Women who are at the centre of science, research, development, and innovation in Qatar discussed yesterday how the nation is breaking down gender barriers in education, industry, and the workplace.
During a Qatar Foundation (QF) panel event at Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP), titled ‘How To Create More Female Leaders in RD&I’, four women with key roles in driving innovation, developing technology, making scientific discoveries, and improving healthcare aired their views on nurturing a new generation of female role models.
Part of the ‘Catalysing The Future’ campaign, highlighting QSTP’s efforts and achievements over the past decade and the importance of research, development, and innovation to Qatar, the discussion also saw speakers talk about the importance of encouraging more women to become scientists, researchers, and tech entrepreneurs.
While female participation in STEM fields in Qatar is double that of the US, according to the Qatar-America Institute’s Women Leadership Factsheet published in November 2018, women working in these fields are still facing obstacles. However, according to the speakers, the provision of learning opportunities within Qatar is helping to counteract these challenges, with education playing a major role in shaping future female leaders in the STEM industry. Dr Jehan al-Rayahi, attending paediatric neuroradiologist at QF member Sidra Medicine, and one of the panel speakers, said, “You have to start at a young age. If you have a cool science teacher, you will love science and will want to go into science.
“I am thrilled with programmes like those at QF’s Qatar Academy for Science and Technology, as this is one place you can send your children where they will get excited about science.”
Opportunities for self-development for women also exist beyond the school and university environment in Qatar, as Dr Sara Abdulla, research fellow, Qatar Biomedical Research Institute, explained. “One of the things that helped me, in terms of educational support, was the Qatar Science Leadership Programme – now known as the Qatar Research Leadership Programme,” she said. “It was a brand new concept, and I knew that getting into such a rigorous programme would challenge me even further.”
Support within the workplace is also pivotal to success, according to Hayfa al-Abdullah, director of Innovation, QSTP. “Fifteen years ago, it was harder for a woman to join engineering or IT sector,” she said. “I was female, in a male-dominated sector, and the youngest team member. However, I managed to become a section head in this sector by the age of 28, and that was because of the belief and support I received from my management.
“Today, I am proud to say that I am part of a team with 50% female representation, not just administrative staff, but experts in energy, environment, and health sciences.
“At QSTP, we are a supportive organisation; we empower people to create technology startups, and we empower women to engage in such sectors.”
Lana Khalaf, country general manager, Microsoft, spoke about its policy of intentional hiring that females are considered for every role.
“This doesn’t mean we are being biased,” she said. “It is the same HR process for everyone – we hire on qualifications and who fits best – but it means there should be fair opportunities.”
Equality within the workplace is also imperative to economic success, continued Khalaf, who stated that when there is equal representation between females and males, profitability within an organisation increases by 6% and that as much as $12.5tn could be added to global GDP by 2025.
“Today is the time. It is our job to make sure we instil the confidence, we instil the empowerment, we provide the right training, and the right culture to make sure that these women continue to be the change, lead the change, and demand and create motions that lead to other females joining them,”  she added.