Given the number of women engineering graduates in the UAE, there should be more of them in workplaces across the country. Image Credit: Gulf News

It’s International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate how far we’ve come in promoting diversity and inclusion.

For me, this is an occasion to also ask ourselves how we can do more. And there is much more we need to do if we’re going to achieve a level playing field for all.

Simply put, women are underrepresented in both engineering and technology roles.

Globally, only 25 per cent of computing jobs are held by women, according to research from the NCWIT’s Workforce Alliance. Engineering roles are even more skewed in favour of men.

According to the Engineering UK 2018 report, only 12.37 per cent of all engineers in the UK are women.

I’d quote from our region ... but the figures are not available.

I understand the challenges in working towards achieving gender parity in our industries, but that doesn’t mean I — or my company — should accept the status quo.

Fifteen years ago, women at Schneider Electric represented just 5 per cent of its Top 1,000. Today, they make up 23 per cent of our global leadership; 36 per cent of our board members are women; and three of our five major country regions are led by female executive committee members. We’re playing our part in the Gulf too — almost 40 per cent of our management team are women.

Need for a re-commitment

Businesses must commit to such a change, prioritising a culture in which diversity thrives and everyone feels included. This includes internal hidden bias learning programmes to educate employees on how to be more inclusive, flexibility at work programmes, and everyone covered by global family leave programmes. It also requires pay equity — women should be paid the same as men for doing the same job.

And there’s the male support, which is so often overlooked. We need male champions who will push for changes that help women achieve equality.

A hard learning curve

None of these changes are easy to implement. But they’re necessary. Diversity makes for a better company; it helps us understand issues from perspectives we haven’t considered before. And be more creative as a result.

In many respects, we are following the lead that the UAE government has set. There are more female ministers here than anywhere else in the region; women have the right to vote, and the UAE is pioneering gender equality at all levels of the government. The country’s leadership understands the fundamental role that women have to play in driving economic growth.

The path to gender equality is an experience that we are all learning and benefiting from. But we have to do more as an industry and as a region. I’ve met so many young female science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduates in this region who are talented, ambitious, and who want to work in technical fields. And yet they’re unable to find the roles because of old-fashioned attitudes.

The base is there

The numbers back this up. According to a report prepared by the Saudi Education Ministry over a year ago, women accounted for 57 per cent of undergraduates for the year 2015-16. Women outnumbered men in graduating with a bachelor’s in biology, information technology (IT), mathematics, and physics. These same female graduates struggle to secure a job after graduation.

I want us to change this. As an industry, we must come together to pledge that we’ll work for gender equality. Let’s work together, all the engineering and technology companies in the Gulf and the Middle East, to train, develop and offer jobs to more female STEM graduates.

I want us all to commit to ensuring that both men and women are interviewed for every available role. And if there are no women available, then let’s work with schools and universities to promote STEM as a career to both boys and girls.

Coalitions of companies can change the dynamic in society over a shorter period. Let’s mobilise for women’s inclusion and gender diversity.

We must do better as an industry for all parts of society here. And that’s my promise to you as we celebrate International Women’s Day. Join me ...

— Ahmed Khashan is Cluster President — Gulf Countries at Schneider Electric.