Women and engineering in the Middle East: a different way of understanding the world

Engineering is one of those professions that, according to statistics, does not seem to attract enough women when they choose their career. Nevertheless, history is full of female engineers whose contributions have been fundamental to understanding the world as we see it today.

Getting women involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is a big concern in Western countries. However, in certain countries in the Middle East, things are the opposite. In fact, contrary to stereotypes, women in STEM in Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates test better and feel more comfortable in mathematics than men and are not intimidated to say they like science-based subjects. According to UNESCO, 34-57% of STEM graduates in Arab countries are women, even reaching 59% of total students enrolled in Computer Science in Saudi Arabia, while the figures in the UK and USA were 16% and 14% respectively.

The problem comes once they finish their studies: although the number of STEM graduates are high in the Arab countries, it doesn’t necessarily translate to representation in the workforce. In fact, 13 of the 15 countries with the lowest rate of female participation in the workforce are in the Arab world, according to the World Bank.

The rise of graduate female numbers must be perceived as a new opportunity for the industry in the Gulf countries. Nowhere is gender balance as valuable as in scientific study itself. Arab women in STEM are definitely inspiring, and their success stories are good examples to other countries attempting to increase female interest in the field.

With International Women´s Day around the corner, next 8th of March, we would like, from ACCIONA, to highlight the challenges that women face when entering the engineering space.

Today, a vast number of female engineers work every day in this key profession, developing our cities and their societies. Moreover, many of them do so at ACCIONA.

Sofía Velasco, Quantity Surveyor Manager of our Transport solutions, is genuinely proud of the decision that she took a while ago, which now allows her to further her learning and have new experiences every day. “The opportunity to carry out and implement projects that enormously improve people’s quality-of-life is something amazing for me. I love the challenges and the possibility to solve problems in a practical way”.

For many engineers, such as Estela López, Supply Chain Manager for the Middle East Region at ACCIONA Water solutions, it is a real vocation. “I always wanted to be an Industrial Engineer. According to my parents, I have always loved the electricity and the installations, helping them with their small company. I wanted to deepen my knowledge in electrical engineering to become an expert. I like the challenges and to solve problems and engineering provides me that professional well-being”.

Irene Guiberteau, Site Manager at the Thematic District Pavilions, Expo Dubai 2020, for ACCIONA Cultural Engineering, explains, “I believe that engineering is an excellent tool for providing practical solutions for real needs and problems”.

Family roots and the family environment are other reasons that have led some women to dedicate themselves to engineering today: “I grew up in a village in the Catalan Pyrenees where there was no industry and school trips usually took us to factories or a water treatment plant. They really caught my imagination and understanding the different processes fascinated me”. This led Maribel Forniés, engineering manager at the Jebel Ali desalination plant in Dubai to become a chemical engineer.

The infinite opportunities offered by engineering also led many other women to choose this career path. “Engineering has always seemed like an extremely interesting field to me, especially its high degree of applicability, its analytical aspects and its focus on solving problems and optimisation. It also tends to encourage multidisciplinary team work, something that I really enjoy”, says Gala Gómez, Site Manager at the Sustainability Pavilion project, Expo Dubai 2020 for ACCIONA Cultural Engineering.

Taking on the infinite challenges associated with this profession is not simple, but fortunately, there are many women working in this field and others that are now beginning their careers in this beautiful profession. There is no doubt that all of them will leave an indelible mark for both today’s generation and those in the future.

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