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Ones To Watch: Eight Women With Middle Eastern Roots Making Waves In Silicon Valley Only a third of the workforce at the largest tech companies are women. But despite the odds, these remarkable women with roots in the Middle East are making their impact on Silicon Valley.

By Erika Masako Welch Edited by Aby Thomas

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We've all read about how notoriously unfriendly Silicon Valley and the tech world can be towards women. Perhaps that's why only a third of the workforce at the largest tech companies are women.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor force participation rate for women across the United States sits at 57%. Amazon reports 39% of their workforce being female, while Microsoft reports a lowly 26%. These numbers significantly decline when we talk about women leaders in tech. Apparently an abysmal 11% of leadership positions in top global tech firms are filled by women today, and that figure looks like it's drowning- instead of improving upon itself.

It doesn't seem to be just a Silicon Valley problem either, but an industry-wide issue across the globe. Women occupy only 22% of all tech roles across European companies. Here in the Middle East, I speak to managing partners at the top venture capital (VC) firms, who all say they are eager to meet female founders, but they are few and far between. And without women in leadership positions to look up to, how will we bridge the gap?

A barrage of high-profile women exiting top tier tech roles in Silicon Valley in recent months has caused a stir. Unfortunately, many of these roles left by powerful women have since been filled by men. We're talking about movers and shakers like YouTube's Chief Susan Wojcicki stepping down in February 2023 after 25 years at Google and nine years at the helm of YouTube, at the age of 54. Shortly after Facebook became known as Meta, Sheryl Sandberg -who was often referred to as "co-CEO" alongside Mark Zuckerberg- stepped down after 14 years at the helm in early 2022, at age 52. Meta Platforms Chief Business Officer Marne Levine stepped down just this past February 2023, after 12 years with the social media player, at age 52.

Some analysts say it's the COVID-19 effect, with some estimates stating that roughly two million women left or lost their jobs between February 2020 and January 2022, while the number of men in the US workforce largely remained about the same. According to a study by Lean In and McKinsey, female leaders are also switching jobs at record rates. In Silicon Valley, they are leaving their jobs, period. Many say that the COVID-19 crisis only exacerbated issues, not caused them. The hordes of women leaving tech -and the many that are refusing to join- is likely just proof of how much of a "bro-culture" tech has become, and how unfavorable an environment it is for women to work in.

Sandberg, who remains as Chairperson of Lean In after her departure from Meta said, "The issue is not women leaving. The issue is that there are so few of us in the first place. No one writes articles that men are leaving senior jobs. People leave senior jobs all the time. But because there are so few women in senior leadership, it is more remarkable when that happens. We have to make the extraordinary, ordinary."

Related: On An Upward Trajectory: Women in Saudi Arabia's Venture Capital Ecosystem

In order to do just that, and particularly for an even greater minority (i.e. women of Middle Eastern origins in tech), Lucidity Insights has pulled together the following list of remarkable women with roots in the region that are making their impact on Silicon Valley. Here's who they are:

1. Iman Abuzeid, co-founder and CEO, Incredible Health Iman is a Sudanese-American physician and entrepreneur. She was born to Sudanese parents in Saudi Arabia, where her father worked as a surgeon. Incredible Health is a healthtech unicorn based out of Silicon Valley, making her one of the few Black female CEOs of a startup of that size.

2. Rana El-Kaliouby, co-founder and CEO, Affectiva Rana is an Egyptian-American computer scientist and entrepreneur, and co-founder of Affectiva, a company credited with defining the field of Emotion artificial intelligence (AI), a novel approach that combines facial expressions and tone of voice to interpret emotions.

3. Ayah Bdeir, founder and inventor, littleBits A Beirut native, Ayah is a Lebanese-Canadian entrepreneur, inventor, and interactive artist who founded littleBits, an award-winning platform of easy-to-use electronic building blocks that is empowering kids to create inventions.

4. Amira Yahyaoui, founder and CEO, Mos Amira is a Tunisian entrepreneur, blogger, and human rights activist, who has an incredible story that started with her being exiled from her home country of Tunisia at the age of 17. After successfully founding and running a prominent Tunisian non-governmental organization (NGO) for several years fighting for government transparency and human rights abuses, Amira set her sights on launching her first edtech and fintech platform, Mos, which helps connect students to student aid and scholarships across the United States.

5. Noor Shaker, co-founder and CEO, Glamourous AI In 2008, computer scientist Noor left Syria for Europe to pursue her passion for AI, where she later co-founded drug-discovery startup, Glamorous AI which sold to X-Chem in 2021.

6. Layla Shaikley, co-founder and Head of Product, Wise Systems Iraqi entrepreneur and graduate of architecture studies, Layla launched last mile delivery logistics software-as-a-service (SaaS) startup, Wise Systems in 2012, but not before completing an internship with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and having produced a viral YouTube video on Muslim hipsters.

7. May Habib, co-founder and CEO, Writer May Habib is an up-and-coming Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur of Lebanese origins, that spent much of her formative professional years working in the United Arab Emirates, first for Mubadala, prior to launching her first startup, Qordoba, in Dubai.

8. Hind Hobeika, founder and CEO, Instabeat Hind is a Lebanese engineer behind Instabeat, which was a swimming goggles wearable she patented capable of capturing real-time heart rate, stroke type, and laps for the competitive swimming community.

To dive deeper into the remarkable stories of each of these women, check out the full article on Middle Eastern women making waves in Silicon Valley on Lucidity Insights.

Related: Transforming Governance For The Digital Era: How Governments Around The World Are Adopting Blockchain And Web3

Erika Masako Welch

Chief Content Officer, Lucidity Insights

Erika Masako Welch is the Chief Content Officer of Lucidity Insights.
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