Director of Executive Education, American University of Beirut
“I started my undergraduate studies in Computer Science in 1993 at the American University of Beirut. During my entire 3-year Computer Science program, there was only one female faculty member. Twenty- three years later, and in the same department, this number has not changed despite the increased ratio of women making up the regional and global workforce. Data Science is yet another field where female representation is stymied. As I started my career as a computer scientist, female role models and mentors in the field were non-existent in the MENA region. If Leadership and Data Analytics have one thing in common globally and more specifically in the Arab MENA, it would the low level of female representation.
This situation has driven my desire to change the current reality for Millennial and Z generations. The best way to change this situation is to enable an environment that can provide equal opportunities for women. I currently oversee the customized Executive Education program at the American University of Beirut. In this capacity, I have led key initiatives in support of women in leadership positions including the Citi Foundation Women Entrepreneurship Program and the Lebanese League for Women in Business Growth Readiness Program. I draw high satisfaction from the results yielded by these programs especially as they create a wider impact on our business communities and society as a whole.
In a global context where the exponential rise of generated data and the line between humans and machines is blurring, there is no doubt that the global increased demand for data scientists cannot be met by the small number of existing university programs. This shortfall is much greater in the Arab MENA region where AUB’s Master’s program in Data Analytics appears to be the only academic program in the horizon supporting the field. During this analytics revolution, I would like to see a corresponding rise in female data scientists’ contribution both globally and regionally.
Zooming in on the Arab MENA countries, it is clear that the evolution of the political and economic turmoil in the region is well reflected in its high youth unemployment rate of 25%−the highest unemployment rate worldwide. Governments are racing to offset the economic downturn with growth acceleration programs in the information, communication and technology (ICT) sector as well as the knowledge economy sector. Lebanon’s Circular 331 and Jordan’s ICT initiatives are some of the few government-led initiatives to create new jobs and resurrect the GDP growth rate in the region. Amid these challenges lies an opportunity for women in data science to play a pivotal role in new job creation and economic development.
When I first learned about the WiDS initiative and its global reach, I immediately contacted our leading female data scientist at the School of Business, Dr. Lama Moussawi, to start with her a AUB-led regional parallel event. I am honored to be supporting Stanford WiDS initiative for the region and creating a well-anchored platform for female data scientists to showcase and discuss their latest findings, research and applications, and equally as important, inspire and connect interested female students in the field.
Challenges and opportunities are two sides of the same coin. The main challenge in increasing the number of women in the data science field is the lack of well-rounded support systems addressing both personal and professional demands. To address the professional challenges of women entering in the field, the region needs to develop a support platform and a global network of women in data science to serve as role models, mentors and conduits for knowledge exchange. As such, AUB’s collaboration with the Global Stanford WiDS initiative represent a major catalyst in creating this platform.
As data scientists, one needs to be determined, committed and willing to ignite inquiry, derive reads from data, find answers and address problems. Define yourself by your accomplishments, not by your gender. And, most importantly, do not let others’ perceptions of you define your perception of yourself. As much as this is part of who you are, this is not all you are. Confidently bring new perspectives forward, realizing that the diversity of subjects is what more often than not, drives success.
Finally, stay multi-disciplinary and never stop pursuing your passions. It is these passions that will feed your data science capabilities. The simple representation of a story through data instantly removes the clutter and conveys a message. This interdisciplinary skill set is core to unveil critical questions in health sciences, medicine, business, and behavioral sciences.”