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


Djibouti PM receives Saudi deputy foreign minister

Djibouti’s Prime Minister Abdoulkader Kamil Mohamed receives Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji on Thursday. (SPA)
Updated 25 July 2024
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Djibouti PM receives Saudi deputy foreign minister

  • During the meeting with Mohamed, Al-Khuraiji reviewed relations between Djibouti and Saudi Arabia
  • Topics of common interest were also discussed

RIYADH: Djibouti’s Prime Minister Abdoulkader Kamil Mohamed received the Kingdom’s Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji on Thursday, Saudi Press Agency reported.

During the meeting, the officials reviewed relations between the two countries and discussed topics of common interest.

Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji meets with Djibouti’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Mahmoud Ali Youssef on Thursday. (SPA)Caption

Al-Khuraiji was also received by Djibouti’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Mahmoud Ali Youssef on Thursday.

The minister is in the country to attend the second consultative meeting on enhancing the coordination of peace initiatives and efforts in Sudan.

Al-Khuraiji later met with Minister of State at the UAE Foreign Ministry Sheikh Shakhboot bin Nahyan Al-Nahyan on the sidelines of the meeting. 

Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji meets with Minister of State at the UAE Foreign Ministry Sheikh Shakhboot bin Nahyan Al-Nahyan. (SPA)

 


Chinese Embassy celebrates 97th anniversary of People’s Liberation Army

Updated 25 July 2024
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Chinese Embassy celebrates 97th anniversary of People’s Liberation Army

RIYADH: The Chinese Embassy in Saudi Arabia hosted a reception on Wednesday in Riyadh’s Cultural Palace to mark the 97th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army.

“We would like to use this opportunity to celebrate not only our history, but also the history of military and security cooperation between Saudi Arabia and China,” said Zhu Je, the armed defense attache at the Chinese Embassy.

In an interview with Arab News, Zhu recalled Saudi Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman’s June visit to Beijing, where he met his Chinese counterpart, Dong Jun.

Zhu described the meeting between the two ministers as “a milestone in the new era.”

He told Arab News: “This is the first time that he visited China to meet with the Chinese minister of defense and also the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission.

“The ministers decided to continue to deepen bilateral cooperation in defense and military areas, strengthen strategic communication between the leaderships, and to elevate the relationship to a higher level.”

The defense attache highlighted the importance of the meeting, in which Prince Khalid and his Chinese counterpart reviewed Saudi-Chinese relations and ways to strengthen ties.

The People’s Liberation Army anniversary reception welcomed defense officials and ambassadors based in the Kingdom.

Chinese Ambassador Chang Hua hosted the event alongside Zhu and welcomed guests to the reception.

Zhu delivered the opening remarks and highlighted the “strategic friendly cooperation” between the Kingdom and China’s defense ministries.

“China firmly supports Saudi Arabia to strengthen its strategic capacities for safeguarding its national security, and resolutely opposes any external interference in the Kingdom’s internal affairs,” he said.

China aims to “facilitate the reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as the unity between Palestinian parties, to support Saudi Arabia’s efforts to maintain stability, restore peace and protect civilians in the region and in the world,” he added.

Zhu thanked the Kingdom for its support, saying: “I once again express our sincerest gratitude and respects to the leaders, government, armed forces, security forces and people of Saudi Arabia.”

He also praised the Saudi ministries of defense, interior and National Guard, as well as his embassy colleagues.


KSrelief celebrates Youth Skills Day at Jordan’s Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees

Updated 25 July 2024
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KSrelief celebrates Youth Skills Day at Jordan’s Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees

RIYADH: Saudi aid agency KSrelief’s Center for Community Service celebrated International Youth Skills Day at the Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Thursday.

The center held a special ceremony for the occasion, including various activities highlighting the skills of young people in the community and an awareness lecture to encourage women to develop their talents and capabilities, join training courses, and work with organizations to acquire new skills and experiences.


KSrelief provides shelter kits for thousands of displaced in Sudan

Updated 25 July 2024
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KSrelief provides shelter kits for thousands of displaced in Sudan

  • There were 400 shelter bags delivered in Blue Nile state, benefiting 2,300 people, and 590 were delivered in the Northern State, helping 3,240 individuals

RIYADH: Saudi aid agency KSrelief has distributed nearly 1,000 shelter kits across Sudan to families most in need, the Saudi Press Agency reported late Wednesday.
There were 400 shelter bags delivered in Blue Nile state, benefiting 2,300 people, and 590 were delivered in the Northern State, helping 3,240 individuals.
The assistance is part of the humanitarian and relief efforts provided by Saudi Arabia through KSrelief to support countries and people in need worldwide.


Saudi maths students scoop 10 awards at international competition

Updated 25 July 2024
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Saudi maths students scoop 10 awards at international competition

  • Mawhiba Secretary-General Amal Al-Hazaa said the victory was a source of pride for the entire nation

RIYADH: Saudi maths students scooped 10 awards, fending off strong competition from 38 countries, in the 36th annual Asian Pacific Mathematics Olympiad, the Saudi Press Agency reported late Wednesday.

The Saudi team, represented by the King Abdulaziz and his Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity (Mawhiba) and the Education Ministry, won two silver medals, five bronze, and three certificates of commendation against 345 other students.

Youssef Bakheet from the educational directorate of the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu, and Muath Al-Qahtani from the Eastern Province, received the silver medals.

The bronze medals were awarded to Mohammed Al-Ghamdi and Ilyas Al-Faraj from the Eastern Province, Ahmed Al-Shahri from Riyadh, Fatima Bouali from Al-Ahsa and Ahmed Khalawi from Jeddah.

The certificates of commendation were awarded to Mohammed Hafez and Abdul Salam Al-Salmi from Madinah, as well as Youssef Khalawi from Jeddah.

Mawhiba Secretary-General Amal Al-Hazaa said the victory was a source of pride for the entire nation.

The participation at APMO was part of the Mawhiba program for international Olympiads, which is held in strategic partnership with the Education Ministry.

It is one of 20 programs and initiatives that offer advanced curricula and enrichment programs provided annually by Mawhiba and the ministry for talented students.