Female RDI leaders highlight gender equality achievements and obstacles in panel discussion
Women who are at the center of science, research, development, and innovation in Qatar have discussed 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 ‘Catalyzing The Future’ campaign, which is 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 Pediatric 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 programs 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.”
And speaking about the opportunities for female students provided by Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar, Dr. Al Rayahi, who was part of the first batch of students to join the QF partner university in 2002, said: “If I had graduated in 2001, I would have had to go to medical school outside Qatar; however, Cornell opened up the year I finished school.
We empower people to create technology startups, and we empower women to engage in such sectors.
“I did my residency at Hamad Medical Corporation, during which it got ACGME-I accreditation. I was lucky that, every step of the way, I got the best education here in my country, with the support of my family.”
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 (QBRI), explained. “One of the things that helped me, in terms of educational support, was the Qatar Science Leadership Program – now known as the Qatar Research Leadership Program,” she said. “It was a brand new concept, and I knew that getting into such a rigorous program would challenge me even further.”
Support within the workplace is also pivotal to success, according to Hayfa Al Abdullah, Director of Innovation, QSTP, which is part of Qatar Foundation Research, Development and Innovation
“Fifteen years ago, it was harder for a woman to join the 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 per cent female representation, not just administrative staff, but experts in energy, environment, and health sciences. At QSTP, we are a supportive organization; we empower people to create technology startups, and we empower women to engage in such sectors.”
Echoing these sentiments about the role of leadership within the workplace, Lana Khalaf, Country General Manager, Microsoft, one of the international technology companies based at QSTP, spoke about its policy of intentional hiring, which means 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.”
Diversity and inclusion is needed for growth, is needed for better products, is needed for equality and inclusion, and is needed for the economic and social development of any country of the world.
Equality within the workplace is also imperative to economic success, continued Ms. Khalaf, who stated that when there is equal representation between females and males, profitability within an organization increases by six per cent, and that as much as $12.5 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025. “We believe, as a company, that diversity and inclusion is needed for growth, is needed for better products, is needed for equality and inclusion, and is needed for the economic and social development of any country of the world,” she said.
“Today is the time. It is our job to make sure we instill the confidence, we instill 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.”