Lebanese American University


LAU women in IT forge ahead

As technology advances at dazzling rates, LAU’s female IT students, faculty, staff and alumni move full speed ahead.

It takes a conventional algorithm 107 seconds to retrieve multimedia data from a database. Rawa Karaki, an LAU graduate student in Computer Science, has invented an algorithm that can retrieve the same data in six seconds. Put simply, she has come up with a way for multimedia searches to happen 100 seconds faster than they currently do. Karaki’s work has the potential to optimize the speed at which multimedia databases work worldwide, with vast possible implications, such as faster searches on Facebook, Instagram and even YouTube videos. Soon, she will be publishing a conference and journal paper to showcase her outstanding work.

Alongside two other women, Karaki is one of the top three students in the LAU Computer Science Department. When probed on the subject, her supervisor Dr. Ramzi Harati pipes up immediately, “Many of my top notch students are women. Throughout my 17 years at LAU, I’ve found women to be more hardworking when it comes to computing than men. They take their careers, studies and projects much more seriously.”  A prime example of this is Mira Hindawi Mahmasani, an LAU student who went on to establish her own company and who hired three LAU graduates, one of whom was also a woman.

According to Karaki, women in IT are often victims of prejudice in the workforce. “Employers in our field want to hire men. They think women are not productive as men or that men are more logical thinkers by nature. They also worry that women will simply get pregnant and leave their jobs.” Since her appointment as a Web and Systems Developer at the IT Department of the Lebanese International University, Karaki shyly confesses that her department is now more eager to hire women over men. 
Director of IT Applications & Solutions at LAU, Roula Hage is a computer engineer who oversees the nine men and three women in her department. Her job involves not only managing a mostly male team, but also managing men who are older than her and dealing with male third-party suppliers. She says she has not faced discrimination but admits that time management is the biggest challenge for women in the field. “IT is very demanding. If at any moment a system goes down, we have to respond immediately, no matter what time of day. And you have to constantly stay on top of new developments.” 
According to Dr. Sanaa Sharafeddine, associate professor in LAU’s Computer Science and Mathematics division, there are up to sixty percent less women than men in fields related to computing, information technology and engineering due to cultural reasons and inaccurate perceptions. Sharafeddine, however, has an encouraging and interesting perspective on the matter. “Sometimes I feel there are perks to being a female scholar working in the IT field, because of the numerous special programs and efforts put by various organizations and institutions to encourage gender diversity.” This year, Sharafeddine was herself decorated with a L’Oreal-UNESCO Pan Arab Regional Fellowship Award for her contribution to the advancement of computer science.
With such exemplary women in IT at LAU, one might even forget for a moment that there is a gender crisis in the field at all. 



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