Today I spoke at the NYU Abu Dhabi workshop on Women in Computing in the Arab World. I was struck by the uniformity of challenges the speakers presented. I was also encouraged to see a room full of role-models to rising women Engineers, Computer Scientists, Professors and Professionals.
Across the Arab world. participants in the Women in Computing workshop reiterated the same challenges. Barriers to women in technology:
- family responsibility
- lack of confidence
- low role models
“Consumerism in the Arab world plagues society, if you have money to consume it..why produce it? is the mode of operations” said Fatima Abu Salem Associate Professor at AUB. Fatima’s superb delivery, keen focus on complex challenges and willingness to bring her personal experience made her presentation fabulous and informative. She addressed issues that at the surface seem small, yet have wide implications. Issues such as:
- flexibility in working hours
- maternity leave..and its impact on tenure
- women leadership style – seeking community and connection.. not always looking for pure individual gain.
- bosses don’t think they can rely on women in travel.. “males are bargains, can throw them into cheep hotels.. women need more pampering”
- finding the right measuring tools for women: “what kind of male literacy are we comparing female literacy against? don’t just look at quantity.. look at quality..”
- not just encourage women to get a degree in computing.. look at how we can make it sustainable.
- Policies.. for women.. we are not men in skirts!
Professor Amir Zeid spoke with passion about his gender research. “40% female in classrooms in Kuwait, compared to 10% in Carnegie Mellon. The percentages are on the decline from 47 down to 34% that’s not because less women are interested in technology, rather more are interested in Engineering; a program that recently started at the University is a magnet for female students with enrolling 60% women.”
The university mandated a gender segregation program. Prof. Zeid was forced to teach the same class, one for males and one females. Prof. Zeid used different examples for his male & female classes, noted differences in knowledge acquisition. That lead Prof. Zeid to start a study on the effect of gender segregation in the classroom. Findings included:
- improved performance in both male and female classrooms
- female in single gender classes out-performed males in other classes. – perception was that males knew better. when removed from class, female performance improved.
Questionnaire on why more females chose computer science in this region..
- teaching jobs easier..
- husband wants me to be a teacher
- work for public sector..
East & West, perceive computer science as masculine..
when asked why they got in:
- follow suit of mother
- want to prove myself
Dr. Amany Al-Shawi – women division manager at The National Program of electronics, Communications, and Photonics at KACST
Collaboration between Academic Sector and Private sector:
- Saudi – virtually non existent. private sector needs to be “told” to collaborate.. like the tax incentives in the USA
- Lebanon – Very meager, under-developed capacity to contribute to research in the private sector
- Morocco – mandatory in the undergrad and graduate level for internships, EU fund mandates collaboration w private sector for grants.
Alice Bonhomme-Biais is a software engineer working on crisis response at google.org based in NY.
Did Facebook create the Egypt revolution?
- it helped with horizontal expansion across social classes
- it gave us a compounded effect.. lending experiences from Tunisia
FB was used inside the country.. Twitter reached outside the country. Social Media increased the “emotional density” Hizb elKanabah.. joined through social media.
The innovation panel provided amazing insights into research and development in fuzzy logic, the semantic web, augmented reality, web analytics, crowd sourcing and much more.
I presented on the challenges facing female entrepreneurs investing in technology ventures, and the opportunities to support them:
- Women in computing: live Q&A (guardian.co.uk)
- 2012 Grace Hopper Celebration Of Women In Computing (Call For Participation) (witug.wordpress.com)
- Mind the Gap: Encouraging women to study engineering (googleblog.blogspot.com)
- Women in Games, and the Cost of the Clubhouse (forbes.com)