Reaching New Frontiers – Breaking the Glass Ceiling
To say times have changed would be an understatement. Gone are the times of chauvinism and arbitrary decisions.
Throughout the 20th century, Information Technology (IT) changed the way the world worked, and within it, a major shift in representation prevailed. Previously male-dominated, there was an influx of women who took control and left an indelible impression on future students, educators, and others within the field.
On 7 November 2021, Women Connected, a society at Middlesex University Dubai focused on conversations surrounding gender equality and inclusivity, hosted ‘Breaking the Glass Ceiling’, a panel discussion on inspirational stories of women in IT. The panel consisted of Melda Akin, founder of D14 AI; Doctor Fehmida Hussain, Head of Computer Engineering and Informatics at Middlesex University Dubai; Ajoke Adeyomoye, Senior Quality Assurance Officer at Middlesex University Dubai; and Tania Chaudhry, Chief Executive Officer of HCC. The panel was moderated by Zaida Kodzoeva, a third-year Engineering Student at Middlesex University Dubai and Mahine Ahmad, Faculty Advisor for Women Connected.
INSPIRATION – HOW DID IT ALL START?
A small seed eventually turns into a tall tree.
The panel shared their beginnings, delving into how their passion for science and technology rose to become a formidable career in IT. Akin said: “Throughout my childhood, I was always interested in IT. However, I was not surrounded by technology in my childhood. I got direction after I was gifted a computer.” By 12, she learnt how to code and opened an email account when almost nobody else had one.
However, not everyone had access to computers. Dr Hussain reminisced: “I did not have a single role model growing up. My mother was my inspiration. She made sure that I would do something different and upcoming, that would probably exist in the future. Not a single teacher in computer science was a woman. When others would get jewellery, my brother gave me a laptop as a wedding gift. And I still have it.”
Chaudhry then explained her origins as a lawyer before going on to IT after feeling that the law office was not her calling. Ajoke Adeyomoye, a postgraduate in Engineering, had to bear societal pressure to get to where she is today.
GETTING INTO THE THICK OF IT
Entering IT as a woman, once considered a male-only space, has many tribulations. On challenges in making it, Chaudhry explained: “The chain of command is male throughout. When women lead, there is a cultural change. In Pakistan, we won’t see much. So, in Canada, it was a massive change, where 50% or so in management were women.”
She then recounted her experiences in the UAE, where change was instated by a top-down approach. Here, executives suggested and encouraged women to be in higher positions. By sheer effort, it took her a year to get her first contract. “In HCC, I aim to get 150 women into the workforce,” she hoped.
Chaudhry’s major takeaways from her experiences in the industry, both before and during COVID-19:
- There is gender bias regarding traits.
Historically, male traits of rationality, logic and financial savviness were followed. But times are different. Empathy, inclusiveness, multitasking, and not being intimidating are just as important. We can learn and improve upon these traits to be more efficacious in our work.
- COVID-19 was her best phase in business.
Businesses are reliant on remote working. Every adversity has an opportunity. Previously, it was about maximizing shares, with the finance department leading. But now it is about human resources and how happy the employees are.
- One must enjoy the spotlight.
This includes the rise of women in IT. Make hay while the sun shines.
IT CAN ONLY GET BETTER
The progress was exemplary, and things could still get better. “We started events and discussions for awareness in 2013 to identify challenges, but that’s not enough. Women should not only enter but be retained,” Dr Hussain opined. She went on to explain the need to remove unconscious biases still present in board rooms. She felt that everyone in IT should work together to promote this cause and make changes while enjoying the progress so far.
When asked by moderators on how to break the glass ceiling, Adeyomoye answered: “Representation is important. Right now, the image put out by the media for women is beauty. But if women are portrayed with prestige, confidence, intelligence, and independence, young girls can see themselves and strive for those traits.”
“If women are portrayed [by the media] with prestige, confidence, intelligence, and independence, young girls can see themselves and strive for those traits.”Ajoke Adeyomoye
Dr Hussain concluded that the statistics show that the industry covered 30 years of progress in three to five years. She also noted the importance of men in the fight for equality and each stakeholder working together to address privilege, inequality and how to combat them. “When you know where you want to go and are sincere, you can break any ceiling,” she said.
Ending on a positive and hopeful note, the panelists unanimously agreed that one must be cognizant of the steps various parties have taken to reach a position of better opportunities for all. Address gender biases, call out discrimination and encourage someone to follow their dreams, whatever their background.
It’s only together that we can ensure equal opportunities for everyone.