Guest post by Dalel Krichen, Director of WES Optima Syphax Center in Sfax. This post was written in response to a World Cafe breakout session she attended as a part of the TechWomen Delegation Trip to Tunisia in March 2015. Delegation members met with WES trainers during the Social Media for Women Entrepreneurs Training of Trainers (TOT).
Since my tender age, I was fascinated by bridges, highways and skyscrapers. My dream was to design, construct and operate infrastructures and buildings. As I grew up, this dream became a goal. My favorite subjects were mathematics and physics and I wanted to use what I learned to solve real world problems. Therefore, I decided to become a civil engineer. No need to say that construction in Tunisia was a male-dominated industry and I did not get much support from my friends who tried to dissuade me away from the field and talked about the barriers tech women faced!
But, I worked hard, got a scholarship and went to the U.S. to study civil engineering. When I got my first job in Tunisia, I was the only woman engineer and I had to work on sites. It was very challenging not only trying to gain acceptance by the group but mainly to make the rules, innovate and secure a leading place in the company. As I was climbing the ladder to top positions, I felt the need to support women to enroll in scientific and technical fields. Indeed, female students in Tunisia account for 60% of the overall number of students, graduate at a much higher rate and with a much higher score than their fellow male students. But, the rate of female students in STEM fields remains very low. That’s why I decided to conduct an awareness campaign among girls in high schools to urge them to choose technical fields and I organized summer camps for the outstanding students on the theme “women and technology: learn to love it.”
When I was asked to join the WES team I was thrilled. The program puts a great emphasis on specialties related to new technologies needed in the job market. As we were urged to make a special effort to involve women in technology, I was very excited to fulfill a dear dream –increase the visibility of tech women by helping them create their own enterprises and thus promote female role models in the country.
We had the pleasure to host the delegation of TechWomen. They arrived as we were undertaking a TOT about social media which unveiled to us the power of networking which allows women entrepreneurs to create more opportunities and boost their talents in a way sometimes never expected. So all of us were in the mood to really acknowledge technology and we were looking forward to the breakout discussions with the members of the guest group.
As Samia introduced the exchange program and its objectives, I was very impressed by the goals and the opportunities offered to women. I found the professional mentorship, which is part of the program,very inspiring because it offers a valuable opportunity to support women in STEM fields. In many countries, talents are not encouraged and the lack of women mentors in technical fields makes it difficult for emerging tech women to promote themselves.
The breakout discussion about e-commerce, social media, innovation and risk taking for the developing of businesses using technology and marketing engaged us in an open discussion where we shared experiences, best practices and view points.We loved having the perspective and input of the mentors and we thank them for their guidance and advice.
It is heartening to notice that even though women in the delegation are from different parts of the world with different backgrounds and walks of life, they all share the same passion for technology and for the need to empower women in STEM fields. I couldn’t help noticing the spark in their eyes when they spoke about their careers which made me relate to them on a personal level.
To conclude, I would like to say that Tunisia is in need of more scientists and engineers. The TechWomen visit was memorable because it raised our awareness, as a WES team, for the need to empower tech women start-ups. It was also a good opportunity for brainstorming to find new ways and initiatives to get more women involved in successful tech projects.
Dalel Krichen is a civil engineer and graduated from Washington University in Saint Louis. She worked as a head of the Department of Civil Building in the Ministry of Equipment and Habitat in Sfax before being the general manager of a construction company. She is also a former Member of Parliament, former general secretary of the Board of Tunisian Engineers in Sfax and Deputy Mayor in charge of the Commission of Infrastructure, Management and Construction in the city of Sfax.
Dalel has championed the cause of women’s empowerment and political participation. She works to integrate gender equality in institutions, programs and laws. She set various programs to encourage female students to choose technical fields and help young women engineers to get jobs and succeed in their careers.
Dalel is also the Director of WES Optima Syphax Center, where she provides trainings in leadership, home-based business, entrepreneurship and e-commerce . She works closely with women to help them achieve economic self-sufficiency.
Dalel is married and the mother of two daughters.