In the Face of Adversity

Challenges in the fast-paced oil and gas industry are inevitable at every level of the professional ladder and displaying resilience determines how well one could cope and move forward. Women in this industry play a major role in aiding and setting up the scene that is presented to the world.

Kholoud Basiony, Executive Assistant to the Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources told EOG about the most critical aspect of her job, it is time. Basiony believes that respecting time plays an important role to overcome any challenges encountered.  “Accuracy and punctuality lead to both representable image and positive achievements,” she said.

Lobna Refaat, Business Coordinator to Shell Egypt VP and Country Chair, and Dalia Mina, Government Projects Lead and Executive Assistant to Region Vice President and General Manager at Apache, echoed the sentiment and shed the light on maintaining a work-life balance.

Mina elaborated that working mothers find it especially demanding to balance between both personal and professional life. “The struggle is to balance demanding work duties, yet fulfill home needs, endure stress yet reassure family members, and the constant desire to ensure that my kids’ development isn’t affected by my career advancement.”

That was not the only barrier for Mina though as she had no oil and gas background when she first joined Apache. However, that only made her more eager to learn about the industry to build her career.

Nouran Magdy, the Executive Assistant at Baker Hughes, shares the same commonality with Mina and added that “to overcome that, I’m always keen to read more about the industry, leverage the company’s online training and learning tools and ensure I’m always updated with what is happening in the industry and market so I can support my leaders better and deliver with quality.”

Yasmine Ali, President office Manager and Corporate Affairs Manager at Kuwait Energy Egypt, addressed the hustle culture that her job embodies, noting that she “must stay alerted and active all day along, ready with all confidential and exact information”. However, busy and fast-paced the job is, she believes that her role” has its own charm which requires a mindset and a vision.” Constant self-development including issues of focus, delegation, credibility, leadership,” Ali remarked.

Perhaps one of the field’s most experienced figures is the Executive Assistant to Schlumberger’s Country Manager, Moushira Mounir, who has been working in the industry for over 40 years. Moushira has been there along for the ride with the ups and downs of the oil and gas industry. Of course, an industry like oil and gas comes with its challenges.

“The one thing that made me overcome any challenge was the support I received.” She said, asserting that having a support system makes all the difference and having encouraging managers and coworkers is essential at any job as it makes obstacles easier to be challenged.  She added that work ethics is a valuable indispensable asset in the workplace, without it, success becomes harder to achieve.

Being a part of an international oil company (IOCs), Moushira dealt with several people from various backgrounds which made her more adaptable to any occurrences that may happen in such an industry. Of course, with her job, managerial changes could happen at any moment which compelled her to establish herself and keep excelling at her job no matter the circumstances. “Commitment is the most important thing,” Moushira stated as she explained how she always managed to excel at her job. She added that having understanding managers and colleagues could only push you towards success.

Nermin Usama, Head of Communications, CSR, and Executive Assistant to Managing Director at Wintershall Dea, told EOG that keeping a seat at the table has been her main challenge, explaining that “Some people in oil industry dislike to have a lady on table regardless of my capabilities”. Usama also showed her flexibility towards the challenge by referring that “on a personal level, fine-tuning my perspective is one of the most effective ways to enhance resilience. Believing that success is not a result of luck or being at the right place at the right time, but I also do learn to recognize opportunities and utilize them. I have never wasted an opportunity to learn, improve, or achieve something more.”

For a Better Future

By highlighting such challenges, the women presented effective recommendations to empower and unite the industry, particularly since women are still underrepresented in it. Refaat advocated for increasing women’s presence in the oil and gas industry; “I believe that more opportunities should be given to women who have the talent, capabilities, and growth potential.” Refaat further highlighted the necessity of giving chances and attention to young female professionals in the industry.

Meanwhile, Ali suggested that diversity must be grounded in the belief that it is vital for business.  Promoting a better work-life balance will also promote gender balance, Ali noted, “when women are guaranteed equal rights, skills, and opportunities, it benefits whole societies, individuals, their families and of course organizations.”

Concurring with Ali’s remarks, Usama highlighted the necessity of showing support for women’s empowerment by showcasing that women are just as suitable as men to work in this field and becoming role models for future generations.

One other aspect to address is providing growth opportunities that should be stable across companies and at all levels. In this regard, Magdy implied: “I’m lucky to be working in a company that allows me to explore such opportunities where I can learn more and develop my skills.”

“I have recently supported the execution of the Ministry’s Middle Management Training Program initiative, hosted by Baker Hughes; and I always support during major in-country events and tradeshows,” she added.

Unleashing Women’s Support

Admittedly, the oil and gas industry seeks to achieve gender diversity and to give full support to women in the industry on both governmental and private sector levels. This is a step forward to encourage women to join the industry which should strive to make a culture shift to engage women to pursue the oil and gas job environment.

Basiony believed that under the leadership of the current Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, Tarek El Molla, great efforts were made to enhance women’s inclusion in the industry.  She explained that the minister’s multinational business background and his deep belief in the necessity to give chances for youth and women in the industry are all reflected in all of the sector’s divisions nowadays.

Basiony also stressed that “women have got the chance to be chairwomen, leaders in different fields, committees as well as events.”

Refaat likewise highlighted Shell’s efforts to boost its work environment diversity indicating that “Shell always strives to keep the workplace free of segregation or racism based on gender, religion or any other factor that discriminates one against another”. “Equal opportunities are provided for everyone inside the company.”

On a similar note, Mina stated that Apache credits workplace diversity as a reason for their success; “we have a diverse global team that is a key to our success; our company is committed to recruiting, retaining, developing and advancing diverse talent and helping everyone thrive by bringing their whole self to the workplace.”

As for Kuwait Energy Company, Ali stated that the company is well-positioned to maximize the diversity sphere and decrease the gender gap in order to achieve collaboration between women and men on several scales. “I am proud to say that at Kuwait Energy Egypt; more than 50% of non-technical department heads are females. In addition, I affirm the senior management’s commitment to ensure female staff has opportunities to grow, develop and achieve their goals,” Ali told EOG. “One of the company’s newest initiatives for women inclusion is Women in Influence “WII” which is expected to be launched very soon to support women in our community.”

Additionally, Usama remarked that at Wintershall Dea, about 30% of around 2,500 employees worldwide are women. Usama highlighted that the company exerts huge efforts to achieve gender equality, hinting that in 2020, the Business Unit of Wintershall Dea in Egypt was awarded the Employer of the Year Championing Inclusion and Diversity at the Egyptian Petroleum Show (EGYPS) Women in Energy Conference. For this year’s EGYPS, Wintershall Dea is especially pleased to be supporting the new Equality in Energy Conference, as one of the top sponsors.

In a workplace environment like Schlumberger, Moushira explained the company’s roadmap to include more women in the workplace and pushes further the inclusion plan. She said that unlike the past, women in Schlumberger hold C-Level positions, even on fields, countless women are working with Schlumberger as an integral part of its everyday operations. On a more general approach, Moushira believes that as the sector becomes more inclusive, over the next few years, the number of women in the oil and gas industry will increase.

Building Relations

Working in the oil and gas industry could be quite exhaustive, that is why executive assistants offer great support to any organization they are a part of.  One sort of support, as Basiony referred to “is to be always reachable.”

She elaborated that this weight of responsibilities requires tolerance to work under pressure with patience in addition to having backup plans to easily adapt to sudden changes.

Having good communication skills is an indispensable asset as diplomacy is needed in such a position, topping that with handling problems, and being honest in conveying messages or concerns.  Being the face of the front office is a reflection of the institution where one works; it should reflect a good reputation and image for the ministry.

Mina reiterated Basiony’s point about the necessity of having good communication skills: “maintaining strong relationships is key, with good relationships with team members across the globe and with stakeholders outside the organization, I can help move things forward.”

Mina and Refaat agreed that in their job, the focus should be extended beyond the company’s scope to figure out the bigger picture and they shed the light on the way they can contribute to facilitating Egypt’s goals to become a regional energy hub.

Ali elaborated that through her job, she becomes an integral focal point between internal and external executives which requires competence to avoid unexpected errors. Having a keen eye for details is also necessary for a busines like oil and gas. “I believe that my role is vital and confidential since it builds relationships crucial to the success of the organization and manages a variety of special projects for the President, some of which may have an organizational impact,” Ali added.

Along with her communication and CSR responsibilities, Usama highlighted her role as an executive assistant and communications expert that “the goal is to minimize the occurrence of problems, which means I must be courageous enough to tackle them head-on and to be resilient in our quest to create and sustain momentum for my company and colleagues.” She added that her most important asset is to keep an open-minded entrepreneurial attitude, to seize the right opportunities.

Developing Resilience

Throughout their careers, women have managed to handle the ebb and flow of the oil industry, but perhaps their resilience and strength became more visible in managing the pandemic threats.

Basiony stated that the pandemic has presented more stress and pressure to the job, but at the same time, it made her more committed as the number of virtual meetings increased that more than one event can be held on one single day. Refaat concurred indicating that “it was challenging, but manageable since we had to connect using all communication means except the most effective one which is the face-to-face communication.”

Ali also clarified that the swift change from office to home required a flexible and agile mindset; “in a time of unprecedented change, it is crucial to adapt quickly, embrace new technologies, and adjust our mindset.” She highlighted that remote work shifted the balance of productivity from time-oriented to task-oriented.

Moushira has gained a lot of help from her family along with her colleagues and especially during the transition to work from home, underlining that family support is a great asset to perform better at work. Online communication was one of the challenges of working from home but Moushira stated that it became more manageable by the time.

The transition to work from home has not been easy and took a bit of time to adjust to the mix-up of both the private and the professional spheres. A lifestyle change was needed to separate the two, a tiny adjustment as establishing a small home office did the trick. On the other hand, the same change allowed Moushira to spend more time with her family, especially her grandkids; Youssef and Salma.

Usama has also gained a lot of support from management at Wintershall Dea while working from home and maintaining a work-life balance.  She elaborated that the company has a “Flex forward” system. This hybrid working model allows to alternate home and office work and will remain in place even after the pandemic. “Our team has proven over the past months that we can work together extremely efficiently and effectively over digital channels. All of us here have taken one big step forward together as team Wintershall Dea and we have shown that we can be flexible, but of course, I still miss the office, particularly human contact,” Usama noted.

The Future is Female

Undoubtedly, women’s role across the industries has been increasing more and more over time; the oil and gas industry is not different. When discussing women’s future in the industry, Usama explained that they have gone a long way especially with the establishment of the Women in Energy Conference at the Egypt Petroleum Show (EGYPS). However, Ali heeded that some barriers are still in place hindering women to progress, despite companies’ efforts  pushing for a more diverse and inclusive workplace within the industry. One way to promote gender equality, Ali and Usama suggested, is through launching women empowerment initiatives to boost women’s roles in leadership.

The government could take part in encouraging such positive measures; Mina remarked that the ministry has already taken active steps towards women’s inclusion. Basiony vouched for the ministry denoting that it works tirelessly to elevate the sector’s standards and to meet global requirements and economic standards. “I expect women will be given more chances and challenges in different new activities and projects during the next few years,” Refaat said, noting that by maintaining a gendered balance system and removing the glass ceiling, women will have a seat at the table in the oil and gas sector alongside their male counterparts.

On a final note, Mina made a perceptive point that beyond energy. “The oil and gas industry provides so much more to the world where there is affordable and abundant energy, people are healthier, have access to better education, and are given greater opportunities to pursue their dreams. That is why we do what we do.”