Latifa Al-Zahrani

Latifa Al-Zahrani

Journalist

Saudi female engineers power up the modern Kingdom developments

Engineering is no longer limited to men in modern Saudi society. Today more than 1,400 Saudi women are engineers working in a variety of specialties and professional levels who are registered at the engineering commission. They are participating alongside their male peers in the construction of modern Saudi Arabia.

According to official statistics, female Saudi engineers comprise 53.9% of women engineers, compared to 46.1% of non-Saudi females working as engineers in the Kingdom.
According to the Saudi economic newspaper, the number of female engineers registered at the engineering offices in Saudi Arabia in 2015 reached 34.

Despite the increase in female Saudi engineers who have demonstrated their proficiency and talents in practice, the Kingdom has not fully benefited from these professionals in part because of the obstacles these women face. The most important obstacle is the lack of confidence of many executives in the quality of work produced by women engineers. Many executives have refused to recruit women, or when they do hire them, they too frequently exploit women by paying low salaries, for example.

Active models

One of the most active Saudi female engineers is Shaimaa Al-Shayeb, considered the first Saudi engineer specializing in construction. She holds a BSc in Civil Engineering from Sydney University of Technology in Australia. She is still completing her master's degree in civil engineering and works at an engineering office in Sydney.

Al-Shayeb established the "Female Saudi Engineers" account on Twitter in 2014, which has widely spread in the Kingdom. It is considered the first forum for female Saudi engineers inside and outside Saudi Arabia for gathering female engineers from various specialties, to develop the profession, and enrich knowledge exchange in general. The account currently includes about 400 engineers. In an attempt to further invest in the account’s success, Al-Shayeb created another account called "Saudi Civilians without Borders" which includes male and female Saudi engineers.

Obstacles and challenges

Among the main challenges that female Saudi engineers encounter is enhancing the position of female Saudi engineers overall, especially at the engineers commission, and to overcome the obstacles that face them during field work. Traditional Saudi culture does not encourage women to go to the field and mix with men during work. Despite rapid society changes, this problem is to be solved for female engineers as this perception is affecting their recruitment in general.

Female engineers demand that the Ministry of Labor and Engineers Authority provide them with job opportunities, even in consulting positions, and to stop differentiating between male and female engineers. Moreover, Saudi universities should include faculties and departments specialized in civil engineering for females alongside other specialties so female engineering students are not required to travel abroad to study engineering and related professions.

One of the challenges faced by newly graduated female engineers is the failure of some companies and government offices to employ women by requiring at least five years of experience at a time when women do not have training opportunities.

Female engineers also suffer from low salaries as they are being exploited by the private sector because they know their needs in the absence of their appointment in the governmental sector, especially architect engineers or interior designers. This is in addition to the inability of female engineers to open their own engineering offices after four years of work.

Accordingly, these women accept low salaries offered in the private sector in order to gain the experience needed to open their own businesses.

Creativity and Distinction

Despite the difficulties these female Saudi engineers face, they have shown their efficiency and talent in a profession previously limited to men. In April 2017, a team of female Saudi engineers—graduates of mechanical and industrial engineering departments at Al-Faisal University—presented an innovative proposal to use palm-fiber waste in the construction of stadium seats. This was an idea that could be actually implemented at the World Cup, scheduled in Qatar in 2022.

The project was presented by a team of five female Saudi engineers who were competing with 22 other research proposals. The project advanced to the semi-finals of the Regional Innovation Award launched by the High Committee for Projects and Heritage to support Arab innovators.

In April 2016, a number of female Saudi engineers working at Tatweer Building Company participated in designing school buildings affiliated with the Ministry of Education. They contributed to the completion of 50 projects submitted to the Ministry. Their work included graphic design, as well as fieldwork to ascertain the conformity of internal buildings specifications with the standards of Ministry of Education and Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs.

Official efforts

As a result of women's interest in studying engineering, Saudi universities have developed engineering departments for females during the past few years. The first of these universities was King Abdulaziz University, which announced in 2012 the availability of the electrical engineering and industrial engineering departments for females. This is in addition to coordinating with private companies and governmental sectors to absorb female graduates in this sector with good salaries.

Meanwhile, Effat University in Jeddah was the first university to give women the opportunity to study and earn degrees in architecture, computer engineering, and information technology engineering, among other professions.

Most universities provide female students with engineering departments offering a variety of degrees, from interior design  to computer engineering, to information technology engineering. Few others, including Prince Sultan University and Dar Al-Ulum, allow women to study architecture as well.

In October 2017, Al-Taif University introduced a women's engineering department within the university’s general administration and maintenance structure to enable female Saudi engineers to develop maintenance, operation, monitoring, and follow-up procedures.

Saudi Arabia is working with remarkable speed to open new professional opportunities to women and to provide jobs for these women, to increase their percentage of the labor market from 22% to 30%, an effort consistent with the Kingdom’s 2030 vision to increase the participation of Saudi women in societal development.

Women in this article

Al-Shayeb is a civil engineer specializing in structuring; she is working in an engineering office in Sydney and is currently studying for her master's degree

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