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STEMming Sexism

Leen Madanat ’15 Promotes Inclusivity in Science and Tech

Across the world, women are underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). While women in the Middle East graduate with STEM degrees at much higher rates than in the United States or Europe, their employment in the industry still hovers around 30 percent.

Leen Madanat ’15 aims to change this. While majoring in physical science and minoring in business and math at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, she held two internships in the data analytics space, sparking her interest in the field. After graduating, she moved to Dubai, initially continuing her work in data analytics at Global Village before transitioning to digital technology and innovation consulting for KPMG.

Madanat says she’s often one of the few women in the room. She attributes the lagging female representation to cultural barriers, particularly in leadership positions. “Women find it harder to get these roles and even be competitive in interview processes because they have less experience in the field, which is because they weren’t able to get those positions earlier,” she explains.

While Madanat is on the path to forging an impressive career for herself in STEM, she is not content with only breaking her own glass ceiling. Outside of work, she launched the Dubai chapter of 500 Women Scientists, a global organization aiming to transform STEM by empowering women to secure leadership positions.

For Madanat, promoting inclusivity in STEM is not only about ensuring representation that reflects the diversity of society, but also because inclusive science leads to more accurate science.

“One of the main goals of inclusivity is to eliminate bias in the models we create, the hypotheses we create, and so on,” she explains. “If they come from one lens or one perspective, the whole research project or initiative would be based on that one perspective. If that perspective is predominately male or not inclusive, it becomes restrictive.”

The good news is that there are signs that the cultural barriers keeping women from leadership positions in tech — and other fields — are breaking down. According to Wamda, a venture capital firm for technology businesses in the Middle East, one in three entrepreneurs in the region are women. Governments have begun enacting programs and quotas to increase female leadership, with the notable example of the United Arab Emirates’ Gender Balance Council, established in 2015.

A key remaining challenge is to empower individual women, creating a pioneering set of role models for younger generations to look to for inspiration and guidance. This is precisely what Madanat aims to do through her work with 500 Women Scientists, through which she has organized meetings and mentoring pairings for STEM women in Dubai. Their very first meeting, held earlier this year, was a celebration of the accomplishments already made or underway by women in the room. 

“Women kind of shy away from admitting the amazing things they do in STEM and tech and business, and we don’t speak about these successes as often as we should,” says Madanat. “As cheesy as it sounds, I want to be the voice for those women who have yet to speak up about their successes.”