Since the first well was drilled until many decades later, the scenario at oil and gas fields was exclusively composed by men. Today, as more women revolutionize the structures of the society and conquer their place in male-dominated sectors, this scenario is changing. Sara Mansour, a young instrumentation and control engineer working at the Egyptian Natural Gas Company (GASCO), is one of the Egyptian women currently making the remote fields in the desert her workplace. During the Egypt Petroleum Show’s (EGYPS) Women in Energy Awards ceremony, held on February 13, she had her efforts recognized by receiving the Nex-Gen Female of the Year award.

Egypt Oil & Gas spoke to Sara and learned more about her current activities in the Western Desert as well as her opinion on the inclusion of females in the oil and gas sector.

Could you tell us about the challenges you face as a female engineer working in remote fields? What kind of adaptations are made so you can join a male-dominated group in these areas?

I believe I have a combo of challenges which does not only include working in a male-dominated industry, but also in a conservative culture.

I work at GASCO’s Western Desert Gas Complex (WDGC), a natural gas processing site located in a simple remote village called El-Nahda, in my hometown Alexandria. I do not sleep onsite, but I drive to and from the site everyday, which takes around 80-90 minutes per day. Unfortunately, carpooling daily with my male fellow colleagues who live close to me and drive to work is not a common practice in our work culture.

My first year working with the maintenance team was very challenging as all the maintenance and operation team members were never used to having a female engineer working and engaging onsite. I have managed to blend in, not only by trying to be professional and respectful to all my colleagues at work, but also by participating in all social events whether it is a soccer game, a Ramadan outing, a wedding or a funeral. It took me more than 3 years to feel I belong to the WDGC family.

During new projects, major upgrades or overhauls, there are usually outsourced teams from other service companies from different backgrounds that assist our WDGC team. I am always worried that some cultural barriers will result in a lack of communication between me and the rest of the project team. Thus, I always pay attention to break the ice and exchange our professional contacts to ensure a clear two-way communication channel and minimize the potential of conflicts.

Among my challenges onsite is where my workstation should be located and with whom. I was told that it is not allowed for opposite genders to share an office room and was asked to be seated far away from my teammates. So, I would share an office room in the main administration building with two dear ladies who work with other teams and have different job scopes than mine. I was worried that this distance would cause a miscommunication with the rest of my team and other fellow engineers in the maintenance teams. After several negotiations, I was given an office room next to my team.

As funny as it may sound, I am even used to using the gents’ toilets wherever I am in the field. The workshops, the control room, the warehouse, even the mosque, I do not have female toilets and dedicating a whole toilet just for me is just not practical. The only female toilet is in the main administration building, which is sometimes far from where I usually work.

It is worth mentioning that I had a special surprise onsite after winning the Nex-Gen Female of the Year Award at the Women in Energy Conference during EGYPS 2019, in which my colleagues printed out a poster of me holding the award and hung it in front of the building’s main door. This recognition meant a lot to me and encouraged me to always ask for my rights. I believe it is time to ensure that discriminatory laws and gender-based legislation are repealed.

In your opinion, how can oil and gas companies enhance the working environment in remote fields in order to attract more female engineers?

I think it starts with having a fair and unbiased recruitment process and raising the hiring managers’ awareness about the diversity policies. It still happens that some companies look for new competent candidates through top male graduates of Engineering Universities, which I believe is unfair for many potential female talents.

Moreover, companies should always ensure that opportunities of training and development at all levels are equally provided for both men and women, and should pay attention to show female role models in the oil and gas industry in order to increase the reasons for women to stay.

Furthermore, companies should strongly empower working mothers by providing flexible working schedules, childcare facilities, having the option of extending their maternity leave and assisting them to be back on track once they return to work.

How could academia encourage and prepare more women to work on the fields?

Let me answer this question by sharing my personal experience with PETRONAS, which I believe leads by example when it comes to the integration between academia and profession. After I graduated from high school with high honors, I got a scholarship from the Egyptian Ministry of Petroleum and PETRONAS in 2007 to have my Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from PETRONAS University of Technology (UTP) in Malaysia.

Out of 20 Egyptian students who got selected for this scholarship in my batch, five were girls. An industrial internship was a mandatory part of our undergraduate course completion, which was usually taken during our third year for 8 months, so PETRONAS and the ministry have assigned me to have my internship at Egyptian LNG (ELNG), since PETRONAS, the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) and the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC) are among its shareholders. Besides the technical knowledge I have gained during my ELNG internship, the real working environment exposure for several months onsite was definitely an eye-opening experience that accelerated my adaptation to the field work, increased my sense of safety, and qualified me for my first onsite job after graduation.

What do you believe to be the reason behind the decline in female representation in middle and top management positions? How could oil and gas companies address this issue?

I think there is a vicious cycle behind this declination. The absence of female role models in technical leadership positions in the oil and gas industry discourages female graduates from starting their careers in a work environment that lacks gender inclusivity, which leads to ramping down female participation in the industry and consequently, a declination in potential female calibers in the middle and top management. Moreover, the oil and gas industry is still facing some challenges in diversity and inclusion, including an unconscious bias in the hiring processes, the lack of flexible work packages for new mothers, and inconvenient infrastructure that does not meet women’s needs. A female that takes one or more maternity leave followed by a lack in the development programs would certainly suffer from the gender gap, which leads to frustration and demotivation that could even evolve to quitting at a relatively young age.

I believe this issue should be first addressed by the governments by eliminating any legal restrictions or discriminatory laws to female participation. I think Egypt has been working hard towards achieving gender equality, which is the fifth goal in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that is also known as Egypt’s Vision 2030. Next comes the responsibility of the companies and their commitment towards having a real diverse workforce to attract, retain, and develop more competent and technical women in order to qualify them for holding senior and top-management roles.

What is your message for other female students aspiring a career in the oil and gas sector?

Be professional. Apply for different internship programs and master your specialized knowledge. Get the job done, keep your promises, communicate effectively, break the ice,  blend in, be confident, and always shine!