Women in Engineering: Determination, Self-Confidence, Empowerment
“I invite you as women in engineering to push yourselves and believe in your capabilities. Never be intimidated and always strive to be part of a company that believes that woman’s empowerment is not only a human right but a pathway to achieving success and a help toward building a better future.”
That’s how GE Power engineer Lana El Chaar concluded her talk during the “Women in Engineering (WIE) Leadership Summit 2016,” held last week in Dubai.
She began her presentation by describing what happened when she told her family she wanted to study engineering in university. Initially they balked, she said, unable to imagine what roles were available to female engineers. They’d wanted her to study medicine, to become a doctor or pharmacist like other members of the family. But determined as she was, El Chaar eventually gained their approval and left Lebanon to study in the United States.
She ultimately earned a PhD in engineering and came back to teach in a university, as that was the only profession her family could imagine for her. Several years after moving to Dubai to teach there, she had the opportunity to meet a GE executive when some of her students were working on a project as part of a national renewable energy competition sponsored by GE and the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.
While an accomplished academic with numerous published papers and interesting research underway, El Chaar still felt unfulfilled. So she was thrilled when several months after her meeting with the GE executive, she was offered an engineering job with the company.
“I was overwhelmed, having thought that this day would never come. As a female PhD engineer, we are perceived as professors in universities, not as practicing engineers working for global companies,” she told the audience of mostly female engineers from across the region.
“GE embraced me with open arms, providing me the same opportunities offered to any male engineer. The GE leaders invested tremendously in me, realizing the potential I had, molding me into the person I am today.”
While slowly being challenged with more demanding and increasingly leadership-focused roles, El Chaar said she also was being empowered by being assigned projects “outside my comfort zone and expertise.”
“This motivated me to deliver in an uncertain world, and proved their trust and belief in me as a woman in engineering.”
Today, she leads a team responsible for the development, customization and delivery of digital solutions for power and industrial customers as part of the GE Power Digital Services team. As such, she is working in one of the company’s most important and high-profile areas, given GE’s focus on becoming a top 10 software development company by 2020.
She’s also one of the first female executives in GE Power’s digital industrial business across the Middle East and Africa.
Speaking of how proud her family is of her success, El Chaar, said, “They never doubted my capabilities, but they had never before seen a woman in engineering ever succeed.”
In her presentation, El Chaar talked about the tremendous importance GE places on promoting diversity, which it sees as a source of competitive advantage and a driver of innovation. “My success at GE came as a result of my perseverance and belief that I could deliver. But this could not have happened without the empowerment that GE provided me.
At the event, El Chaar also took time to speak to young female engineering students from Ras Al Khaimah Women’s College. At the roundtable session, she shared her experiences, and spoke with the students about their senior projects and what makes them passionate about engineering. She encouraged them to push their own boundaries and to put what they’ve learned in textbooks into practice. “Go through your labs, and learn how it works. If you can make yourself understand, move on. If you still have questions, go back to your books to see where the gaps are. You will learn only by really doing,” she said.
El Chaar’s story is reflected in workforce diversity figures for GE across its Middle East, North Africa and Turkey operations. Female employment has doubled over the past 10 years, while the number of women in senior leadership positions has more than tripled, with one-third of the MENAT’s current leadership team comprised of women.