Written byHouda Chakiri, CEO and founder, Enhanced Technologies
Why science, technology, innovation matters and what ‘eureka moment’ made you choose a STEM career?
We are in the era of digital economy where you can shop, pay your taxes, book your travels and sell your products while you are at home with your children.
The digital economy somehow democratized access to information and knowledge and gave rise to a new generation of jobs. This has opened great opportunities to women and minorities to be able to take part of the economic development.
However, many socio-economic obstacles still hinder the inclusion of women and girls into this changing dynamic. According to the World Bank, the percentage of women in science and engineering disciplines in MENA (Middle East and North Africa) countries is comparable to or higher than in more developed countries, however this does not automatically lead to a bigger female labour force.
If we dig further, women in those countries are still facing societal barriers such as women should pursue a good education to be able to raise and educate their children while women’s education is very much praised in MENA region and gives opportunities for women to a good and respectful societal status this is not translated by an evolution in her career and most women in MENA countries still face childcare and housekeeping duties, which delays and sometimes slows their expansion in tech careers.
I was raised in a family that praises science and scientists. My father was a forest engineer and my mother a nurse. I was educated by using the spirit of enquiry and experimentation. I was also passionate about physics during my secondary and high school education.
This is why I choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in physics then a master’s degree in atomic physics. It was not a simple choice – or a eureka moment for that matter. It followed a discussion with my cousin who was studying physics at the university. I was a teenager and was expressing my passion for science, and especially physics, when he advised me to rather focus on business, because “it’s what women do!”
This was a turning point in my life, because at that moment I decided to prove that women can be as good as men in science.
By the end of 1999 after my master’s in hand I was looking for a PHD scholarship and after a positive answer from some European universities based in France and Belgium, I was advised by family that it was better to study in Morocco.
The reasoning was that it was hard for a single, young women to travel alone. So, I visited Al Akhawayn University, two hours’ drive from my home town – and because I was already exposed to computers, I started to take interest in exploring this field more. The result was not a PhD but another master’s in computer networks.
When I just started Enhanced Technologies, the information technology (IT) company I founded more than 12 years ago, I faced as any IT entrepreneur difficulties such as: the digital divide among end users, digital and general illiteracy training and skills, resistance to change, corruption and despotism, an unsupportive ecosystem and business environment, access to funds, and a rapidly changing technology environment.
Being a women entrepreneur added more hitches: managing human resources, defying social expectations, struggling to be taken seriously, life-work balance and coping with the fear of failure.
I am actually a mother of two boys, aged 6 and 9, and figuring out solution to these challenges has slowed me to somehow, give time to my family, manage the company and advocate for more women in the tech field trough IEEE women in engineering, Arab women in computing and Afchix organizations.
But it is not easy. An anecdote illustrates this.
Responding to a call for bid presentations, I competed against a male only team. Our bid team was mixed, with two female engineers and one male. His all male team won the bid. I was disappointed and asked the committee to share what our weakness was, so we could improve on future bids.
The answer was astonishing!
They chose the team because “men over 45 years inspired more confidence”.
10 years later we were contacted by the same client requesting an appointment to change the existing system – with the one we are offering!
Share a career anecdote and message about how they would like to see the world change as a result of workplace gender parity
I would like to see more women running IT business and more women in decision-making positions in the technology field. Society cannot advance without having both men and women participating actively in its progress.
Women in STEM: Changing the narrative
Women have been left out of much more than innovation, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers, but these are the sectors that imagine, design, build and code our future.
UNCTAD's Women in STEM campaign showcase incredible everyday innovators, engineers, change-makers and disruptors in their fields to tell their stories so that others may follow in their footsteps.