A Woman’s Journey of Breaking Barriers in STEM

March 5, 2024

Dina Mohammad-Laity

Independent Data Advisor

In this episode, Dina Mohammad- Laity, a data scientist, shared her experiences and challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated field.

She emphasized the importance of nurturing a collaborative and empathetic environment, having more women in leadership roles to encourage diversity.  benefits

Dina stressed the importance of effective communication, maintaining up-to-date industry knowledge, fostering a culture that promotes creativity and problem-solving, and the necessity of avoiding competition.

Below is the transcription: 

Hello. This is Omnia Al Desoukie, I am the editor of The HR Observer. Today, I am speaking to Dina Mohamed, who is a data scientist.

Dina and I met a few years ago when she was working for a corporate company here, and she was a lead on their data section. Dina, how are you?

 I’m good.How are you?

Omnia: I am doing well.So when we met, it was actually at an event  related to women and it was helping women find jobs in technical firms. How is that going from your perspective? Do women need more boost on that?

Dina: Good question. This is something I was reflecting on recently, actually. Particularly in the data space, I am definitely seeing a lot more women in the space in general and more women in senior roles, which is great and very encouraging.

You know, when I started that, it was because, you know, we were trying to hire for particular roles and we were just getting no women applying. I think it’s just a case of, you know, employer branding to make sure that they make it clear that it’s a very women friendly environment, that kind of thing.

I’m definitely seeing a change in the region overall. I’m actually part of a WhatsApp group that is just women leaders in tech data. I see tons of them. And so I think it’s a good sign. It is a good sign.

Omnia: But do we have any unique challenges for these women within the spectrum?

Dina: Yes, I mean, the UAE is very on board with women in tech. But  even though there are a lot, it’s still a very male dominated sector.

Omnia: Why do you think that’s the case?

Dina: I think it’s you know, it’s a long term matter.I mean, it goes back to kind of schooling or if you think about it, like when you’re at school, things are kind of male or feminine topics.

When I was at school and people my age that are now in the kind of leadership roles, it was definitely it was more encouraged, I guess, for  elementary and particular boys to go into particular roots stem kind of roots. So I guess that just propagates over time.

There are a lot of efforts that have been made such as toys or removing gender labels from toys. I was fortunate to have an engineer as a father, so for me, there was no choice. I got the Barbies but also had to have the scales etc. Playtime at the weekend was taking apart a computer group.

I think there are always these stereotypes of kids growing up. But I know that there have been so many efforts over the past decade to get more younger women coming into tech and into Maths and Engineering subjects.

Omnia: We are seeing more and more women. But do we see the effect of these women on STEM related jobs?Do we see certain changes within different sectors due to the entrance of more women, or is this just the same as just more talent and that’s it?

Dina: I mean, yes, I guess. I think as women we bring our strengths. We bring a different type of leadership often that is more empathetic in general.

Even on consumer products women can empathize more easily with users. I think there’s definitely that side. But in the day, the hard skills of the hard skills and women have them just as much as all male counterparts.

Omnia: What made you get into your field of work?

Dina: By accident, actually. I graduated from my bachelors right into the financial crisis, and that was a bad time to be a fresh graduate in London, with no work experience. So I just hung around with some recruiters and I asked them, can you tell me where there’s more jobs than people. And that’s what I will focus on.

I was given two pieces of great advice, actually, looking back on it now, they said it had anything to do with software engineering that’s of interest to you going down that path or anything to do with data that seems to be taking off right now. This was at a time before that kind of concept of data science had taken off.

Data engineering was kind of hard unless you knew  developers. But there wasn’t the kind of infrastructure around it’s data. Services were just becoming a thing.

Omnia: You are in a  very male dominated sector. How do you find yourself navigating through your male colleagues?

Dina: I’m perfectly well, honestly. I always see the fact that I am the only woman in the room maybe can be a daunting thing, but also something I tried to play to my strengths. I am something different.

Omnia: So how do I lean into that? I’m different tone of voice. I’m a different perspective. You know, I’m mixed race. Like, how do I lean into that?

Dina: I bring something that’s different. So just making sure that I kind of focused more on my confidence and shoring up my confidence and ability to speak, to be able to speak over people.

These are the things that you need to learn less around the whole skills and just being kind of confident in yourself. If you are going to make a point in a room, make sure it gets across.

Omnia: And did you ever, ever feel like, you know, God, this is not where it should be or this is really difficult.

Dina: Yeah, absolutely. Like anyone, anywhere in the world that says that they’ve never had imposter syndrome is a liar, I tell you the absolute truth. A liar. I took it when I was younger. I think I would compare myself to people in people.

I come from a statistics background, So I did my first degree in economics and econometrics and my second degree was in applied statistics, and I taught myself to code. But then I’m, you know, in environments where I’m working with people that are like full blown software engineers, they’ve got this incredible background, really solid core engineering side of things and that kind of thing definitely would make me like, God, I mean, I’m out of my depth here.

I don’t know this like, you know, doubting yourself. But  it took time and time and advice. And I had a great executive coach as well to realize that I actually did enough engineering stuff.

Clearly I have done perfectly well. And also I’m extremely strong on the statistics side, which is what I bring to the table.

I am really strong on the people side of things like. I think for me my strongest skill is communication, bridging the gap between the engineering people and the business people. That’s where the actual value lies. You’re making investments in data infrastructure. It’s all well and good, but it’s only going to be valuable if someone actually uses it.

How do you get someone to use it? Sales.

Omnia: I want to ask you, how do you regularly stay on top of your work? How do you regularly make sure that you’re up to date with your field?

Dina: Yeah, absolutely. I read, I read a lot. I make time every single day for reading and be kind of keeping up to date on things like the chat, Twitter or making sure that I’m reading a couple of articles, research articles that are coming out. I also try to keep up to date with other other companies, engineering blogs.

It’s great to see, you know, what different companies are doing. So that’s an important side of it. The  other side is, of course, communication.  It is making sure that you are in touch with people in the field. It can be quite tempting to be on an island and to sit and study. As much as I  like the field of data, it does  has academic elements.

There are also the social elements too. How other people are solving problems. You get the wisdom of the crowd. You can learn a lot faster by looking at other people’s mistakes, which is the single cheapest way to learn from mistakes.

Omnia: I want to talk a little bit about communication.

Dina: One of the biggest challenges for women in general is that we do not communicate well. Not  only sounding our positions, but actually in terms of reporting things that we’re doing. I work with amazing women and I have been working with amazing women for 14, 15 years. And the common thing I find is that women did not show a lot of their work in comparison to men.

Omnia: You are in a very male dominated field. How do you make sure that you’re standing your ground and you’re showing that you are doing the work?

Dina: I’m just being really intentional about it. And again, you know, getting kind of getting in that habit, being like this piece of work that I’ve done. I’m proud of it.

I am going to share it. You know, you have to put as much time into that as the work itself. I think that you need to start as a mindset thing. You know, doing the work is important, but communicating is part of the work. If you separate those two things, you’re underpinning yourself, right? Bundling it together.

The work isn’t finished until it’s communicated right.

Omnia: I want to wrap up this interview by asking you to give you experience in promoting jobs for women in tech. What do you think are the key areas of opportunities to continue advancing gender equality in tech?

Dina: Good question. I think this part of it is something that’s already going into motion more now.

But it’s just having more women in leadership. I was in a role before where I was told, you know, we really want to hire more women, but it’s a pipeline problem, we are just not going to hire anyone applying. I joined and I was one of the basically only female leaders in that area. Suddenly within a few months we were about 50/50 split.

So I don’t know if it’s you know, it is causal in that case, but it does come to mind like, you know, is it just a case of having someone being female in leadership that made it more inviting for the women to apply. Then again, I don’t know because personally, I wouldn’t not apply for a role if there wasn’t anyone in leadership.

But then maybe I am an outlier in that. But yeah, I just think it makes it clear to be part of a more welcoming environment for people of all genders, making sure that the culture is kind of nurturing, empathetic. Yes. When it comes down to it, if you have women in leadership, then that’s kind of saying like, this is not like a lady bro tech  environment as I would like kind of how you know, how you get work done.

I would say that I’m not a competitor, I’m a collaborator. So anything that comes up is competitive. I’m like, well no, I don’t like that. So I don’t like competing at work. I think, you know when it comes to work there, especially in leadership, you need to view it as like the whole should be greater than the sum of the parts.

And you can only get to that by creating a really collaborative environment. I know on the whole, women tend to be more drawn to these, more like a kind of social work together. To figure things out,  together, kind of environment. So yeah, I think making sure that your actual company culture is that it doesn’t have to be full of women. I think as long as it is kind of collaborative and equitable, you can have a team entirely staffed by men that’s very attractive for women to join as long as that’s like the core culture that you have.

Omnia: All right, Lovely. Thank you very much, Dina, for your time.

Dina: You are welcome.

Omnia: Is there anything else you want to add?

Dina: Actually, no. I just thank you for continuing the mission of getting more and more women, more women’s tag, I think, is really, really important. You know, at the end of the day, like, these are the roles of the future.

Editor’s Note: This year, The HR Observer celebrates International Women’s Day by rolling out different perspectives on how to empower women.