Engineering role models for a more diverse future
Despite female engineers having a presence in the industry for well over 100 years, encouraging female participation into STEM-related careers and achieving gender equality in the workplace continues to be an ongoing challenge.
To mark International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) 2021 – an international awareness campaign to raise the profile of women in engineering and focus attention on the amazing career opportunities available to aspiring engineers in this exciting industry – WSP and AMAALA have collaborated on an exclusive podcast episode titled ‘Engineering role models for a more diverse future’.
Hosted by Shona Wood, Gender Balance Steering Group Representative and Head of Integrated Project Delivery and Architecture at WSP in the Middle East, this episode features AMAALA’s Development Specialist, Razan Alraddadi alongside WSP Middle East’s Graduate Consultant, Ruaa Mahmoud.
In this session, our guests reflect on the progress being made to create more diverse and inclusive working environments for Saudi youth in engineering fields, whilst promoting the positive role that mentors can play in inspiring the youth of today to become future changemakers to drive economic transformation and overcome barriers to wider equality.
Not able to listen? Here’s an overview of the discussion:
What made you decide to choose a career in engineering and what were the key influences in your decision?
Razan: “Like most engineering students, I was good at math and I loved math, and I loved problem solving. I was a creative growing up; I was solving everything that was broken around the house. My father noticed that and he was like, ‘Razan, I think you would make a good engineer and the first woman in engineering our family, it’s going to be be you’.
“Fasting forward, I got my scholarship to study in the University of Washington in 2014, [but] in my first year at University of Washington I had so many doubts about engineering – there was a lack of [female] representation in engineering.
“I remember attending one event, led by a Society of Women Engineers, and at that event was there was a panel of women in engineering fields and I remember one particular woman, she was an electrical engineer at NASA, and she spoke so much about her experience and the projects that she was working on… it wasn’t until that moment that I saw another woman in engineering excelling…. In that moment, I had the confidence needed to continue my career and to continue pursuing engineering. 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.”
It has been an amazing experience joining AMAALA, and I’m surrounded by an amazing team of engineers in a very inclusive and very good environment for women and engineering.
Ruaa: “Ironically, parental guidance, mentors advice… I did not have any of that in terms of pursuing engineering. It’s in retrospect, growing up in my upbringing I was a curious cat. I would ponder into the unknown and be asking questions, and anything that was unknown, it would fascinate me. It was this turning point when I watched this one movie called The Astronaut Farmer and this farmer was able to make it into space, and it was at that point that I felt like I could go into space and I felt Like I would want to pursue a career in astrophysics, aeronautical engineering, something that would get me into space.
“As a kid, I felt like it was realistic and growing up, I still do feel like I would get there. That’s what actually encouraged me to choose engineering and choose electrical and computer engineering. Whatever would get me to work on spacecraft, or work on autonomous systems or robotics that would help astronauts or helped me get to the International Space Station – anything that kind of does assist that vision of going into space.”
When you both decided to go into the engineering undergraduate programs and went to the various universities, did you feel that you connected with other female students who had similar journeys to yourselves?
Ruaa: “Yes, when I think it was the first year of engineering, we got to see other girls and other females that chose engineering and we were pondering about why they chose this field of study… you get that sense of familiarity or that sense of belonging with other people that are the same gender as you and you kind of formed this squad or this sisterhood-like group where we though ‘okay, we can conquer the world’.”
Razan: “For me it was the same, I was having self-doubts when I entered college. But I think it was the moment when I found the Society of Women Engineers, when I found women in the field and doing amazing stuff in the field, and I found that support system of other women around me that were very encouraging and very supportive. That’s when I knew engineering is such a good major and such a good career path.”
Moving on to our second question – as female engineering graduates looking for first career opportunities, what factors were important to you, when assessing potential employers? What things were you looking for from your first work experience?
Ruaa: “Personally speaking, I don’t think I had strict factors or strict parameters to look into in terms of finding a job straight out of college. However, doing an internship at a nationwide company, I felt like I wanted to do my first job in an international global company to be more exposed to a wider variety of different experiences having people coming in from other countries. With that, of course, the diverse culture and gender balance was a main thing as well.”
Razan: “For my first job, the first thing was I wanted in a company was a diverse and inclusive culture. I wanted that inclusive, very encouraging space.
“I think I was very lucky to be in AMAALA. I feel that every day at work, I feel that in the team around me, I feel like they encourage me to share my ideas. I feel that sense of adding value and adding purpose to the company to the country, in a way and I’m very happy about where I am now.”
Since joining AMAALA and WSP what have your experiences been in terms of the support that you’ve received, the atmosphere, the environment that you’ve been working in? Do you feel that’s been supportive and inclusive?
Razan: “I’m lucky to get that in AMAALA. The engineering team that I’m part of under the development department has been very, very supportive and very encouraging. My manager has been one of the most encouraging people to me to make sure that my ideas and my thoughts are heard. I felt that sense of support since my first day here, and I think that kind of environment is very encouraging and very healthy for women to be in.”
Ruaa: “I would say that one or two projects that I did work on with other engineers, and the other engineers, there were mostly men, I was heard and even though I was just a fresh graduate, and being the only female in the room, I was heard and my thoughts or my ideas were given a chance at the table… you do feel that sense here working at WSP especially that you are heard, no matter your gender, no matter your experience, or your expertise level.”
Shona: “Speaking from my own experience, as well, I think we’re always going to be the minority in the room, whether it be a meeting, whether it be a project, we’re always going to be the minority. So, it is important to make sure that your voice is heard and to hear that you’ve got some male colleagues who are almost acting as allies and encouraging you to speak up and encouraging you to participate.”
You’ve both experienced studying abroad, but you both chosen to return to KSA to start your professional careers. What influenced that decision, and do you think your experience of working on such amazing projects in Saudi will help to encourage other female graduates to follow in your footsteps?
Ruaa: “I do believe that me working at WSP and working at mega projects does actually give that one girl that is, you know, studying engineering, or that one girl in high school that sees a female taking part in mega projects, that sense of familiarity and that sense of ‘Okay, she’s doing it, I’m pretty sure I can do it too’”.
Rawan: “I chose going back to be around my family in my home country working on a very good project, 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 to Saudi.”
What more do you think that we can do as engineering professionals and engineering consultancies to attract not just female engineers, but students in general into engineering and construction?
Ruaa: “Seeing the first step that WSP took and providing the graduate program for both genders, that itself is a good step forward. However, talking about the Middle East, in Saudi Arabia, specifically, culturally speaking, there’s this stigma that a woman cannot take a role or a vocation that is more known to be suitable for a guy, looking back at history…. I’ve been told that numerous times, and I’ve had friends that have been told that.
“I think we need to break that barrier down and just talk with our community, and people, friends and family about how it’s normal for women in engineering to pursue such fields, or to pursue such jobs.”
Razan: “I think highlighting engineers and what engineers do, having a platform to showcase engineers, having a podcast like this, talking about engineers and engineers lives and the projects that they work on… that would make engineering more attractive. I also believe that graduate programs, where I feel like when you go to college, pursuing engineering degree, and then you know that there is so many graduate programs out there that will take you and train you as an engineer after you graduate. That would make you feel like engineering is a really good profession in a place that you would benefit from.”
Obviously, you’ve been working now with WSP and AMAALA – do you see your careers developing in this industry? Do you see a career path for yourselves?
Ruaa: “I do have to say that working in the industry, as opposed to having just studied engineering for five years, it does give you a broader horizon into knowing what avenues you can take. So working at WSP, I have learned of different things that I wouldn’t have known, especially in construction, like electrical engineering and construction.”
Razan: “I’ve been now nine months with AMAALA… I’ve been exploring so many things now and I think as I continue grow in my career, I will learn more and I will 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.”
Shona: “Well, thank you both for your time today. It’s been really interesting. It’s great to see your enthusiasm and your passion for what you’re doing, and I look forward to seeing you both again soon and hearing about your career development.”
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