These women are bridging the gender gap in the tech sector in MENA
The gender gap in the tech sector in Middle East and North Africa is closing slowly but surely. YourStory Gulf features a few women entrepreneurs who are leading the way in the region.
Technology has been a male-dominated field for ages. A study conducted by UNICEF in 2020 found that women comprise about 40% of the STEM workforce globally. While women are well represented in health, they are severely under-represented in engineering, technology and STEM jobs of the future, such as cloud computing, data and artificial intelligence, and green economy.
The situation is even more skewed when it comes to the number of women entrepreneurs in STEM. The UNICEF study noted that, in the US, 26% of tech startups have at least one female founder, while in Europe, only 21% of tech founders are female. In Latin America, fewer than 15% of companies have female founders. Fortunately, the numbers are slowly increasing, with the rise of women role models across the world.
There is a tide of change sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as well. A study by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology in 2021 noted a 112% increase in commercial registrations issued for women entrepreneurs from 2015 when only 65,912 licences were granted to women-owned businesses. The participation of women in the country’s tech sector was reported at 28%, way above the European average rate of 17.5%, during the same period.
At the university level, women comprise nearly half, or sometimes more, of STEM students in MENA. This is often higher than the percentage of women in the US and European universities, according to a report by National Geographic in 2022. Although the number of women STEM graduates who get into the workforce needs to pick up the pace, there is a lot of hope, with several women entrepreneurs leading the way in the region.
Here are a few women changing the gender dynamics in the area of technology in MENA.
Sepideh Nasiri, Founder and CEO, Women Of MENA in Technology
Sepideh Nasiri has been a serial entrepreneur for more than 16 years in the tech industry and has always been an advocate of women and inclusion. In 2015, she launched Women Of MENA In Technology, a community of 50,000 women in STEM in the Middle East, North Africa, and Iran. The community helps connect, mentor, educate and uplift Middle Eastern and North African women in STEM globally.
Helen Chen, Co-founder and CEO, Nomad Homes
Helen Chen was dabbling in investment banking for quite some time before she decided to establish proptech startup Nomad Homes. The Wharton School alumnus did her BSc in finance and real estate before moving to Stanford to complete her business degree.
After working with companies such as Goldman Sachs and The Blackstone Group, Helen decided to plunge into entrepreneurship to address the gaps in the home-buying market. Dubai-based Nomad Homes helps home buyers and renters find accurate listings of residential places and complete transactions on a single platform.
Mirna Sleiman, Founder, Fintech Galaxy
A former financial reporter, Mirna Sleiman realised the gap between legacy banks and fintech firms and decided to democratise financial services. This led to the birth of Fintech Galaxy, an open innovation platform in the UAE that drives ecosystem collaboration and facilitates open banking API integration between fintech companies and financial institutions. Fintech Galaxy has helped about 600 fintech startups connect with 30 leading banks in the region.
Mirna has about 15 years of experience in financial institutions, government advisory, and innovation programmes.
Sarah Toukan, Co-founder, Ziina
Fintech is an emerging field in the Middle East, and Y Combinator-backed Ziina is part of all the buzz.
Sarah Toukan is one of the three co-founders of Ziina, a digital wallet with a fun twist. Sarah’s love for maths and science took her to Stanford University, where she obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degree in mechanical engineering. After working as a techie in different companies for almost seven years, Sarah wanted to do something on her own. This desire led to the launch of Ziina, along with Andrew Gold and her brother Faisal Toukan, in February 2022. Ziina makes the payment experience more social by allowing users to send texts, emojis, photos, and GIFs.
Shraddha Barot Amariei and Ayshwarya Chari, Co-founders, 1115
Founders of the ecommerce consulting company 1115, Shraddha Barot Amariei and Ayshwarya Chari, had first met at an online networking platform. Today, they help businesses trying to onboard themselves in the digital world by providing them ecommerce advisory and consulting services.
An accounting and finance grad at heart, Shraddha has been an entrepreneur, a creative consultant, and a marketing strategist for almost 16 years in Dubai. Ayshwarya is a microbiologist by education and has completed her master’s in microbiology from Goa University. Before becoming the co-founder of 1115, she had worked in senior management positions at First Gulf Bank and the online stores 6ambabies and Kidore.
Nuha Hashem, Co-founder, Zywa
Opening bank accounts, irrespective of the geographical location, can be a painfully long process. Nuha Hashem and her friend Alok Kumar wanted to change this by providing an alternative to traditional banking, especially for GenZ. So, they founded Zywa in 2021, a neobank that helps teenagers spend, receive and manage money without the need for cash or standing in long queues at the bank.
Apart from leading Zywa, Nuha is also pursuing her PhD in business administration and management from Louisiana State University. She is also an electrical engineer by education.
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Edited by Swetha Kannan