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)
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Updated 27 June 2021
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How Saudi women engineers are transforming a male-dominated industrial environment

  • 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


Saudi Real Estate Registry clinches prestigious Esri GIS Award

Updated 22 July 2024
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Saudi Real Estate Registry clinches prestigious Esri GIS Award

  • Accolade, awarded at the international Esri User Conference in the US, recognizes the registry’s innovative application of geographic information system technology
  • RER CEO Mohammed Al-Sulaiman: It supports our vision of creating a comprehensive real estate registry for all property data and information in the Kingdom

RIYADH: The Saudi Real Estate Registry has been honored with the 2024 Special Achievement in GIS (SAG) Award, presented by the Environmental Systems Research Institute (Esri), the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The accolade, awarded at the international Esri User Conference in the US, recognizes the registry’s innovative application of geographic information system technology.

According to the SPA, Mohammed Al-Sulaiman, CEO of the Saudi Real Estate Registry, received the award from Esri CEO Jack Dangermond, highlighting the organization’s exceptional use of spatial technologies and AI-supported geospatial data predictive analysis. The registry has developed a detailed geospatial map of Saudi Arabia’s real estate using ArcGIS and Esri technologies.

“This award confirms our world-class implementation of GIS technologies,” Al-Sulaiman said. “It supports our vision of creating a comprehensive real estate registry for all property data and information in the Kingdom, with geospatial surveying as the foundation for property registration.”

Since its inception, the Real Estate Registry has employed a range of advanced technologies in executing geospatial operations, including drones, digital geospatial solutions and systems, remote sensing, AI and satellite-based GPS, the SPA reported.

The registry aims to produce a reliable and updated real estate map, the first of its kind in the Kingdom, covering more than 100,000 sq. km of urban areas, encompassing 8 million plots and generating 5,000 terabytes of data.

Al-Sulaiman said that the initiative will enhance transparency and reliability in the real estate sector, ensuring its sustainability, and boosting its investment appeal and contribution to Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product, in line with the goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.


Last group of Hajj pilgrims leaves via Madinah airport

Hajj pilgrims depart from Madinah’s Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport on Sunday evening. (SPA)
Updated 22 July 2024
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Last group of Hajj pilgrims leaves via Madinah airport

  • 320 pilgrims departed the holy city for Kertajati, Indonesia and a farewell ceremony was held for them by Saudia

RIYADH: The last group of Hajj pilgrims left the Kingdom via Madinah’s Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport on Sunday evening.

320 pilgrims departed the holy city for Kertajati, Indonesia and a farewell ceremony was held for them by Saudia, concluding its operations for Hajj 2024.

Saudia flights provided quality services to enhance the Hajj experience of pilgrims this year, including various educational programs in different languages, Saudi Press Agency reported.


Jeddah’s Historic District celebrates 10 years on UNESCO World Heritage List

Updated 22 July 2024
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Jeddah’s Historic District celebrates 10 years on UNESCO World Heritage List

JEDDAH: The Jeddah Historic District Program celebrated the 10th anniversary of the district’s inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The district was inscribed on the list in 2014 in recognition of its outstanding universal value.

According to a statement, the program oversaw the regeneration and preservation of the district’s cultural and urban heritage, transforming it into a global destination aligned with Saudi Vision 2030.

Historic Jeddah spans an area of 2.5 sq. km along the Red Sea coast. Serving as a major port for pilgrims arriving in Makkah and a hub for global trade routes between Asia and Africa since the 7th century, the district has been a center of cultural and economic exchange for centuries.

According to UNESCO’s criteria for inscribing the Historic Jeddah district on the World Heritage List, the area fulfills three key requirements — representing an important interchange of human values over time, being an outstanding example of a type of building or architectural ensemble, and being directly associated with events, living traditions, or artistic works of outstanding universal significance.

Facing numerous challenges, such as the need to save dilapidated buildings and improve infrastructure while preserving the area’s historical and cultural character, the program has implemented various projects within the framework of the regeneration plan. These efforts have enriched the visitor experience and enhanced the district as an attractive tourist destination, according to the statement.

The Jeddah Historic District Program has established four main pillars for the district’s restoration efforts: intangible cultural heritage, archaeology and excavation (the wall and historic gates), urban fabric (markets, squares, and streets), and historic buildings (houses, mosques, and endowments).

The program has also set standards for the preservation of the area’s heritage, including the use of traditional materials and the maintenance of original building heights.


Madinah Book Fair commences on July 30

Updated 22 July 2024
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Madinah Book Fair commences on July 30

Jeddah: The third Madinah Book Fair will take place from July 30 to Aug. 5, the Literature, Publishing, and Translation Commission announced on Monday.

The Saudi Press Agency reported that the event promises to be a cultural extravaganza, featuring over 300 Arab and international publishing houses and agencies spread across more than 200 booths.

Mohammed Hasan Alwan, CEO of the commission, emphasized the significance of the fair, highlighting the continuous support the cultural sector receives.

He said the event showcases the cultural importance of Madinah and its role in enhancing the artistic movement and the Kingdom’s growing status in the publishing industry.

The fair has become an annual event, attracting thousands of visitors from all walks of life.

Alwan explained that the commission has ensured the latest edition provides a rich and integrated knowledge experience for visitors of all ages, building on the remarkable successes of previous fairs.

According to SPA, the Madinah Book Fair aims to be a cultural platform that encourages the community to take an interest in reading, highlighting the talents of Saudi writers and creators while attracting prominent writers and publishers from the Kingdom, the region, and the world.

The fair will feature cultural and intellectual activities aimed at enriching the cultural sector and knowledge production, promoting a reading culture.

A significant area is dedicated to children, offering educational and skill-based activities and workshops that boost children’s creative abilities.

The Madinah Book Fair announced the start of visitor registration for free entry tickets through the Discover Culture platform at: ‏https://dc.moc.gov.sa/home/ar/event-tickets/379/almadinah-book-fair-2024/


Saudi, North Macedonia to strengthen Islamic affairs cooperation

Updated 22 July 2024
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Saudi, North Macedonia to strengthen Islamic affairs cooperation

  • The pact was inked by Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Albania Faisal bin Ghazi Hefzi and representatives of the Presidency of the Islamic Union of North Macedonia

RIYADH: The Kingdom and North Macedonia have signed an agreement to strengthen cooperation on Islamic affairs, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Monday.

The pact was inked by Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Albania Faisal bin Ghazi Hefzi and representatives of the Presidency of the Islamic Union of North Macedonia.

Hefzi also serves as non-resident ambassador to North Macedonia, and was representing the Kingdom’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance.

In a press statement after the signing ceremony, Hefzi said the Kingdom supports all efforts to ensure peace and prosperity for Muslims worldwide.

The signing ceremony took place on Sunday in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, and was attended by various government representatives.