Women have faced different challenges in their way to succeed in the extraction sector. One of those challenges was the belief that women could not work in extractive industries because of their inability to deal with heavy analytical equipment. This misconception has prevented many women from seeking academic degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), or joining the related challenging industries.

In the meantime, drilling and operation machinery in the fields of oil, natural gas, and mining is developing, being digitally transformed and challenging the previously conceived perceptions. The digitized equipment helped women along the process and encouraged them to reject the stereotypes of “male-dominated” industries. Using recent technologies in the extractive fields could help Egypt bridge the gender gap in these sectors as it helps women have more flexibility to challenge the existing barriers.

Women in Extractive Fields

Women’s participation in extractive fields is very low, especially in leadership positions. A study published by the UK’s Women in Mining (WIM) and PwC in 2013, entitled ‘Mining for Talent’ revealed that “the mining industry has the fewest number of women on its boards of any other industry, with women occupying only 5% of the board positions of the top 500 global listed mining companies.”

Data of the Petroleum Equipment and Services Association (PESA) previously revealed that only 15% of the United States’ oil and gas workforce is female, which decreases in higher-paying technical jobs. Meanwhile, in North America and Western Europe, according to an article published by Bloomberg Business Week, women run less than 2% of oil and gas firms. “Women comprise only about one-fifth of the oil and gas industry’s ranks, far lower than many other major sectors,” Bloomberg noted.

In order to know how to attract women to extractive fields, it is important to recognize what drives them away in the first place. Women’s participation in energy sectors and extractive industries is low because “fewer women than men undertake studies in STEM. Moreover, the average digital literacy of women is lower than that of men,” according to an article entitled ‘Relevance of gender in the policy area by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE)’.

Digital illiteracy is usually higher in developing countries. “Globally, there is a 12% gender gap in internet use; in the world’s least developed countries the gap widens to 31%,” according to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women).

Accelerating Digital Fluency for Women

“At the current rate of digital adoption, developed nations likely will not achieve workplace gender equality until 2065, and developing nations until 2100. But if governments and businesses can double the pace at which women become frequent users of technology, we could reach gender equality in the workplace by 2040 in developed nations and by 2060 in developing nations,” as per a study published by Accenture, entitled ‘Getting to Equal: How Digital is Helping Close the Gender Gap at Work’.

Digital fluency is the extent to which employees use and embrace the digital technologies in order to be more connected, effective and knowledgeable. Boosting digital fluency of women helps them walk through their career path in mining, and oil and gas.

“I think there is no doubt, whether in Accenture study from 2016 or further studies, digital fluency does improve and does create the level of parity that women relate to more,” Botan Osman, Managing Director of Restrata, said during the Women in Energy Conference in the Egypt Petroleum Show (EGYPS 2019), which was concluded on February 13.

According to Accenture Digital Fluency Model, “nations with higher rates of digital fluency among women have higher rates of equality in the workplace.” This shows the importance of increasing the digital fluency of women in Egypt, as it will help the country achieve balance in its extractive fields, which need to include women as new talents to boost the industry.

An analysis by Pew Research published in 2015, revealed that 54% of contributors believe women play a larger role in managing children’s activities and schedules. Additionally, 47% of respondents stated that mothers do more work when they are taking care of sick kids. In developing countries like Egypt, women have many imposed social responsibilities and they need to achieve balance between personal life and career. Layla El Hares, General Manager Developments and Asset Manager Egypt at Shell, stated during EGYPS 2019 that being tolerant regarding having more flexible hours is important for retaining female employees, adding that companies need to adapt to working mothers’ needs.

Digitalization “allows flexibility, allows putting female forward in sight and helps support the diversity and inclusion programs,” Janka O’Brien, MEA Strategic Account Director – IOC Emerson indicated in EGYPS 2019, adding that one can work on projects without leaving the office or travelling to the site. Accordingly, using digital solutions and tools can help employees access meetings anytime, anywhere via conference calls, without actually being in the work place.

“We all agree that time is money. Previously, as a petro-physicist, I would have spent much time evaluating the data coming from field, wireline logging, logging while drilling, etc., in order to prepare computerized petro-physical interpretation (CPI). Now, using a lot of programs like for example “Techlog” I save time and accordingly money and it gives me the accurate result I requested,” Marwa Galal, Geologist at PetroAmir, told Egypt Oil & Gas.

Agreeing with that, Osman mentioned that new drilling technologies, including robotics, “are growing independent in themselves,” adding that in the case of robotics, “when you want an action to happen within a particular oil and gas site or within a particular factory , you can perform that remotely.” This does not only allow women to have more flexibility, but it helps ensure the safety of all workforce in hazardous environments.

“As a geologist and petro-physicist, new technologies and digital fluency enabled me to be on the same track with my colleagues who work onsite, as I can follow and contribute step by step to the operations through advanced programs and technologies. For example, running data in the site can be accessed on spot from the office, and through this I can evaluate wells and make appropriate decisions according to the received data,” Galal noted.

In the survey conducted by Accenture on nearly 5,000 women and men in 31 countries, “almost 60% of women who are not currently employed said that working from home or having more flexible hours would help them find work.” Additionally, 41% of the working-women surveyed said that digital has been helping them balance their personal and professional lives, and to access job opportunities.

Paving the Way for Leadership Opportunities

Digital fluency is very important for women to compete for leadership opportunities. An analysis published in 2015 in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that women represent 19% of c-suite executives and 24% of senior vice presidents. Moreover, women hold only 20% of leadership position in industries like mining, energy, and manufacturing, according to an article by Sabine Mueller, the CEO of DHL Consulting, published in 2018.

According to Accenture, digital fluency is “increasingly important as women advance into the ranks of leadership.” Digital technologies could help companies assign the needed e-learning for men as well as women in order for them to develop their knowledge of field practices and obtain STEM additional learnings whenever needed.

“Previously, we used to find higher leadership positions occupied by men because they have flexible working hours, and mostly it is very easy for them to visit the site, but currently in the digital age, it is easy for women to do the same. Female employees contribute and keep in touch with their colleagues onsite through e-mail, satellites, conference audio-visual calls, and other means of technology, if they cannot be onsite,” Galal stated.

“Women can also use some programs to monitor and follow the drilling processes from office, as women mostly have other responsibilities, which for them is as valuable and important as work. Therefore, all these devices and advanced technology help females to have the same knowledge and awareness like their male counterparts and accordingly empower them to seek leadership positions,” she added.

Furthermore, digital technology could offer virtual reality training to both genders, allowing them to know everything about a new challenge before facing it. This creates equal and fair competition between both men and women when applying for a new role in extractive activities, negating any misconception of women’s inability to succeed in these fields.

“The future of the industry signals that it is becoming an industry of analytics,” said Emad A. Elsebakhi, Head of Data Science at Petronas, during EGYPS 2019.

Additionally, it is important to have more women in leadership positions, as it will affect those in lower ranks. After being hired, women do not usually stay in the same company, “because there are so few of them and they cannot see role models ahead, they often feel isolated and end up leaving,”  according to an article published by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), titled ‘Winning the Race for Women in Digital’.

Digital fluency will not only help women succeed in their careers in the extractive fields, it will also aid companies in empowering women to get into leadership positions, which in return is expected to encourage more women to access and remain in these challenging sectors.