Creating STEM Environments for Women to Thrive: Olu Ibrahim

Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Olu Ibrahim, Founder & CEO of Kids in Tech

1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?

olu ibrahim
Olu Ibrahim, Founder & CEO of Kids in Tech (Image Credit: Olu Ibrahim)

As fundraising becomes more professionalized, as a collective, our industry [the non-profit industry] is neglecting the human element of the work we do. Rarely do we have the opportunity to attend professional development workshops that invite us to step back, explore and embrace our humanity. We must center, explore and embrace our humanity in fundraising. Fundraising for social change is about a lot of heart work. It is the heart work that will change our world for all. I too love data and the information it provides  but let us keep that in mind.

It’s so easy for women to get in that space where you’re just everything to everyone all the time. We should be telling women and girls to take care of yourself, because that way, you’ll have more to give to those around you.

2. What is your current greatest professional challenge?

My greatest professional challenge has always been to make sure my staff and board have meaningful opportunities to grow and learn.  Speaking of growth, growing our organization so we can serve more kids especially during COVID-19 and beyond is also a huge challenge. 

3. What inspires you most about your work?

I aspire to break down the barriers found in STEM.  Equality in STEM begins in the classroom and we’ve been able to see more and more kids pursue STEM in their classrooms, schools, and beyond. I envision a world where more people of color and women enter the field and stay in the field because we have created environments for them to thrive. Everyone who chooses to pursue STEM is granted the opportunity to fulfill our God-given potential. I envision a world that breaks down the expectations of what technologists, mathematicians,  scientists and engineers should look like.

4. How does your gender identity inform your work?

As a woman of color, I understand the benefits of creating a more diverse and inclusive table for all. I have had to overcome obstacles and  misconceptions as a leader of a nonprofit.  Gender  discrimination is a major reason why women are underrepresented in these positions. And women are far more likely than men to see structural barriers and uneven expectations holding women back from these positions. Research suggests that company leaders are best able to recognize talent and understand others’ development needs when those talents and needs present themselves as theirs did; they often overlook or do not know how to develop talent that looks different.  This is why we need more women from various leadership backgrounds in leadership roles to demystify women in leadership  roles. 

5. Do you think your gender identity has affected your career?

Intersectionality is part of my gender identity; there are many barriers intertwined between my race and gender as a nonprofit executive and as a fundraiser. I have been  told  “about dimming my light to make others comfortable” a burden many women of color carry. And the usual, having to constantly prove myself over and over again. 

6. How can philanthropy support gender equality?

Only 45% of nonprofit CEO roles are held by women. When it comes to pay, women nonprofit CEOs make just 66% of male salaries. We must create better systems to ensure gender equity. We must understand that women leaders and their organizations/movements are complementary but separate entities, and both must be supported. What we have instead is funders generally viewing organizations and leaders as single entities and only supporting them as such. 

We must invest in leadership of women. People have been burning out and leaving the sector in droves as a result.

In addition, we must especially support BIPOC women  leaders while they are leading: If you want BIPOC leaders to succeed, then surround them with resources and support while they are leading. We must also understand that gender representation does not mean equal gender equity. These are some ways philanthropy can support gender equity. 

7. In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equality movements taking us?

I see gender equality movements going in a positive direction. I see more women working in all aspects of the philanthropic sector. I see us embracing the concept of intersectionality into the movement to advance social  change. 

The nonprofit sector has grown by 20% over the last 10 years as, in contrast, the for-profit sector has grown by about 2-3%. Many organizations are expanding and planning for future growth over the next decade. Hiring in the nonprofit sector continues to grow and the number of staff has increased in more than 50% of the nonprofits. 

Financial and public support for nonprofits is at an all-time high. There is more investment in innovative programs than ever before. We as a whole are growing quicker than ever before. With this growth, I hope to also see the number of women in charge also grow.

Related:

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To Value Girls Properly, Plug the Leaky Pipeline in STEM

In The News

Kiersten Marek

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work in Cranston, Rhode Island, and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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