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Feature - Women in IT: Lebanon

Feature - Women in IT: Lebanon

Image courtesy Claire Devereux.

Claire Devereux, who works on the EGEE, GridPP, and NGS grid computing projects at the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council, travelled to Lebanon in September as part of a British Council Exchange Program to promote women in information technology. During her trip, she spent five days in Beirut and three days touring the country’s industry, meeting women in high-profile positions: ministers, entrepreneurs, university researchers and professors. This was followed by a two-day networking event. Representatives from seven countries from the Near East and North Africa were involved.

Devereux: “The idea was to get women in the IT industry together, to establish networks and discuss best practices for enabling more women to enter the field and to stay in careers once they get there. We were able to talk about normal enabling practices in the UK: flexi-time, part-time working, on-site child care, etc. Both the UK and Lebanon face similar issues in making IT an attractive career for girls. We learned a huge amount about the additional barriers for women in Lebanon. Entering the workforce is difficult to start. Remaining in a career after marriage is even harder because culturally it is still expected that a married woman’s primary role is to take care of the home, look after her husband and then produce his children.”

“While we met a lot of people who had ‘made it,’ they were exceptions, really, rather than the rule. We learned of many problems, such as nepotism often being the only way up the career ladder. One lady told us how her friend was paid off by her employer as soon as she married. It was considered cheaper in the long run and less hassle than having to think about women disappearing to have babies.”

“There is very little part-time work in the region – it’s either full-time or nothing. I believe the rules governing businesses make it difficult for companies to keep people part-time, and part-time employees receive few legal benefits.”

Representatives from seven countries from the Near East and North Africa were involved. Image courtesy Claire Devereux  

EGEE: What was the country like?

Devereux:  “It was fascinating! The Lebanese people were amazing: very friendly and hospitable, with strong personalities. Lebanon is a lovely place; it is really a cultural crossroad. I got on really well with everyone I met.”

“We stayed in Beirut the whole time. It was a really interesting place. Right next to where we were staying you could see newly rebuilt buildings alongside ones that still have shrapnel scars.”

EGEE: What came out of the visit?

Devereux:  “A number of things. For me personally, getting to know women and the issues they face from these cultures will help me tremendously in work when collaborating on international projects. And we hope some new networks have been established: One of the visitors from the UK was a lady from the Royal Academy of Engineers and she wanted to get links for offering scholarships. Also the tour organizer is involved with several grant proposals to promote women in science and she was looking for collaborators in that region. I felt really lucky to be a part of it.”

Danielle Venton, EGEE, for iSGTW

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