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Tech booms in the GCC, but women in danger of being excluded

While tech startups in the Middle East are booming, Arab women remain poorly represented in the industry, say analysts. (Supplied)
While tech startups in the Middle East are booming, Arab women remain poorly represented in the industry, say analysts. (Supplied)
While tech startups in the Middle East are booming, Arab women remain poorly represented in the industry, say analysts. (Supplied)
While tech startups in the Middle East are booming, Arab women remain poorly represented in the industry, say analysts. (Supplied)
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18 May 2022 04:05:20 GMT9
18 May 2022 04:05:20 GMT9
  • US, Saudi Arabia have similar rates of women in tech, yet experts say more should be done to boost diversity
  • How Middle East women can capitalize on GCC tech boom was discussed at Arab Women Forum

Rebecca Anne Proctor 

DUBAI: Tech is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, and the Arab Gulf is increasingly viewed as one of its global centers. At the heart of the region’s tech scene is Dubai, dubbed the “tech hub of the Arab world.”

The UAE’s commercial capital continued to grow over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, in part, perhaps, because of its decision to keep its borders open while most of the world went into prolonged lockdowns.

But this continued growth is also the result of the rising number of technology startups drawn to the UAE, Dubai’s appeal for entrepreneurs and its ability to woo international venture capital firms.

According to Dubai-based research platform Wamda, investments in Middle Eastern tech firms, excluding those in Israel, quadrupled to $2.87 billion last year — with roughly half of that capital flowing into the UAE.

Dubai is now home to several tech startups worth at least $1 billion — known in the business community as “unicorns” for their statistical rarity.

These include Vista Global, a private aviation platform; Kitopi, a cloud kitchen platform; and Emerging Markets Property Group, which manages classified listing websites in Egypt, the UAE and elsewhere.

Yet, despite the burgeoning success of tech startups in the Middle East, Arab women remain poorly represented in the industry.

Despite female involvement in the Emirates Mars Mission, which successfully placed a probe in orbit around the red planet in February 2021, “the lack of presence in this region of women in tech is very visible,” Dr. Nour E. Raouafi, a project scientist with NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Mission, told Arab News.

“If you look at some domains, like space where I am working, the participation of women is not at the level where it should be,” Raouafi added, speaking ahead of his appearance on a panel at the Arab Women Forum, which took place in Dubai on May 17.

According to Endeavor Insight, Saudi Arabia and the US boast a similar participation rate among women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, known as STEM, at 28 percent. This is higher than the UK, which has a rate of just 22 percent.

Nevertheless, experts believe there is far more work to be done to encourage more women to pursue degrees and careers in STEM fields, both in the Arab world and globally.

“We should be striving toward equality at all levels — from management downward — and the best way to do this is to start from the grassroots, from colleges and schools, and to encourage young women to work in space and other fields of tech by providing fellowships and other incentives,” said Raouafi

There are reasons for optimism. Measures designed to enhance the business environment in the Gulf and to eliminate gender discrimination in the workplace are already moving things in the right direction.

“Young professionals, women and men, are now flocking to the Middle East while working for European or US based technology companies,” Philippe Blanchard, founder of Futurous, told Arab News.

“Concrete actions have been taken by the GCC leadership, in support of the IT industry, in setting up an efficient education system, as well as tackling the gender pay gap such as in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.”

However, social perceptions remain an obstacle. “Technology is still considered a man’s world, but there are opportunities to change the mindset,” said Blanchard.

For example, “ensuring the parents, the school teachers and university professors are not pushing specific curriculum based on gender — like nurses for young women and engineers for young men.”

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