The incident happened about a decade ago, but Eng Anwaar Al Shimmari has no trouble remembering how disturbed she felt at the time.
“I was shocked because he came from an Arabic country known for having a culture that is more open than ours,” she says, explaining that the ‘he’ in the story was a colleague who, when she received a promotion at work, asked to be transferred.
“I was supposed to be his line manager, but he totally rejected the idea of having a woman as his boss,” she recalls, saying that the man even had no qualms about asking for the transfer in front of her.
“I couldn’t understand or respect his mentality, because I wouldn’t judge or discriminate [against] anyone [based on] race, gender, ethnicity, or religion. A professional environment [requires] professional manners.”
Whether that former colleague ever found himself in a similar situation again is not known, but it is reasonable to believe that he eventually learned the error of his ways, since he apologised to Al Shimmari when they met again, eight years later.
It is a telling anecdote, but not only because it appears to support claims of gender-based discrimination in the workplace. It is also telling because, when asked whether female engineers have difficulty finding their place in the unquestionably male-dominated construction industry, the one story that Al Shimmari can remember with clarity is a decade old.
“Back then, the challenge was being accepted as a line manager. Or [if you were] on site, some would say that a woman engineer doesn’t know the job,” she says. “But this was a long time ago, and it wasn’t a reflection of the industry. It was more of a personal behaviour.”
Emphasising that female empowerment is now “a reality” in the UAE, and even dubbing the phenomenon of having women working in the engineering field “feminising infrastructure”, she continues: “The [factor] behind this success is the support of the UAE leadership. HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has clearly stated that 50% of higher management in any federal entity must be women. This, by itself, is a significant support for women.”
As one of the growing number of women filling top positions in government agencies across the country, Al Shimmari currently wears three hats at the Ministry of Infrastructure Development (MoID): “I’m the director of design, as well as the chief innovation officer. I also [hold] responsibility for artificial intelligence (AI) in the ministry.”
Al Shimmari tells Construction Week that the ministry is working on a number of initiatives, several of which, including artificial intelligence, were launched during this year’s UAE Innovation Month.
“We’ve recently started [implementing] artificial intelligence in the ministry,” she reveals, adding: “We are in the process of developing the first robot engineer in the world.”
“It’s a big challenge, but it’s also a very interesting subject because it [involves] research, engages universities, and [employs] technology. There are companies working really hard to make this happen.”
While she is looking forward to seeing this project develop further, Al Shimmari emphasises that the human aspect of the initiative should not be disregarded.