A growing number of women in the UAE are graduating with an engineering degree, but many are still struggling to find employment.
The International Women in Engineering Day, which falls each year on June 23, aims to honour women working in engineering fields.
The day was formed by the Women’s Engineering Society, a UK-based charity group established in 1919 to support those who had carved out careers in technical fields during the war years but were preventing from continuing on their path by law changes regarding female employment following the end of the conflict.
In the UAE, 44.5 per cent of engineering undergraduates are females. At the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, 40 per cent of the staff are women.
With the country’s space and other technical sectors booming, engineering remains a popular choice for students, however this also makes the market competitive.
The National spoke to women engineers about the work experience they have gained through internships and the challenges they face in securing full-time employment.
Ashwaq Saleh, 22, is an Emirati mechanical engineering graduate from Khalifa University and hopes to work in the UAE’s space sector.
She has completed a six-month internship with BAE Systems’ Applied Intelligence Labs, a UK-based firm that mainly works with the European Space Agency to communicate with spacecrafts in deep space and retrieve their data.
She helped design a tracking, telemetry and command processor, as well designed a replacement of the switch matrix unit that is used on it.
“The internship really helped me show what I’m good at. I wasn’t sure how I could contribute to the space sector as a mechanical engineer, but I know that the UAE’s space sector is bright and there’s a place for me,” said Ms Saleh.
“I’m looking for any opportunity to be part of the space sector, but it’s hard to get hold of people.”
Ms Saleh said she has applied to a space organisation in Dubai, but has not heard back. She is now taking online courses on machine learning to make her job applications stand out.
Computer science and engineering
Joanita DSouza, 22, is an Indian engineering student who is set to graduate this year from a Dubai university.
She said she was the only female engineer at a computer science engineering firm in the UAE, where she was interning.
She said she was concerned about the “bias” she might face when she tries to enter the labour market.
“We need to break out of this stereotype that only men are good engineers or that engineering is a field that belongs only to men,” said Ms DSouza.
“In my family I’m the only female engineer and I am so grateful that my parents are open-minded.
“While there are many opportunities that are open to both genders I’ve seen so many that blatantly say we accept only men. At times, even the ones open to both genders, we see male candidates chosen.”
Ms DSouza said her career goal is to develop a unique algorithm that can help in the medical field.
She wants to design a machine that can accurately analyse a patient’s medical history in order to predict the best possible combination of medicines.
Electronics and communications engineer
Maryam Al Nuaimi, 23, also interned at Applied Intelligence Labs in the UK alongside Ms Saleh and is hoping to secure employment in the space sector.
She retrieved and processed data from the Rosetta Mission, which was a deep space mission by the European Space Agency where they landed a probe on a comet.
She was also part of the software team that helped build the MeznSat satellite, a UAE student-built cube sat that will launch into space later this year.
Despite her experience in space engineering, she is yet to secure full-time work.
“Women are equal to men and we are starting to be involved in many different sectors. In the space sector, for example, women have done great things,” she said.
Solar and alternate energy engineer
Dania Saquib, 21, said she feels that her field is still “male-dominated”. The Indian citizen will graduate soon and has some internship experience under her belt.
However, she said she had already started to “feel the bias” even before entering the labour market.
“People are still generally surprised to see women in this industry and it’s not uncommon to be asked why you decided to become an engineer in the first place – which is not a question that would typically be levied at male colleagues,” said Ms Saquib.
“During my course of internship, there were times where I was told ‘you are a woman, I don’t think you would be able to do that’.”
During her internship at a solar-based company, she received experience in project budgeting, designing PV systems according to Dewa regulations and market research and analysis for Middle East’s solar energy industry.
Rameela Davanagere Ramesh, 20 hopes to work for SpaceX, Nasa or the Indian Space Research Organisation.
“The best hands on experience that I have received was from the amazing work that I did on the Amity Dubai Ground Station and Amisat (a cube satellite Amity University students are developing),” she said.
“These projects have allowed me to learn so much more about satellites and their payloads, how satellites work and communicate with the ground station and overall functions.”
She said that aerospace engineers has proven to be “one of the most competitive fields”.
“There is a hidden struggle for women engineers as well. This is a male-dominated field, hence, getting a job as well as equal pay as your male counterpart is really hard. Although times are changing and improving,” said Ms Ramesh.