ABU DHABI // More female involvement in the fields of science and technology is urgently needed for the country to transition to a knowledge-based economy, a new study has found.
However, the study, conducted by researchers at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi, has identified several challenges preventing women from pursuing careers in science, technology and engineering.
Social attitudes and widespread misconceptions about science jobs and what they involve are major stumbling blocks, the study found.
The majority of Emirati women are enrolled in the fields of social sciences, arts or business administration, while 72 per cent of Emirati male students are enrolled in engineering.
"Female students make up over 50 per cent of higher education in the country, but only a few end up in the labour market," said Dr Georgeta Vidican, an assistant professor in the engineering systems and management programme at Masdar Institute, who conducted the study along with Noor Ghazal Aswad, a research assistant, and Diana Samulewicz, a research associate at Masdar Institute.
Dr Vidican said a major reason why few women ended up in the science labour market was "mobility". Although men could more easily relocate from other emirates to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, she said, it was socially unacceptable for women to do so.
She added that most science and engineering jobs were available in the private sector, which was not attractive to Emiratis. "This is true for men and women. Very few people are interested in job opportunities in the private sector. We have found that many females are not aware of suitable job opportunities in the private sector."
Dr Vidican added that jobs in science and engineering were often perceived as men's jobs. "Available jobs in these fields are [considered] not socially and culturally suitable for women," Dr Vidican said. "Families have the priority in making post-graduate plans."
The study surveyed 2,600 female students from 17 university campuses across the nation. The aim of the study, researchers said, was to highlight female attitudes towards the specified fields and determine how to boost their involvement.
Sixty per cent of students disagreed that males were naturally better at maths and science, and most of those who agreed said women could do as well as men in those fields if they worked hard.
Most students expected a female scientist to be "forceful" and highly self-confident to succeed.
The study also showed that students from high-income families were less likely to enter those fields. "Wealthier students rely on connections to find high-placed positions, regardless of their major," the study said. "Poorer students feel they need a 'strong' scientific degree to secure job positions."
The main challenges mentioned by students included difficult courses, demanding workload, the fields being male-dominated, and insufficient jobs.
Family was cited as a major reason why married students did not intend to work after graduation. Female students wanted a job that would offer them a pleasant work environment and allow them to make a difference in their society. Non-Emirati students, however, wanted a job that would offer them personal and professional development.
"Abu Dhabi's transformation into a knowledge-based economy should involve the participation of both men and women," Dr Vidican said. "We believe such studies will help guide policymakers in the framing of regulations that will bridge the gender gap and allow women to achieve even more in the fields of science, technology and engineering."