“Never Give Up”: Celebrating Talented Refugee Women this International Women’s Day

Since she was a young girl, Alaa has always been fascinated by technology. “I used to think it was magic, and I wanted to know how this magic works,” she explains.

Now at age 23, she is enrolled as a Master’s student in Computer Engineering at the prestigious American University of Beirut and pursuing her dream – yet with barely a moment to spare. Outside of class, she teaches a robotics programming course, provides tutoring to other IT students, and participates in workshops for early-stage startups. “I always feel like I want to do more, like I need to,” she says.

Working as a woman in tech is still relatively uncommon in both the Middle East and globally. In fact, a 2017 article by the World Economic Forum revealed that men dominate over 2/3 of the workforce in major companies like Microsoft and Google. (1)

Despite this, Alaa enjoys breaking the status quo. “When I first got into IT, I started working in hardware, like repairing phones and doing things that are considered ‘guys’ stuff,” she says. “When customers would call and then hear my voice, they would say ‘Oh, what are you doing working here? This is not your place.’ I would laugh – because it is.”

As a Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon, Alaa is subject to strict labor laws that make it very difficult for her to work once she graduates. Other refugees such as Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenis face the same challenges. This leaves most refugees no alternative but to either stay at home and let their skills atrophy, or accept exploitative jobs in the black market.

“It is so limiting,” says Alaa. “We barely have any options in our futures, it is very discouraging for millions of refugees.”

Alaa signed up to the Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB) online Talent Catalog in 2017 to try to overcome these limitations. TBB is exploring international employment opportunities that might be suitable for Alaa once she graduates in countries where IT professionals are in high demand.

Over 2,000 refugee women have registered on the TBB Talent Catalog and they come from a wide range of impressive fields – from engineering to economics to medicine. Yet despite their achievements, the vast majority of these women – including Alaa – will or are currently facing difficulties finding legal employment in the countries where they currently reside.

If she could do anything, Alaa’s dream would be to find innovative solutions to educate people about IT. “There are lots of problems with how tech is currently being taught, particularly in the Middle East. I want to be in a position that will influence the next generation to easily understand technology – for both men and women,” she explains. “If you influence education, you can make a real difference.”

Alaa still has a few months before graduating and beginning the difficult challenge of finding a company to hire her. If TBB is successful in matching her with a job abroad, she will work extremely hard in that role, and then eventually when life is easier for Palestinians, she hopes to come back and contribute to society in the Middle East, as she expects many refugees will do.

Acknowledging the long road ahead, Alaa like most TBB women is determined to succeed. “I want to give back in my life and be proactive. I want to have a place in society and do something for the people,” she explains.

When asked to use three words to describe herself, she was quick to respond.

“Never give up.”

If you are interested in hiring skilled refugees registered with TBB, please contact Rachel Lawrie, Corporate Outreach Manager, at rlawrie@talentbeyondboundaries.org.

 To learn more about TBB’s Talent Catalog, please visit: http://talentbeyondboundaries.org/talent-catalog.html

(1) See this 2017 article by the World Economic Forum to learn more about the gender gap in the tech industry: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/08/women-in-tech-gender-parity.

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