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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

UAE Portrait of a Nation: The Emirati who defied gender prejudice to become a chemical engineer

Since senior lab superintendent Shamsa Al Falasi decided to specialise in chemical engineering, she has had to fight for respect from her male superiors

Shamsa Al Falasi is an Emirati woman scientist who works as an aluminium lab specialist. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Shamsa Al Falasi is an Emirati woman scientist who works as an aluminium lab specialist. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Since Shamsa Al Falasi decided eight years ago to specialise in chemical engineering, a highly-technical and male dominated field, she has had to fight for respect from her male superiors.

However, today, the 30-year-old Emirati not only holds a senior technical position at one of the world’s largest aluminium manufacturers, but she has also contributed to an innovation that her team will soon be patenting.

“When I chose [chemical engineering], I knew I would be working with men most of the time, and I knew they would be [sceptical of me], especially as an Emirati woman,” Ms Al Falasi says.

“What was challenging is that it was a male dominated industry and the minute they heard a female [would be working with them] they said: ‘Oh no, she won’t be able to do it,’ because they thought a woman would resist certain jobs and not do some things.”

The lack of support from her male superiors, who were reluctant to train her, did not stop her from pursuing her passion.

Eight years later, she is a senior lab superintendent and it is her responsibility to manage samples. If a chemical sample is delayed, if something is wrong with it, or if the customer wants something fixed, she has to deal with it.

During a regular working day, Mrs Al Falasi is busy in the raw materials lab, monitoring the quality of aluminium samples “from A to Z”, she says. She also supports the improvement of the company’s plant, interprets test results and communicates them to customers.

When Shamsa Al Falasi became a chemical engineer there were seven other women in her field at her company. Now there are 44. Chris Whiteoak / The National
When Shamsa Al Falasi became a chemical engineer there were seven other women in her field at her company. Now there are 44. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Ms Al Falasi joined Emirates Aluminum – now Emirates Global Aluminum, or EGA – in 2010 as a graduate. “When I joined, there were only seven ladies working in the field,” she says. “My first manager did not want to teach me. I had to fight and push him to train me because when a manager sees a graduate coming in to learn and she is understanding things, he gets threatened, especially when he has been in the field for 25 years.”

Nonetheless, she was persistent and now, over time, “more females are studying these majors, and the vision of the country is pushing towards that,” says Ms Al Falasi.

Today, there are 440 women working at EGA.

Right now, her employer is in the process of patenting for an automated resin column regeneration unit, a machine that speeds a manual procedure up four times.

Ms Al Falasi says there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world.

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The invention ensures the safety of employees by reducing the need for them to come into contact with the hydrochloric acid that is used to clean the power plant’s resin columns.

It also significantly reduces the time taken to complete the process.

“Instead of taking two days to deliver [the sample], we can now deliver on the same day,” she says.

The biog

Age: 30

Position: Senior lab superintendent at Emirates Global Aluminium

Education: Bachelor of science in chemical engineering, post graduate degree in light metal reduction technology

Favourite part of job: The challenge, because it is challenging

Favourite quote: “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” Gandi

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