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Laing O'Rourke Centre for Construction Engineering and Technology

 

When you think of male-dominated industries, there's a good chance construction comes to mind. Increasing gender diversity and encouraging women into the construction sector has been a topic for many years, yet women remain largely under-represented. So, the question emerges: why aren't more women pursuing this career path?

Based in Saudi Arabia, Ranim Dahli, Market Analyst at Bechtel Corporation and current CEM student, is working hard to break down those stereotypes and the gender gap.

To celebrate international women's day, we asked Ranim about her professional journey, her passion for engineering and how to encourage more women into STEM roles.

 

What inspired your interest in engineering? Can you share your professional journey with us? 

I was fascinated with science subjects, especially math, from a young age. So engineering felt like the right degree choice in terms of the mental challenge I craved and the skills I wanted to build, except it wasn't taught to females in Saudi when I graduated. But, with the support of my mother and her encouragement to travel abroad for my undergrad, I pursued a degree in Civil Engineering and graduated with a BEng from the University of Manchester. After graduation, I worked on what's considered one of the world's largest urban development projects, King Abdullah Financial District. As a result, I've understood first-hand the multi-layered complexity associated with such a "MEGA" project and the important role of developing the right strategy and operating model. This was when I realized that I was most interested in the early stages of project conceptualization—starting from identifying the economic and societal need for such mega projects and developing the business case and the right strategy. This has been my biggest drive in pursuing a career shift and transition into a role within Business Development at Bechtel Corporation. In my current position, I help different business units identify and develop growth opportunities for the company both locally & internationally.

 

Would you say the industry you work in is male-dominant? If so, have you ever felt this has directly impacted you? 

Living through the transformation in Saudi Arabia and looking back, the construction industry remains male-dominant in the country and globally. At the start of my career, it did limit the opportunities I could pursue as a female engineer. The workplace was not ready to have women on site, let alone provide the career support and development needed. However, that quickly changed; there has been a leap in women's participation across all sectors in Saudi. The construction industry has been transforming into a more inclusive and diverse place for women, with various opportunities for them to join. A transformation that I always longed for and hoped to see.  

 

What is it like to be a woman in the engineering/construction sector? Do you feel that your gender gives you a different perspective and experience from your male counterparts?

Women are able to bring in a different perspective based on their background and experiences. And from my point of view, women tend to have excellent communication and collaboration skills that help bring teams together. 

 

It's no longer about providing equal opportunity and simply recruiting women engineers into jobs, but instead taking a step further to truly embrace equity.

Ranim Dahli

 

What do you love the most about working in this industry?

What excites me most about being in the industry is that the work we do in the construction industry revolves around our daily lives, and they are deeply rooted in our daily encounters. What I love most about the industry is the ability to deliver ambitious projects that help transform cities and bloom economies to enable civilizations to reach their maximum potential. And from where I stand today, I'm thrilled to participate in the country's ambition and work on exciting and visionary projects across the Kingdom.  

 

You are studying for the Construction Engineering Masters at the University of Cambridge. What motivated you to take this programme at this stage of your career?

The biggest motive behind taking this program is that it will provide me with an accelerated career advancement that would have been difficult otherwise. I was particularly attracted to the program's unique structure, being part-time and run by the Laing O'Rourke Centre for Construction Engineering and Technology in association with Cambridge Judge Business School. It has been an exceptional opportunity to learn about the state of the art of the industry and, at the same time, learn key management concepts at an MBA equivalent level. These insights and deep industry awareness I gained from the program have equipped me to make a more informed contribution to my team and my company. 

 

International Women's Day 2023 focuses on 'embracing equality'. How have you managed to embrace equity in the industry?

In the past year, I've joined the Women's chapter in my company, driven by the belief that 'we could do better' for women in the industry. As a policy chair, I collaborate with HR to support, improve, and amplify relevant company policies and programs that can help women in our existing workforce. In addition, as a committee, we have emphasized engaging men in the chapter's activities, which is critical to creating meaningful change. The change we hope for will only be possible with the support of our fellow male colleagues. Men in leadership play a vital role in helping elevate women's access to the right opportunities, learning & training, and most importantly, ensure their full participation in decision-making. Therefore, engaging men is vital to embracing equity. 

 

What steps could your industry take to assist women in embracing equity?

I think there needs to be a fundamental shift in how we assist women in the industry; it's no longer about providing equal opportunity and simply recruiting women engineers into jobs, but instead taking a step further to truly embrace 'equity,' which means we need to drive equal chances for success for women. To eliminate the current imbalance in the industry, we must examine what barriers women face and what might be standing in their way from joining, staying, and thriving within the industry. Unless we truly embrace that, the industry will remain one of the least attractive for younger females and even established professionals.

 

What inspirational advice would you give young girls interested in a STEM/Engineering career? 

Don't be afraid, be courageous and confident in your abilities. Your passion and hard work can take you as far as you'd like to go! And if you are still hesitant, reach out to other women who pursued a career in STEM/Engineering, listen to their stories, and ask for their support and guidance.

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