When Jordanian entrepreneur, Nermin Fawzi Saad, was looking for a handful of female engineers to join her new company, she put an ad in the newspaper, hoping to find a few interested candidates.
She received over 700 resumes.
The seven word ad, “Female engineers required to work from home,” was a wake up call for Saad, who realized she had tapped into a pool of talent that wanted to work, but lacked possibilities.
“I thought ‘oh my god, the market is loosing females with at least five years experience.’” she says. (We met Saad after she submitted her story of starting a business to the 1,000 stories campaign)
After a woman graduates from university in Jordan, she often marries within a few years and before long starts having children. After that, women are expected to stay home, care for their families and give up on their careers.
“In Jordan we are very conservative country, we don’t have baby sitting facilities … When you have children you are the only one responsible for them. No one else takes care of them,” she says.
Bored in Saudi Arabia
After Saad finished her engineering degree, she got married and in 2000 moved to Saudi Arabia with her husband, who was offered a job there.
She was unable to work in her field because mixing between males and females is not allowed in Saudi Arabia, which has resulted in an engineering sector that is all male.
“I spent 17 years of my life to get my engineering certificate and then once I got there you say to me ‘no you can’t work as an engineer.’ It was a great problem for me.”
She tried teaching, a profession available to women, but says she was not a gifted teacher. “Engineering had always been my dream,” Saad says.
Saad chose to stay home and start a family – she and her husband now have three children – and gave up on teaching.
An overwhelmed husband
But her husband, who is also an engineer, was stressed at his job, so Saad pitched in by taking over some of his work, which she could do from home.
He was also overwhelmed by other duties as well. Her husband had to take the kids to school, buy groceries and perform any household task outside the home because women in Saudi Arabia cannot leave the home without a male guardian.
By working on her husband’s engineering projects from home, Saad was not only fulfilling a dream by using her university degree, but was also building up a solid reputation.
“My husband started introducing me to friends and they outsourced their work to me,” she said.
When Saad and her husband returned to live in Jordan she wanted to continue working with her clients from Saudi Arabia’s construction sector, known as the region’s “sleeping giant.”
She started her own company, Handasiyat, a remote online platform to outsource non-core engineering, with the hopes of giving Jordanian female engineers the opportunity to use their brains and earn money while raising children.
After she placed the ad in the paper, she learned that Jordan has over 13,000 unemployed female engineers.
Today, Saad employs ten of them who work on projects for Saudi Arabian clients remotely. When an engineer is required on site in Saudi Arabia, Nermin’s sends her husband to the client.
One of her employees, Reem Hammad, graduated from university in 2005 and worked for three years before tieing the knot. Once married, her husband forced her to stay home because he saw working outside of the home as inappropriate for his wife.
“Nermin lets me realize my self and obey my environment’s social rules at the same time,” Hammad told The Story Exchange. She says she couldn’t be happier with the arrangement.
Watch Saad’s message to women in the Arab world
Saad’s goal is to have at least 100 women engineers working for her, and to be an inspiration for women in other sectors of the economy.
But one of her challenges is how to meet prospective clients in Saudi Arabia because of the cost of traveling there. She needs not only to purchase a ticket for herself but also for her husband –who is required to escort her — and their three children as well.
She continually needs to gain the confidence of men and overcome negative stereotypes about women’s capabilities. “I’m still struggling with that, and will beat it at some point, by the quality of work and our responsible relationships with clients.”
Saad’s greatest regret is not starting her company earlier to help women use their engineering degrees, earn money and improve their self esteem.
Her advice to women: “Be confident and give yourself a chance to try something. Then you you are able to say ‘I can or I cannot do it.’”
We contacted Nermin Fawzi Saad after she submitted to 1,000 Stories. Share your story starting a business and it will appear on our site. We will use it to find candidates for our 2013 filming season and for blog posts.