BEIRUT: Sarah Abdallah never thought she'd become a role model for women in her community. She is a telecom-engineer graduate who never ceases to defy the stereotype that assumes that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are male-dominated fields. Aware of tech's gender gap since college, where females formed only 5 percent of her classroom, Abdallah insists that these majors shouldn't be expected to be seen only on men's CVs.
Abdallah faced discouragements from her surroundings when she decided to become an engineer.
"Some family members told me that I should pick a profession that would be more 'stable' for a woman, taking into consideration that I will have a husband and children to take care of in the future," she told Annahar. "I pursued my dream regardless. And I had my father's support."
In 2016, she was selected to participate in the TechWomen exchange program in Silicon Valley, which aimed to advance the rights and participation of women and girls around the world by enabling them to reach their full potential in the tech industry.
This experience allowed Abdallah to visit several big tech companies and learn from them. She spent her four-week mentorship period at LinkedIn, San Francisco, where she worked on her social enterprise idea with top executives. The program ended up with Abdallah coming back to Lebanon to launch her own start-up LIBRO.
LIBRO stands for Leadership, Innovation, Balance, Restoration, and Orientation. It aims to turn the challenges faced by youths into opportunities. The company provides training and coaching services for young emerging professionals and companies covering the following topics: professional branding, business English, human skills, digital skills, corporate culture, and organizational development. Abdallah aspires, through LIBRO, to help the new generation in shaping their own future.
"With a tight labor market and high unemployment rates, we try to teach fresh graduates and young professionals how to apply for the right jobs, build their own professional PR, create a noticeable professional branding, among others," Abdallah told Annahar. "It’s very important to also be aware that technology is moving faster than ever before, thus comes the need to adapt quickly and efficiently to recent market changes and evolutions."
She added: "I chose to contribute to the empowerment of youths, especially women among them because I believe that their voices are not as heard as they are supposed to be. Unfortunately, they are sometimes raised to be followers. I want to try and help them become leaders."
Abdallah has years of volunteering experience with more than six social organizations working on women and youth issues.
"Everything starts with education"
Abdallah believes that students do not receive adequate career coaching services at schools, particularly women who are pushed out of some majors considered by society as "unsuitable" for them.
"Gender bias in college majors ends when students are well oriented. And it all starts with education," she explained. "We need to adapt our educational models and systems to cross gender boundaries."
According to her, when students start accepting seeing women in unconventional fields, they will accept later seeing them handle leading positions in these very same fields.
"Tech giants and big companies are now more than ever giving fair representation and major roles to women who are becoming role models and heroes of STEM success stories," she said.
Social challenge: society's perspective
"The biggest challenge I faced throughout my life was dealing with the pressure exerted by my extended family and neighbors who started calling me a 'spinster' when I reached a specific age and didn't get married," she said. "They used to tell me that I was traveling and focusing too much on my career instead of looking for a life partner, with whom I can have a family."
To put an end to this criticism, Abdallah got engaged from someone who turned out to be not the right person for her. She abandoned him and then got married at the age of 30 from the man who "completes and supports her," as she said.
"My advice to any girl facing the same issue is to do whatever makes her happy regardless of what others might think. Don’t be in a relationship just for the sake of it. The right person who belongs to your life will come to you, and it doesn't matter when," Abdallah said.
Professional challenge: managing multiple passions
On the professional level, Abdallah spoke about "the challenge of multitasking, particularly when you have more than one passion."
"At first it was hard for me to balance between my passion for technical consultancy and that for social work," she revealed. "It took me time to find an equilibrium but through good management and planning, I was able to use technology to maximize the impact on the social and community levels."
She thinks that one can always find and make time for one's multiple passions.
"It might not be an easy task, but with the right time and energy management as well as adaptability, everything is feasible," Abdallah said.
Abdallah was elected as a youth advisory council member at the US embassy in Beirut for two consecutive years and was selected as a youth leader by the Swedish Institute of Alexandria in 2016.
She was also chosen to be a global shaper part of the World Economic Forum in early 2017 and was assigned as co-leader for Facebook Developers' Circle in Beirut in early 2018.
As a regional speaker, she inspires a lot of young talents who wait for her LinkedIn and Facebook videos, talks, lectures, and conferences.
"People can relate to my day-to-day problems. I am always vocal about my challenges to help others be vocal about their challenges too," she explained. "And I always advise the younger generation having difficulties to find a job to never lose hope. Instead, I push them to learn new skills, to volunteer, to network. Keep going, I tell them, your time will come."
Welcome to “NAYA," the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. NAYA is devoted to women of all generations-NAYA Editor, Sally Farhat: [email protected]
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