Summit in Saudi Arabia discusses steps to promote role of women in technology

Women in Technology panel discussion at the Global IT Summit at KAUST in Jeddah on Wednesday. From left: Patricia Florissi, Global CTO at Dell EMC; Omaimah Bamasag, associate professor at KAU; Patricia Damkroger, VP and general manager of Technical Computing Group Intel; and Amelie de Marsily, EMEAR Global Enterprise Services Delivery Leader at Cisco. (AN photo by Lulwa Shalhoub)
Updated 09 February 2017

Summit in Saudi Arabia discusses steps to promote role of women in technology

JEDDAH: The presence of women in the field of information technology (IT) worldwide is still small compared to men, according to participants at the Global IT Summit at King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) on Wednesday.
“Google has only 17 percent of women in tech jobs, Facebook has 15 percent and Twitter has 10 percent,” said Patricia Ann Hughes, vice president of human resources at KAUST, who moderated the “Women in Technology” panel at the summit.
One of the panelists was Omaimah Bamasag, associate professor at the College of Computing and Information Technology at the girls’ section of King Abdulaziz University (KAU).
She spent the last two years doing a post-doctoral fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
She spoke to Arab News before the discussion about what needs to be done to encourage women to thrive in the field of technology in the Kingdom.
“Students have to take part in the two-month summer internship program. We have partnerships and agreements with various organizations in both the government and private sectors to train our students, which is part of our requirements,” she said.
“The new initiative now is internships in the US. The first batch of students is going this summer to the University of North Carolina. It’s going to be a tailored program for students to work on projects.” She said the college accepts an average of 200 students every year.
Lack of confidence among women in pursuing an education and career in IT was among the major obstacles discussed.
Amelie de Marsily, Cisco’s global enterprise services delivery leader for Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Russia, said: “In Cisco, what we’ve been trying to do is have specific programs for young women to build their confidence and share their stories and challenges.
“I think for anyone to flourish, slightly more important for women, (there has to be) an environment of safety and trust.”
De Marsily said parents have an important role in empowering their daughters and creating an unlimited environment where they can choose and develop their strengths.
She added that boundaries are often self-imposed, “and I think girls very quickly put their own boundaries.”
Patricia Florissi, global chief technology officer at Dell EMC, said millennials will not have the same patience or tolerance that the older generation of women had in being a minority in technology.
“We as women know and see the problem, but we need the help of the majority. It takes two parties to actually change the world; cognitive diversity matters,” she said.
“You want a diverse group because you don’t only want to be equal from a social perspective; there are real benefits and business values in bringing together people of different mindsets and backgrounds.”

Economic growth via digitization
The digital engagement of Saudis is among the highest in the world, making the Kingdom fertile ground for economic growth via digitalization, said Khaled Biyari, group CEO at the Saudi Telecom Co. (STC), in his keynote speech at the summit.
“This region is in an advanced stage compared with other regions of the world in terms of readiness to take up digitalization, both at a governmental and industrial level,” he said.
Digitization is a key focus of the National Transformation Program (NTP) 2020, which falls under Saudi Vision 2030. If executed properly, it can bring “tremendous value” to the country, said Biyari.
“The Ministry of Planning has issued its predictions of what it (digitization) would bring in terms of value to the country,” he added.
Biyari said what KAUST has been doing is a source of pride. He emphasized the need for further interaction between the university and policymakers at the STC, which is a main digital service provider in Saudi Arabia, to help shape the digital agenda of the Kingdom.
“Within Saudi Arabia since 2016, we’ve seen tremendous energy in the government, fueled by a new vision,” he said.
“They want to create a very efficient digitized transparent government. They want to provide advanced digital services to citizens, SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) and corporates in a very efficient way. They want to create an innovative ecosystem in the country.
“Alongside that, the government has gained a very ambitious broadband strategy to ensure connectivity to the Internet is available almost everywhere and for everyone.”

Visit to Pakistan, India and China proves strategic for Saudi Arabia

Updated 24 February 2019

Visit to Pakistan, India and China proves strategic for Saudi Arabia

  • Benefits of three-country tour include billions in economic deals as well as security initiatives

JEDDAH: The three-country tour of Asia by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that came to a close this weekend was an economic and strategic success, experts say.

“Saudi Arabia might be seen by some as moving to the East,” Salman Al-Ansari, founder of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC), told Arab News. “The correct way to put it is that it’s spreading its wings East and West.

“Economic diversification requires strategic diversification. This should not be seen in any way as Saudi Arabia giving the cold shoulder to its most trusted allies, specifically the US,” he said. “And as Joseph Parry said: ‘Make new friends but keep the old; those are silver, these are gold.’”

The tour, which saw Saudi Arabia’s crown prince warmly welcomed by the leaders of Pakistan, India and China, is in line with the crown prince’s Vision 2030, which plans to transform Saudi Arabia’s economy that relies on crude oil exports into a vibrant, diversified economy. The tour resulted in billions of dollars in economic deals as well as initiatives to increase security and combat terrorism.

“Saudi Arabia is the one and only country that can take the leadership position on the global efforts of combating terrorism, specifically in the ideological front,” Al-Ansari said.

Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international relations scholar, said that China and Saudi Arabia have the same goals of security and stability. “China shares the Kingdom’s concerns and it knows that our continent has suffered from terrorism issues and international interventions and also troubles in the region.”

The two countries also improved on their mutually beneficial economic ties. As Al-Shehri pointed out: “China needs a huge energy source, and Saudi Arabia is one of these sources that can provide China with energy.”

One significant deal is the $10 billion refining and petrochemical complex, a joint venture between Saudi Aramco and Norinco, to be developed in the Chinese city of Panjin.

Also of great geopolitical significance is the $10-billion oil-refinery in Pakistan’s Gwadar Port, as it is one of the most important parts of China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative, Al-Shehri said. “Global players are willing to invest in this project. The Kingdom’s investment in this field will serve Pakistan and will benefit the Kingdom as well as the (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor).”

And despite its historical relationship with Pakistan, Al-Shehri said that the Kingdom also found common ground with India. For instance, the two countries agreed to set up a working group on counter-terrorism. 

“India shares the Kingdom’s concern about instability in the seas, such as the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. These are all places of global trade,” Al-Shehri said, adding that he hopes the Kingdom will play a role in resolving border points of contention between Pakistan and India as it did between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

It wasn’t all just business. The crown prince’s tour included some other announcements, including that 2,100 Pakistani and 850 Indian prisoners will be released from the Kingdom’s jails, that the Chinese language will be introduced in the Saudi school curriculum and that Saudi Arabia will soon host several concerts featuring major Bollywood performers.

The crown prince also called for the creation of a health center in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province dedicated to the memory of a Pakistani hero who saved 14 lives in Jeddah’s 2009 floods.