When I was in my last year of high school and applying for universities, my family, as a typical middle eastern family, didn’t think it was a good idea to join schools for male-dominated careers like engineering. But I was lucky… despite my family’s concerns, my father, who was so understanding, encouraged me to do whatever I thought would be best for my future.
So my journey in STEM started at the Arab Academy for Science and Technology (AAST) in Egypt. But straight away I was faced with apparent bias as there were only five girls out of roughly 150 students in my class in the school of Electronics and Communication Engineering. This disproportion and bias inherent in STEM at the time meant I had to work harder to show my lecturers, supervisors, and my family that I was as good or as capable as any other male student in the field. I am happy to say that over time I was blessed with supervisors that supported me and encouraged me until I graduated top of my class.
During my working life at both an academic and industry level, gender discrimination has been common and has had negative consequences for me and other women in STEM. However, with the continuous support from my husband, family, supervisors, and managers many of which have been men, I achieved a lot of my dreams. One of those role-model supervisors (who is one of my previous managers as well) was pivotal in their support, asking me to join a project for securing governmental workflow which started my career in Information Security. Since then, I have got my Ph.D. degree in Computer Science, I have a lovely family with two adorable kids, and I work in the field I have a passion for! I feel like opportunities for me to accomplish more are only growing.
If I could have a conversation with that girl leaving high school, I would tell her that with her perseverance, belief, and hard work, she can do it! We just need to have passion and people around us that support us unconditionally to #BreakTheBias.
Salma Hamad is Information Security Manager at Viridian Advisory