Omani woman Engineers like Fatma should be A role model to the new social media generation and should inspire woman students.
Rasha al Raisi –
I had the pleasure of taking part in the launching of Caledonian Women Engineering Forum that took place on Caledonian College of Engineering campus at Al Hail in Muscat last month. Coming from an engineering background myself, I was to play the moderator for a panel discussion that included Omani women engineers from different areas of engineering and companies in Oman. The women were CEOs and heads of HSE and quality, a shining example of what women could be with hard work and perseverance.
The event started with a launch address given by Dr Suad al Lawati, the Vice-Chairperson of the State Council. Her speech was simple and inspiring, of her long journey in the academic world (from getting her degree in psychology to gaining a PhD and starting at the students’ counselling centre in SQU).
Then came the panel discussion and it was time to ask the women some tough questions. The questions ranged from brief introductions of themselves and challenges they had to overcome to be where they are now. Most women admitted that studying and working in a male dominant environment like engineering wasn’t easy. They had to work hard to break the stereotype image men had of them and prove themselves worthy. The head of HSE mentioned that in her varsity days, she was kicked out of her civil engineering class more than once; as the lecturer was sure that there was a mistake in her timetable. In those days, it was very rare to see women majoring in civil engineering.
The proud moment came when one of the participants mentioned that during her study in Harvard, Oman was given as an example of gender equality in the workplace in terms of payment and promotion opportunity. If that was the case, then why the dwindling numbers of women engineers joining the workforce after graduation? The statistics that was given at the launch was that less than 30 per cent of women engineering graduates worked after graduation. The rest preferred to stay at home and do nothing with their qualification.
The answer that came to my mind immediately was the lack of true role models for these girls. In the age of social media, the majority of the role models are either fashionistas or social media celebrities. I rarely hear of prominent women engineers being followed by hundreds thousands of these youths. Also in my teaching days, many of the women followed their friends’ choices of engineering schools without a prior knowledge of the specialisation. Later on, they’ll feel stuck and unhappy but continue their studies just for the sake of getting a degree.
When the debate was over, I was greeted by an old student of mine called Fatma. I always remembered her being smart and hardworking. Fatma shared her amazing story with me. Coming from a very conservative family, Fatma had to fight her family when she was offered a job in the desert. According to her, she wore a coverall and a helmet, held the shovel and dug holes like her male counterparts. She learned by heart every single downstream pipe that ran in her area.
Engineers like Fatma should be the real role models to the new social media generation. They should get more exposure and give talks to female engineering students about a typical day at work. Besides, there should be a proper career counsellor in every college that has an experience in the career choices offered to the students. Someone who goes beyond repeating what’s in the course brochure and asking: “What are your hobbies? What would you like to do in the future?”