Last September, eight Emirati students from the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) became the first women to undertake engineering studies in Al Gharbia region. Sponsored by Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (Adco), the students received monthly salaries of Dh6,500, which was increased based on their grades.
This is a perfect example of how far women can advance in industries that are perceived as male-orientated with the right support, encouragement and awareness. Unfortunately, such cases remain the exception rather than the rule.
As The National reported on Friday, a new study has revealed that women are often reticent to pursue careers in science, technology and engineering - the so-called STE fields. The results, published in the paper Barriers to Pursuing Careers in Science, Technology, and Engineering for Women in the United Arab Emirates, show that stereotypes about what jobs women are "culturally suited" for are the main culprit.
Careers in engineering, for example, are often avoided by women because they are thought to involve considerable amount of time in the desert or on construction sites. Indeed, four of the eight students sponsored by Adco have dropped out. Worse still, many universities do not offer STE courses to women at all. It is no surprise that many women choose business studies or arts-based subjects.
Noor Ghazal, the Masdar Institute graduate who conducted the study, believes that many women hoping for STE careers must get vital support from their families, who should also provide them with accurate pictures of workplace environments. The importance of students' contributions to society should also be acknowledged.
"Many of those going into STE believed that they were helping the UAE, realising Sheikh Zayed's vision," Ms Ghazal said. "This is one way of engaging the women and encouraging them to get involved."
Statistics have consistently shown that more Emirati women than men enter higher education. They already have significant involvement in fields such as clean energy, medicine and health care. But there is room for a greater role. It would be a shame if the science, technology and engineering industries did not reap the benefits of women's ambitions.