How Saudi women engineers are transforming a male-dominated industrial environment

With a growing number of Saudi women opting for careers in STEM and contributing to a more gender-balanced  work environment, the Kingdom’s industrial sector is leading the way in inclusivity. (Shutterstock)
With a growing number of Saudi women opting for careers in STEM and contributing to a more gender-balanced work environment, the Kingdom’s industrial sector is leading the way in inclusivity. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 27 June 2021

How Saudi women engineers are transforming a male-dominated industrial environment

With a growing number of Saudi women opting for careers in STEM and contributing to a more gender-balanced  work environment, the Kingdom’s industrial sector is leading the way in inclusivity. (Shutterstock)
  • Young Saudis are blazing a trail for MENA women in science, tech, engineering and math
  • To mark International Women in Engineering Day, two Saudis recounted their life stories

DUBAI: Despite recent progress, women remain a minority in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions, especially in the Middle East and North Africa.

On the upside, with a growing number of Saudi women opting for careers in STEM and contributing to a more gender-balanced work environment, the Kingdom’s industrial sector is leading the way in inclusivity.

Razan Alraddadi, a development specialist at Amaala — one of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 megaprojects planned on the Red Sea coast — and Ruaa Mahmoud, a graduate consultant at WSP Middle East — a leading professional-services consultancy — are among the new crop of Saudis blazing a trail for women in STEM.

“Like most engineering students, I was good at math and I loved problem solving,” Alraddadi said in a recently recorded podcast titled “Engineering role models for a more diverse future,” hosted by WSP and Amaala.




Razan Alraddadi (L) is a development specialist at Amaala and Ruaa Mahmoud (R) is a graduate consultant at WSP Middle East. (Supplied)

“I was a creative child growing up. I was solving everything that was broken around the house. My father noticed that and said he thought I’d make a good engineer and the first woman engineer in our family.”

The podcast was broadcast to mark International Women in Engineering Day, which this year took place on June 23. The objective was to raise the profile of women in engineering professions and focus attention on the career opportunities available to aspiring technologists.

Alraddadi recalled the first year of her scholarship at the University of Washington in 2014, where she found women significantly underrepresented in engineering courses.

But after listening to a female electrical engineer from NASA sharing her experiences during a panel discussion led by the Society of Women Engineers, she was filled with inspiration.




A rendering of Amaala, on the Red Sea coast, where Razan Alraddadi works as a development specialist. Amaala will be an ultra-luxurious international destination, and one of Saudi Arabia’s key Vision 2030 megaprojects. (Supplied/Amaala)

“It wasn’t until that moment that I saw another woman in engineering excelling. At that moment, I had the confidence needed to continue my career in engineering,” said Alraddadi.

“Since that day, it has been an amazing experience joining Amaala as an engineer, and I’m surrounded by an amazing team of engineers in a very inclusive and very good environment for women and engineering.”

For Mahmoud, the turning point came after she saw the 2006 American drama “The Astronaut Farmer,” in which a Texas ranger constructs a rocket in his barn in order to launch himself into space.

The movie sparked her interest in astrophysics and aeronautic engineering, and taught her that anything is possible with grit and determination — even visiting outer space.




WSP provides opportunities for young Saudis working in STEM, and Saudi women are at the forefront of delivering Vision 2030. (Supplied/WSP)

“As a child, I felt like it was realistic and, growing up, I continued to feel that I’d get there,” she said.

“That’s what actually encouraged me to choose electrical and computer engineering — whatever would get me to work on spacecraft, autonomous systems or robotics that would help astronauts or help me get to the International Space Station and assist that vision of going into space.”

Both women recall forming a strong bond and a common sense of mission with the other women on their undergraduate engineering courses.

“You kind of formed this squad or this sisterhood-like group where we thought, ‘OK, we can conquer the world’,” Mahmoud said.

Although racked with self-doubt when she first arrived at university, Alraddadi soon found a support network that gave her the encouragement she needed throughout her studies. “That’s when I knew engineering was such a good major and career path,” she said.

Women in STEM

* June 23 has been designated International Women in Engineering Day.

* 8% - Female enrolment in engineering, manufacturing and construction courses worldwide in 2018 (UNESCO).

According to 2018 figures from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, just 28.8 percent of the world’s researchers are women.

Female enrollment in engineering, manufacturing and construction courses stand at just 8 percent worldwide, while in natural sciences, mathematics and statistics, it is even lower — 5 percent. For information and communications technology, the figure drops to a paltry 3 percent.

In the Middle East, women now account for almost half of the total STEM student population.

And although 38 percent of Saudi graduates in the field are women, only 17 percent of them work in STEM sectors.

Women such as Mahmoud and Alraddadi are defying that trend. After studying abroad, they both chose to return to the Kingdom to launch their careers.




In the Middle East, women now account for almost half of the total STEM student population, reflecting the societal reforms for women in Saudi Arabia. (Shutterstock)

Alraddadi said: “I chose to come back to be around my family in my home country, working on a very big project that will potentially be revolutionary in Saudi Arabia’s history. So, definitely having those opportunities back home influenced my decision and made me so excited and proud to be back in Saudi Arabia.”

Providing graduate programs for both genders, such as the one hosted by WSP Middle East, is seen as a vital first step to attracting more female engineers to the industry and students into these fields.

But based on Mahmoud’s experience, gender stereotypes and cultural norms concerning the role of women in vocations traditionally dominated by men persist in the Middle East in general, and in the Kingdom in particular.

“I’ve been told that numerous times, and I’ve had friends who’ve been told that as well,” she said. “We need to break that barrier down and just talk with our community, our people, friends and family about how it’s normal for women in engineering to pursue such fields or to pursue such jobs.”

For Alraddadi, who has been working with Amaala for nine months, engineering could be made more attractive as a career path for women if their work, projects and lives were properly highlighted.

“I also believe in graduate programs that will take you and train you as an engineer after you graduate,” she said.

“That would make you feel like engineering is a really good profession in a place you’d benefit from.”




For Alraddadi, who has been working with Amaala (pictured) for nine months, engineering could be made more attractive as a career path for women if their work, projects and lives were properly highlighted. (Supplied/Amaala)

Working in the industry has helped both women advance personally and professionally. Alraddadi said: “As I continue to grow in my career, I’ll learn more and get more involved. It’s a learning process every day, and I feel like every day I’m discovering something new that I want to learn so much.”

Mahmoud believes working in the industry, as opposed to merely studying engineering, has provided her with a much broader view of the avenues open to her.

“Working at WSP, I’ve learned things that I wouldn’t otherwise have known, especially in construction, like electrical engineering,” she said.Globally, although women in STEM fields tend to have higher salaries than those in non-STEM fields, there still exists a gender pay gap in STEM professions.

Women in these professions also have higher rates of attrition than both their male counterparts and women in other non-STEM professions.

Even so, as noted by Shona Wood, the Gender Balance Steering Committee representative and head of integrated project delivery and architecture at WSP Middle East, the traditionally male-dominated industrial environment is undergoing a transformation as more and more women discover the rewards of a career in engineering.

“However, we all have a part to play in nurturing the development and pathways of future engineers,” she told podcast listeners.

“The key to this will be ensuring all industry professionals — both male and female — unite to empower our female youth by being bold allies and ensuring their voices are heard as they navigate the road to a more diverse future.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


OIC slams attempted Houthi attack on southern Saudi city

OIC slams attempted Houthi attack on southern Saudi city
Updated 06 August 2021

OIC slams attempted Houthi attack on southern Saudi city

OIC slams attempted Houthi attack on southern Saudi city

JEDDAH: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Thursday condemned the Iran-backed Houthi militia’s targeting of civilians in the Saudi city of Khamis Mushayt.

The Arab coalition said on Wednesday that a drone targeted the southern city in the Kingdom.

OIC Secretary-General Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen praised the Saudi-backed coalition and its support for Yemen’s internationally recognized government to deal with terrorism in line with international humanitarian law.

He reiterated the OIC’s solidarity and support for Saudi Arabia in all measures it takes to preserve its security, stability and the safety of its citizens and residents. 

The UAE and Bahrain also condemned and denounced the Houthi attempts to attack civilians and infrastructure.

The UAE urged the international community to take an “immediate and decisive stance” to “stop the recurrent acts,” which target vital and civilian installations and the security and stability of the Kingdom.

Bahrain also called on the international community to condemn terrorism that threatens the region.


‘Delta plus’ variant seen in South Korea ‘is not new’: Saudi expert

‘Delta plus’ variant seen in South Korea ‘is not new’: Saudi expert
Updated 06 August 2021

‘Delta plus’ variant seen in South Korea ‘is not new’: Saudi expert

‘Delta plus’ variant seen in South Korea ‘is not new’: Saudi expert
  • 102 quarantine violators arrested in Makkah region; 986 new cases reported

JEDDAH: The COVID-19 delta plus variant, detected in two South Korean cases on Tuesday, is “not new and has been detected in India for months,” a Saudi infectious disease expert has said.

“Delta plus was previously detected in the EU since March and in India for months,” said Ahmed Al-Hakawi, who is also a hospital epidemiologist in Riyadh.

South Korea reported its first two cases of the variant earlier this week, with overall COVID-19 cases in the country rising sharply.

Al-Hakawi said that the new form of COVID-19 “differs slightly from the delta variant through the presence of the K417N mutation that was previously detected in the beta mutant.”

He added that the delta plus designation has yet to be approved by medical authorities, and that there is no evidence to suggest that is is more virulent than the original delta variant.

Meanwhile, a total of 102 people in the Makkah region have been arrested for failing to adhere to quarantine regulations after testing positive for COVID-19.

The media spokesman for local police said that preliminary legal procedures were taken against the individuals and their cases were referred to the relevant authorities.

INNUMBERS

530,981 - Total coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia

512,373 - Total number of recoveries

8,297 - Total number of deaths from COVID-19

Those breaking the Kingdom’s COVID-19 regulations could face fines of up to SR200,000 ($53,000), a maximum of two years in prison, or both. The penalty is doubled for repeated violations.

Non-Saudis found to have breached quarantine rules run the risk of being deported and permanently banned from the country.

Saudi Arabia on Thursday reported 13 more COVID-19-related deaths, bringing the Kingdom’s death toll over the course of the pandemic to 8,297.

There were 986 new cases, meaning that 530,981 people have now contracted the disease. A total of 10,311 cases remained active, of which 1,424 were in critical condition.

Of the newly recorded cases, 189 were in the Makkah region, 177 in the Riyadh region, 162 in the Eastern Province and 55 in Madinah region.

In addition, the Saudi Ministry of Health said that 1,055 patients had recovered from the disease, increasing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 512,373.

The region with the highest number of recoveries was Riyadh with 262. It was followed by the Eastern Province with 194 and Makkah with 151.

Saudi Arabia has so far conducted 25,549,087 PCR tests, with 105,537 carried out in the past 24 hours.

Testing hubs and treatment centers set up throughout the country have dealt with hundreds of thousands of people since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among them, Taakad (make sure) centers provide COVID-19 testing for those who show no or only mild symptoms or believe they have come into contact with an infected individual, while Tetamman (rest assured) clinics offer treatment and advice to those with virus symptoms such as fever, loss of taste and smell, and breathing difficulties.

Appointments for either service can be made via the ministry’s Sehhaty app.

Meanwhile, 28,829,305 people in the Kingdom have now received a COVID-19 vaccine, including 1,501,805 elderly people. About 56.35 percent of the population have received the first dose, while 26.4 percent have completed both doses. At this rate, 70 percent of the population is expected to have completed both doses by Sept. 29 this year.


Islamic principles should form basis of tackling global post-pandemic human rights crises: OIC commission

Islamic principles should form basis of tackling global  post-pandemic human rights crises: OIC commission
Updated 06 August 2021

Islamic principles should form basis of tackling global post-pandemic human rights crises: OIC commission

Islamic principles should form basis of tackling global  post-pandemic human rights crises: OIC commission

JEDDAH: Universal Islamic principles should be used as the basis for tackling world human rights issues in the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, a leading inter-governmental Muslim organization has recommended.

During a meeting to coincide with the 10th anniversary of world Islamic Human Rights and Human Dignity Day, members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) called upon member states to adopt the approach in joint efforts to address post-pandemic global challenges.

Commission delegates pointed out that millions of people in countries around the world continued to face indignities including foreign occupation and oppression, hunger, preventable diseases, limited socioeconomic opportunities, and lack of access to basic needs, all of which seriously undermined their fundamental human rights.

The IPHRC gathering noted that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic had only compounded the existing global human rights situation such as by doubling the number of people facing food crises, and children losing access to basic education and health services.

HIGHLIGHT

IPHRC members recommended that all states should cooperate with their political, religious, and community leaders to promote a better understanding of universal human rights values, collectively deal with the underlying causes of racism and religious intolerance, including islamophobia, and ensure the maintenance of international peace and security.

Members highlighted a growing incidence of cases of hate speech, xenophobia, and racial and religious discrimination, issues they said were driving a wedge through multicultural societies and threatening global peace and security.

While stressing that the conceptual foundation of human rights in Islam placed a strong emphasis on the inherent dignity of human beings and their equality before the law, in harmony with universal human rights principles, the commission urged member countries to work alongside regional and international stakeholders to devise practical human rights-based, people-centered policies to help improve lives.

It also made an appeal for the international community to reinforce respect for diversity, multiculturalism, democracy, and the rule of law, which were at the core of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

IPHRC members recommended that all states should cooperate with their political, religious, and community leaders to promote a better understanding of universal human rights values, collectively deal with the underlying causes of racism and religious intolerance, including islamophobia, and ensure the maintenance of international peace and security.

Welcoming the continued and growing importance placed on human rights issues within the OIC, the commission hailed the adoption of a revised version of the organization’s Cairo Declaration on Human Rights, which it said had helped to bridge the perceptional and legal gaps between the compatibility of universal human rights and Islamic laws.

An ongoing revision of the OIC Covenant on the Rights of the Child in Islam was also applauded as a route to further strengthening the organization’s normative and institutional human rights architecture.


KSrelief sends medical aid to Jamaica in fight against COVID-19

KSrelief sends medical aid to Jamaica in fight against COVID-19
Updated 06 August 2021

KSrelief sends medical aid to Jamaica in fight against COVID-19

KSrelief sends medical aid to Jamaica in fight against COVID-19

KINGSTON, Jamaica: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) has delivered medical and preventive supplies to Jamaica in a bid to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

On behalf of KSrelief, the medical aid was handed over by Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Cuba Faisal bin Falah Al-Harbi.

The aid comes as an extension of the Kingdom’s humanitarian efforts through KSrelief. It also follows the directives of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Since its inception in May 2015, KSrelief has implemented 1,686 projects worth more than $5.33 billion in 69 countries around the world. The initiatives were carried out in cooperation with 144 local, regional and international partners.

According to a recent KSrelief report, the countries and territories that benefited the most from the center’s various projects were Yemen ($3.8 billion), Palestine ($365 million), Syria ($307 million) and Somalia ($206 million).


Who’s Who: Othman Gazzaz, media affairs chief at Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah

Who’s Who: Othman Gazzaz, media affairs chief at Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah
Updated 06 August 2021

Who’s Who: Othman Gazzaz, media affairs chief at Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah

Who’s Who: Othman Gazzaz, media affairs chief at Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah

Othman Gazzaz heads the research and media affairs department of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Institute for Hajj and Umrah Research at Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah.

Gazzaz holds a bachelor’s degree in media from Umm Al-Qura University. He also received a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in media from the University of Leicester in England.

He published a number of scientific journals such as “The extent of pilgrims and Umrah performers’ reliance on the mobile exhibition using hologram technology to obtain information during the performance of the rituals” in the International Journal of Customer Relationship Marketing and Management earlier this year.

In 2015, Gazzaz published two articles in the Journal of Public Relations Research Middle East titled “Exposure to digital signage and message recall: Determining the effectiveness of the billboard outside the Prophet’s (PBUH) Mosque at Madinah Al-Munawwarah” and “Pilgrim problems and their communication patterns in the Hajj 1434 (H): A study of the communicative ecology of the pilgrim community from Egypt.”

At a conference in Langkawi, Malaysia in 2014, he presented his research “Communicative ecology of sojourners from Pakistan and its implications for public service campaigns.”

The academic also tackled sensitive issues in his research “Responding to the Western satellite TV’s image of Islam and Muslims: Theory & research-based policy challenges.”

Gazzaz was a member of the Association for Social Awareness and Rehabilitation between February 2016 and 2017, and the Association of Neighborhood Centers in Makkah between February 2016 and 2019.