Dubai, May 21, 2023
Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, President of American University of Sharjah (AUS) and of Sharjah Research, Technology, and Innovation Park (SRTIP), has urged leaders of technology companies to be more proactively inclusive by factoring women’s needs into corporate thinking from the start.
Keynoting WIRED’s third anniversary ‘Arab Women in Tech’ conference, in Dubai, Sheikha Bodour said it was imperative humanity learn from its mistakes and evolve without ‘leaving half the population behind’.
To illustrate, she said: ‘When airbags were introduced, they killed and injured more women and children than men. Why? Because women and children’s physical differences and car seating positions were not calculated in the test results.’
She continued: ‘When we talk about technology and the future, we should ask ourselves if women are included in our calculations. Are women being encouraged and supported to keep up with this change, or being left behind?’
Progress made, work still to do
Citing regional progress, Sheikha Bodour said 56% of UAE government university graduates in STEM subjects were women, while in Saudi Arabia the ratio of women in ICT had increased from 7% to 28% since 2018, surpassing the EU and G20 averages of 17.5%.
Female enrolment at American University of Sharjah’s College of Engineering has surged to 36% of new undergraduates and 47% of graduates for the spring semester of 2023. And at Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park, women make up more than half the workforce, including leading roles in technology, engineering, and lab teams.Despite these successes, female-led start-ups in the Middle East receive only 2% of funding from venture capitalists, and only 38% of women who studied computer science work in the field, compared to 53% of men.
Steps firms can take
Sheikha Bodour told Arab Women in Tech that companies must remove barriers to participation by considering women’s needs higher upstream in decision making, because opportunities are only equal when access to them is equal.
She suggested creating inclusive workplaces and cultures that promote and leverage diversity and inclusion; starting female mentorship programmes; allowing flexible working; and ensuring equal pay and opportunities for advancement.
Additionally, she called for more women to be promoted to leadership of tech organizations, as their ongoing exclusion ‘perpetuates gender biases and limits diverse perspectives in decision-making’.
‘Women have unique needs and face specific challenges, such as balancing work and family responsibilities and dealing with pregnancy and motherhood. We can’t expect them to perform and grow in their careers in environments that weren’t built with their needs in mind,’ she said.
‘By actively promoting and supporting women’s career advancement in the tech sector, we can increase their representation in leadership roles and bring their voices, fresh ideas and innovative solutions to the industry’s challenges.’
From 2021 to 2022, Sheikha Bodour was the second woman and first Arab and Muslim president of the 126-year-old International Publishers Association. In 2019 she started PublisHer, an initiative to empower women in publishing and advance them towards leadership and board roles. In 2021 PublisHer released a Diversity & Inclusion Diagnostic Toolkit, a step-by-step guide for publishing companies to assess and improve their DEI performance.
The WIRED Arab Women in Tech conference
The ‘Women in Tech’ event was a celebration of women’s leadership in the technology sector organized by WIRED magazine to mark its third anniversary. The event convened regional innovators and featured leading women in STEM, who shared their stories and discussed challenges and opportunities for women in the industry.