusing now that we have gained some good ground in distribution.
Looking back, our naivety knew no bounds as we were not even prepared to run a proper business at the start. We lived and learned. Now we know better and have grown to running a solid business.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our passion to show parents and teachers a special method that makes math fun, increases confidence, reduces mathematical anxiety and helps increase children’s opportunities in less than four weeks sets BeGenio apart.
Our math games, products and services are built to a standard to help parents support their children with mathematics meaningfully through play, help teachers teach children effectively, and help children learn without realizing they are learning.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are working on four new games in the same series, being launched in October, and we are also currently developing a mobile App for our Race To Infinity game; and all our other games.
We are also currently creating our new Parent Programme, which teaches parents the math their kids are doing in school with the new methods being used; and combining that with our Math therapy sessions for parents. Too many parents are terrified of math and my team and I are passionate about helping them help their children.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
The existing state of affairs, where women in STEM are concerned is not one that leaves much to be admired. It is not befitting, and not a true representation of what women are capable of. Women deserve a lot more credit for their abilities.
Women are just as good as men in STEM. Or should I say can be just as good, and capable of just as much success?
Unfortunately, at the present moment, women are seen to not be as capable, or not as worthy as men in this field. Women tend to get paid less for the same job, although I am lucky in that that was not my personal experience.
My experience in the STEM industry, first as a BSc Computing and Information Systems student, then as a Java Computer Programmer in Investment Banking for many years, was not a bad one at all. I actually loved my job itself; and even now, after having resigned from Investment Banking to pursue my dream of setting up a business to help parents and children fall in love with math, I still code. Just for the fun of it.
After a few years in Investment Banking, I started being paid pretty much at par with my male counterparts. This may be because I knew what they were earning and that is what I asked for when I was getting my fourth job in Investment Banking. I did not know any better at that stage.
I was always the only female in most of the teams I was in, and generally treated slightly differently because I was female. I have thick skin though, so I did not let any of that/those affect me long-term or allow the short-term effects to bring me down.
It’s really sad to see there are still very few women in STEM, and even fewer in C-Level roles. I was interviewing a lady who is Head of Retail in a company the other day, and she was talking about this same problem.
I believe one important solution is to do with educating girls so that we can change a whole generation. We need girls to want to take up these sort of roles and want to go into STEM careers. I am part of one such organization where we go into schools and speak about STEM careers. I share my story of what I did and what I do in my career, and the children excitedly ask questions. I go in to inspire them to start thinking about STEM careers and plant that seed in their minds.
We need this sort of initiative on a massive scale though; which is not what it is, at present. We need a proper, “one-world” drive from grassroots, everywhere.
We need to share more inspirational stories about women who have succeeded in STEM. This needs to feed down into the schools.
The other important solution lies with parents. Parents, and mothers in particular, need to support and encourage their girls (and of course boys), to want to get good at math. This will change everything. Unfortunately, too many parents are afraid of math themselves and are at a loss of how to help their children.
This parents’ math movement is one I want to create, on a massive scale.
More than anything else, parents need to be supported (and empowered) to know how to help their children with math.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
Women in STEM face the situation of being in male-dominated roles but still wanting to lead traditionally female lives. They want to be able to be women, have a family and raise kids if they wish, like others.
Women in STEM face challenges from men not being empathetic, from the usual monthly problems to being pregnant; and the challenges one has to face while working when pregnant, to the problems of trying to spend more time with their kids at home while working.
There is also the common problem of leaving a new-born baby when they are just a few months old to a year, to go back to work, the worries of a mother regarding whether the child is settling into nursery or not and so on.
Very few male bosses understand, act empathetic or supportive enough.
The Corporate STEM Industry itself is a tough one. I remember a lady in one of my employers’ HR meetings I went to attend because I was pregnant. She told me something I will never forget.
She said, “You don’t just fall pregnant, you have to plan these things!”.
No one can begin to imagine how I felt. Hot tears streamed down my face as I walked down the road back to my desk which was located in another building. It was not so much what she said. It is how she said it and how she made me feel.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
1. ‘Girls can’t do math.’
This one makes my blood boil.
How have we somehow built a society in which we have expected less from women; as if they are somehow “weak” in comparison to men?
Have we raised generations of girls that are not pushed as much in math, and not supported enough to believe they can do math?
I have been in the Creative Education industry for 22 years+, and I see the problem.
As a society and in this world, we feel that girls cannot do more “tasking” stuff.
On the contrary, I think this makes us more determined individuals. Because there are other “women” things we also have to deal with, in addition to our careers, women who wish to actually get better results in a shorter time. It is determination and recognizing the little extra time outside of sorting kids is precious.
2. ‘Women in STEM cannot cope with high-pressured career environments’.
3. ‘Women are inferior to men in STEM abilities’.
4. ‘Women are naturally more interested in or more suited to caregiving occupations (e.g., nursing, teaching). Therefore, men are naturally more interested in STEM fields than women are’.
5. ‘STEM success requires natural STEM talent or a “STEM brain” and that’s a man‘s sort of terrain’.
6. ‘Women can’t successfully be in STEM and have a family they have time for’.
Who says any particular gender cannot successfully balance anything? Are we not are all trying to live a balanced life (men and women alike)?
The biggest myth-creating problems in STEM that women have are to do with math. Anyone will get a reaction from me when they say girls cannot do math.
Girls have the innate abilities to be able to do the math, just like boys or men. The problem is how we are raising the girls in this society to not be expected to do math. Parents need to be encouraged to put more effort into helping our girls.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Care for others. People will see that you genuinely care.
2. Be a great listener. Be present. In a world of so many distractions, this is harder to do, but it is crucial attribute to being a good leader. All great leaders are great listeners.
3. Be humble. When dealing with others, deal with them with humility.
4. Keep developing and growing. Personal development is very key.
5. Believe in yourself, know your strengths and know you are.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
1. Female mentors and role models are very important to other women’s success in STEM. Inspire other women.
2. Support your team members and make an effort to understand them. Women are generally great at being understanding, but this has to show in your actions.
3. Treat everyone with respect and as an important individual.
4. Make an effort to put yourself in the shoes of your team members when they are going through hard times.
5. Focus on just a couple of main things at a time. Trying to implement too many ideas pull your team in different directions; which without effective management, will reflect on your team’s performance.
What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
1. Delegate. That’s the biggest thing is to learn to delegate effectively.
2. Help others to grow. You will find they will in turn support you to help the team to grow too.
3. Always look for the best in people and work with their positives.
4. Work to earn your leadership and the trust of your team members.
5. Let them get involved and help them feel involved.
6. Create a nurturing and happy environment. A place where people are happy to come to and be part of.
7. Share your mission, your vision, your values and your goals so that they cascade down to your team at every level. That way everyone would be working towards the same goal.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Some years ago, I had an amazing mentor, that was assigned to me during my programme with Virgin Startup (Sir Richard Branson’s Entrepreneurship Virgin Programme).
In 2015, when I initially thought the board game was ready and ready to launch, my mentor said that the mechanics were amazing, but that the game board itself was all wrong. He advised me to go back to the drawing board and develop a new board afresh.
My world was shattered. I had worked on this game board for years and spent quite a bit of money.
However, I picked myself up and carried on and managed to re-create another game board from scratch, which then had his approval. I could not believe it. My passion was bigger than my fear.
Also because I finally had someone’s support, I was able to work to overcome all my fears of not being able to draw and get the Race To Infinity math game out.
In essence, when I saw the first copies of my game come through from the machine in the factory, I did not know whether to laugh or cry. So I laughed and cried at the same time.
I had sowed blood, sweat, and tears to get the Race To Infinity game out there and to achieve my dream. Victory and joy at last, because I had had a mentor who was so supportive and had believed in me.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’ve used my skills and the passion that has been bestowed upon me, and that I was supported by my parents for, to help others in STEM by creating math games for children to help them fall in love with math, increase confidence and reduce mathematical anxiety.
In the last three years, we have distributed many math games and counting, to help children love and enjoy math more. These games help teachers teach easier, children to learn easily and enjoy learning and parents to play with their kids in a meaningful, rewarding way. The first game we launched just over 3 years ago, is called “Race To Infinity”.
Tens of thousands of children now have the opportunity to learn and improve their math skills, and be confident, without realizing they are learning. Our games are designed specifically to encourage fun when learning so that math is not the boring chore that many children consider it to be.
I am also very passionate about girls where STEM is related. I have a personal mission to help them see that they can do math I am an advocate for women in STEM and for girls doing math, and knowing that they can do it.
You are a person of enormous 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 want to inspire a movement of parents who want to support their children to be math-confident. Our manifesto will be that we are parent buddies who are supporting our children with math. Even though many parents, may feel that they are not good at math and may have a fear of math themselves, they will still believe that they can, while myself and my wonderful team will support them and teach them how to help their child with math.
I would love to partner with an organization who have parents as followers to help create this movement. which will stand for changing parents’ mindset (especially moms) about helping their children with math.
Parents do have a big role to play, but what will change it is really the right mindset of parents.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The quote below by Goethe, sums up the story of how I birthed my dream, to create the Race To Infinity math game to help children fall in love with mathematics and reduce math anxiety.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that 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 favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. “
– J.W. Goethe
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would love to have a private breakfast, or lunch, or even just a cup of tea with Oprah. She is amazing and such a massive inspiration. Please tag 🙂