An assistant professor in the Faculty of Sciences at Saint Joseph University of Beirut, Lebanon, Zeina devotes her time to anti-HIV drug design. Last year, she was awarded the L’Oreal UNESCO for Women in Sciences Pan Arab Program for implementing a spectroscopic lab within the faculty. Currently, Zeina is working on implementing Lebanon’s premier Molecular Modeling station. She has a Ph.D. in Proteins, Structure, Function and Engineering; a master's in Sciences and Health; a master's in Macromolecular Structure and Interaction and Functional Genomics; and a bachelor's in Biochemistry. Very interested in public health, Zeina advises emerging leaders to "Be confident in yourselves, you have a huge potential. These fields require technical and managerial skills, and you women can be leaders. You are brilliant, beautiful, innovative and strong. Do not fear to dream and dream big." Tweet her @ZeinaHobaika
Electricity is Baya's line of work. She runs the maintenance policy department at GRTE, a company that manages the power transmission grid in Algeria. A trendsetter, Baya was the first woman to work at poer company Sonelgaz, as an engineer in protection and automation services for regional electricity transmission, when she started in 1997. In 2003, Baya was closely working with seven engineers and managers on a project for improving grid maintenance and reparation methods throughout Algeria. She has an MBA. "I always think that, as educated people, as managers and as women, it is our duty to give back to our country, to change things around us and to help people around us, but the problem has always been about knowing how to do that." Baya said her TechWomen experience answered that question. "I have been in touch with great role models, amazing people, they gave me the self confidence I need, and show me the pathway to achieve my goals and help people around me, to positively influence them, to help them to go further and to achieve their goals. I never thought before that I can act as a role model for young people around me, my family, my friends, my relatives and my colleagues." She uses Twitter, @baya71
A senior quality assurance engineer at the startup Vimov LLC, Heba is an Egyptian with a computer science degree. She also started the website ‘7alawa7da,’ with a mission to collect donations for critical charity cases. Her business idea was a winner at local startup competitions, including the ArabNet conference in Cairo and the Startup Weekend Alexandria event. Heba began her career as a testing and quality engineer at IBM Cairo. She also loves volunteering and has more than a decade of experience doing just that. "It's obvious that there are too few women in the technology field in Egypt and in the world in general; starting from an early age in school we find that the number of female students in the science sections is small, hence, the number of females in engineering schools is small as well," Heba said. "I think women should be more encouraged to join the tech world, as well as a variety of tech-related activities, including conference speaking, business, gaming and more, so that we can try to get rid of the perception that 'only men are doing it.' If we all talked about it more, I think that would encourage more women to dive in." Heba remains optimistic that women will become successful entrepreneurs in Egypt, creating businesses and contributing to the community. "It's time to give women a chance to present ideas. When we have a suitable chance, we deliver great ideas- not only delivering them, but winning."
Jessica is an energy engineer at the Community Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Demonstration Program for the Recovery of Lebanon (CEDRO-UNDP). This wonder woman has certificates in energy financing, business development, international policy, renewable energy technologies, and conflict resolution. She is also the Minister of Municipal Affairs in the Youth Shadow Government, Secretary of the Lebanese Solar Energy Society, and board adviser of the Lebanese Skateboarding Association. Yes, you read correctly: skateboarding. And her list of associations goes on. Jessica says, "When I decided to pursue an engineering degree, there wasn’t one single person who encouraged me to do that. And so, by all means, I wanted to be an engineer, and today, engineering is what I do, what I am, what I’m best a. ... I would say, never let anyone put you down, follow your dream and you’ll figure along the way how to get there." Tweet her @jessica_obeid
Houda is the general manager at Enhanced Technologies, an IT company in Morocco specializing in developing e-Government solutions. Houda holds a bachelor’s degree in Physics, a master’s degree in Laser Physics and a Master of Science in Computer Networks. Houda has worked as an IT manager overseeing different research and development projects. Currently working on managing the change that the introduction of ICT brings at the organizational, political, and social levels in a public administration, Houda was named one of the 100 best young social entrepreneurs in the world at the GK3 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2007. Find her on Twitter @houdachakiri
Noha is a research assistant at Nile University in Egypt. With a bachelor’s in computer science, Noha has four years of experience as a software developer and as a designer for back-end systems. Eager to garner more knowledge of technology and tech companies, she has enrolled in the Management of Technology program at Nile University. Noha co-founded FekraSquared, a crowdsourcing platform in the Middle East.
Need an interactive classroom? Adla is the woman for the job. She is the information technology and finance director at Almakassed Association, a nonprofit organization in Lebanon. It was established in 1878 with a mission to provide education, health and social services. The nonprofit currently serves more than 15,000 students in 45 schools throughout the country. Adla has been working to introduce Information & Communication Technology, or ICT, in schools. Most Almakassed schools have interactive classrooms; more than 750 teachers have participated in a professional development program, with courses in computer skills. Adla has a MBA from Lebanese American University and a master's in Management, graduating with distinction from City University of London.
Farida Joumade Mansouri
Farida heads the Organic Farming Department at Tunisia's Ministry of Agriculture and Development. A senior engineer in agronomy and a soil science specialist, Farida is a mother of two teens. She has a bachelor’s in mathematical sciences and an engineering degree in agronomy. She has held top positions in both women's and environment and health associations, and is an active member of Relatives and Friends of Autistics Association -- and is also a bilingual (French and Arabic) poet. "Every woman who feels she can be brilliant in science and technology should not think twice before embarking on this domain. The woman can be the best anywhere." Find her on Twitter @FarManjou
Olfa is an assistant professor at the Higher Institute of Applied Biological Sciences of Tunis in Tunisia. She has a Ph.D. in ecosystem engineering from the University of Tokushima in Japan. She actively promoted academic and scientific cooperation between Japan and Tunisia through organized workshops, and has established a research network between the two countries. Olfa is interested in applying and implementing compact treatment solutions in developing countries where there are water and wastewater challenges.
Arwa Al Eryani
A tech top gun, Arwa is dean of the Computer Science and Technology faculty at Saba University in Yemen. She has a bachelor's in Computer Sciences, a master's in Systems Analysis and design and a Ph.D. in e-Readiness for e-Government. She lectures in Database and System Analysis and has headed the quality assurance and e-Learning departments. Arwa is all about an e-Society. Her advice is telling people, "IT is the future's best work. Do not lose it."
There is a revolution going on in the Middle East and North Africa, but it's not the political upheaval of the Arab Spring -- it's the emergence of women as leaders in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, an epochal shift for a region where women have long been marginalized.
The U.S. State Department is using its TechWomen program to foster that change. The program pairs dozens of women who work in technology in the region, known by the shorthand MENA, with their American counterparts in Silicon Valley for weeks of mentorship. In essence, American diplomacy is encouraging these women to use the knowledge they gain in the U.S. to create positive social change in their home countries.
“Currently we are building the new Egypt, and I believe [the] most needed resources now are knowledge and science,” said Heba Hosny, a quality assurance engineer who took part in this year’s exchange program.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the TechWomen initiative in 2010, in response to President Barack Obama’s call for an expansion in educational exchanges in the areas of entrepreneurship, science and innovation. The pilot program began the following year, bringing a select number of women to America for a monthlong professional peer mentorship. Their American counterparts also had the opportunity to travel to the various participating countries for networking and workshops.
Big companies like Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Canada-based Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) support the State Department’s program. TechWomen is also supported by Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Microsoft Inc. (NASDAQ:MSFT), NetApp (NASDAQ:NTAP) and Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO), as well as the Cherie Blair Foundation for women, among others.
Nearly 80 MENA women have already gone through the program, and dozens from sub-Saharan Africa are expected to participate next year, said Ann Stock, Assistant Secretary of State for educational and cultural affairs.
“The concept Hillary Clinton had was smart power -- using every tool, including technology, to bring people together,” Stock said. “Her idea was to empower women and girls and bring them together. These networks of women are going to work together forever.”
The MENA women in the program also got a firsthand view of how American women balance their work and home life, an important consideration for women from many countries in that region, where female work outside the home is rare.
“The most amazing thing I discover there is that even [though] we were from different countries, different regions and religions, all the women have the same problem: to do their best to balance between work and family,” said Farida Joumade Mansouri, who heads the Organic Framing Department at the Ministry of Agriculture and Development in Tunisia. “Personally I have no problem to go ahead in my work, but I think that in MENA countries, a woman who works is a very busy one all the time, because she hasn’t all the resources and facilities available to an American woman.”
Audrey Van Belleghem is the director of strategic programs at NetApp, a multinational computer storage and data management company based in the U.S. She served as mentor to a participant from Morocco, where the illiteracy rate is approximately 40 percent. It's even higher in rural areas, and among women.
“In that environment, she needs to pursue technological advances such as cloud infrastructure, data center stability, and she’s an entrepreneur as well, a role model for women in her country,” Van Belleghem said. “She was a truly amazing person to mentor. She did take a year off for her first child, and I was touched when she mentioned after spending time with me (I have 3 children) that she did not feel she would have to take a year off again for this second baby. She is planning to better balance her time, now that she has seen examples of women working and balancing a family life.”
Yet, like they are in the Middle East, women are underrepresented in STEM jobs in America, though they make up half the workforce.
A U.S. Department of Commerce study found that in America, women fill almost half the jobs in the economy, but less than 25 percent of those are STEM jobs. However, women with STEM jobs made 33 percent more than those in other jobs. And the gender wage gap is smaller in STEM jobs than in non-STEM careers, according to the study.
For Karen Panetta, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Tufts University, educated women are an asset to families in the Middle East and North Africa, because it doesn’t put children at a disadvantage.
Panetta, also a fellow at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, said that when it comes to the workforce in the Middle East, the problem is more cultural.
“They have to be able to see what they’ve been missing by not including women, and what the country is losing,” she said. “With 50 percent of your country being women, you’re not utilizing that workforce. You want to keep your country on the cutting edge of technology.”
Growing up in Lebanon, one of the Middle East's more Westernized countries, Jessica Obeid was used to seeing women working. She often wondered how women found the time to balance a good career and a family.
Today, Obeid is an energy engineer at the Community Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Demonstration Program for the Recovery of Lebanon. She has one bit of advice for girls and women who dream of being tech leaders:
“When I decided to pursue an engineering degree, there wasn’t one single person who encouraged me to do that,” Obeid said. “The world needs people courageous enough, determined enough and smart enough to make it better,” she added. “And women have it all and much more. I would say, never let anyone put you down, follow your dream and you’ll figure along the way how to get there.”
Start the slideshow to learn more about 10 of the emerging women techies in MENA.