Robust STEM Pathways Not Tokenism Vital For Gender Equality Say UAE Executives

Imagine this – you enter an advanced manufacturing facility making composites for the aviation industry. The factory has been built from scratch little over a decade ago and already has a diverse range of global clients from Airbus to Boeing

. Its regeneration program has seen the local economy benefit and one look around its manufacturing facilities reveals that nearly 90% of its engineering workforce is female and local.

If it sounds incredible and too farfetched, well it isn’t! The company is called Strata. Its manufacturing site for global clients is in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, founded in 2009; and yes its workforce is nearly 90% female and local Emirati. While giving accolades where they are due, big question for the manufacturing and industrial world is how to go about replicating this level of diversity and operational success or at least part of it, elsewhere in the Emirates and indeed the world.

At the recently concluded 2021 Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit (GMIS), Badr Al-Olama, head of the summit’s organizing committee and a former CEO of Strata, told me how the company found its gender diversity calling could be a model that has clear potential for replication elsewhere to varying degrees.

“Advanced manufacturing in its purest terms is dependent on technology and innovation. Such an enterprise or undertaking does not discriminate between a man and a woman – it demands talent, grit and determination. That’s not exclusive to a man. When Strata started out on its journey with a fresh canvas, all we sought was the best talent we could get. A steady stream of qualified female engineering graduates from local universities applied, got the jobs and we are better for it.”

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Al-Olama, who also currently heads UAE clusters at the country’s sovereign investment company Mubadala, which includes a portfolio of Sanad Group, Al Yah Satellite, Mubadala Health and of course Strata, believes policies at national and international level to nurture gender diversity matter but ultimate enablers are technology and willpower.

“Research suggests that as we move forward with the Fourth Industrial Revolution or ‘4IR’, 85% to 90% of the new job opportunities arising from it over the coming decades don’t yet have a job description. As science and technology drive us towards re-skilling, it gives both the UAE and the world a unique opportunity to address gender diversity.”

The approaching horizon must be embraced, not by tokenism but by fostering and encouraging diverse science, technology, engineering and mathematics or ‘STEM’ pathways, according to Fatima Al-Nuaimi, CEO of ADNOC LNG and one of a number of high profile female Emirati senior executives

“In the UAE, more than 70% of the female population is in education and over 50% of those are in STEM education. That’s why you have a steady stream of female engineering graduates. My industry – oil and gas – was traditionally perceived as difficult for women to operate. But now, as we strive towards process efficiencies, digitalization and a diverse energy chain, I believe technology will be the enabler that will bring more and more women into the energy sector and the wider industrial chain,” Al-Nuaimi told GMIS.

That is way more effective than any mandatory quota. “Today we are talking about remotely operating our oil and gas fields, we are incorporating artificial intelligence, machine learning and advanced analytics. This needs talented engineers of tomorrow and more than anything else needs innovation.

“As CEO, I need to access to the best talent that’s available for achieving our ambitious targets regardless of their background. Emerging STEM pathways and trends – provided we continue to encourage women to take them up – will bring steady change in gender diversity as the industrial landscape changes.”

The UAE, of course, is a young nation celebrating 50 years of its foundation in 2021. But several Emirati executives at GMIS vouched that the nation, perhaps unlike many of its regional peers in the Middle East, has always had an emphasis on female education and broadening their horizons.

To that end, encouraging women to adopt STEM pathways rather than tokenism appears to be achieving results, or in some cases like Strata, achieving a workforce dynamic few, if any, can replicate in the world of advanced manufacturing.

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