Many female careerists have carved a niche for themselves in the male-dominated oil industry
TO be an Egyptian working woman is no easy task. To be a successful female in a heavily man-dominated field is, by all means, a success story that is worth telling.
The difficulties facing female leaders in the oil companies stem from the fact that they have to establish themselves among male colleagues, and that they have to juggle a full-time, challenging job and homemaking. They are always required to show a great deal of perseverance at work to stand out and rise in the ranks, and a considerable time-management skills to be a successful mother.
Egypt Oil & Gas Newspaper interviewed three of the key leaders in oil companies who managed to strike a balance between their careers and families.
Graduated in the geology department at the Faculty of Sciences, Cairo University, Safaa Sharabi was determined to pursue a career in the field she studied and had passion for. She joined the Egyptian Geological Survey Authority, affiliated with the Ministry of Petroleum, and specialized in micro biostratagraphy.
Her work was to study, analyze and treat the micro fossil samples taken from oil fields in order to estimate their age and the atmosphere in which they were created. Afterwards, she joined the International Egyptian Oil Company (IEOC), an Italian joint venture, from 1980 to 1986.
As a matter of fact, honing work skills by pursuing higher studies was not a means to show off for Sharabi. Rather, it was a necessity for her career to flourish. Consequently, she decided to spend four years from 1986 to 1990 to obtain a Master’s degree. Six years later, she obtained her PhD in 1996.
“Some male workmates have sensitivities toward female workmates. They think that females are not suitable for and cannot endure heavy work in oil-related fields,” she admits. “However, there are many of them who encourage and give me enormous support throughout my career”.
For many females, claiming a higher position in an oil company might be their only career ambition. Sharabi, however, made a breakthrough in her career by taking the risk of opening her private venture, Geocom, in 1998. “I started it from scratch,” she said about her company. “In the very beginning it was very difficult in terms of financing and administrative logistics,” she added.
Her concerns were not centred on financial and administrative hassles only; the possibility that other companies might be reluctant to enter into deals with a company with a female at its helm was another problem. “Our distinguished services were enough to refute any claims or rumours circulated about the inability of my company,” Sharabi recalls.
Achieving success mainly depends on the personal characteristics of a female leader who wants to pull herself up by her bootstraps. “Many females have enough knowledge [to be leaders in an oil company]. Yes, there are many obstacles and problems in the face of any female leader in the oil industry, but you should be a fighter so that you could work your way up,” she points out.
Many female leaders might find themselves between a rock and hard place when it comes to managing family affairs and challenging work position. “I have a wonderful family consisting of three children. Two of them completed their university studies and are married now, and the third one to finish his university studies this year,” she says.
Bringing up three children and starting up a private venture were not to be achieved without the moral support of a helpful husband. “He encouraged and supported me a lot throughout my career,” Sharabi says of her husband. “He is an enlightened person to whom I owe a lot of my success,” she points out.
For a young woman to leave a mark in the oil field industry, it calls for many things. “Any young woman in the beginning of her career in the oil field should secure the support of her husband before going any further. I know of many female colleagues who are able to rise in the ranks and become leaders, but their husbands are objecting to their increased dedication to work,” she says.
In fact, the numbers of young women who want to pursue a career in the oil field is on the decline, according to Sharabi.
Satisfied with what she has achieved so far, Sharabi is wishing that her business will prosper and expand outside Egypt. “When my private business started, we were dealing with a very minor company exploring oil in the Gulf of Suez. Then we started working with companies digging oil fields in the Western Desert, and then we began doing business in the Delta,” she recalls.
The passionate marketing researcher
Having obtained her economics and political sciences degree from the American University in Cairo, Alyaa Abdel-Latif started her career in the External Relations Department at the Egyptian Oil Authority. Her marketing research skills as well as speaking many languages helped her to stand out.
Abdel-Latif found it convenient to specialize in external relations affairs, where she had the opportunity to display her skills. “I hardly found any obstacles in my way as a female working in an oil and gas company, but this might be due to the fact that I was not involved in the technical side of work,” she says. “Other than normal competition between colleagues, I was encouraged by my seniors at work.
Abdel-Latif was lucky to have married a husband who is involved in the oil business. And this, of course, boosted common understanding between them. “My husband, who is a chairman of an oil company, was fully aware of the nature of my work,” she says.
Juggling a challenging, demanding career and not-easily-tackled homemaking is, by all means, a test of endurance for a working woman. But for Abdel-Latif, it was as easy as pie, thanks to the moral support she receives from her family. “I give my family their due, and I give my its due,” she simply puts it. “When I gave birth to my children, I dedicated a considerable time to them, and at the same time I did my best at work,” she says.
Any young woman in the very beginning of her career in an oil company should firmly believe in what she does, Abdel-Latif opines. Developing one’s personal skills and languages is all-important for a female careerist. “She must dedicate a great deal of her time to taking training courses. She must not knuckle under [pressures], and be perseverant in her work” to be able to achieve professional advancement.
Making best use of one’s seniors’ knowledge and experience is key element for a successful career. “Efficiency is a decisive factor in occupying high position in oil companies. So, a female careerist should not give herself excuses for not being able to occupy higher positions on the pretext that she is a woman,” she points out.
The society’s vision of a working woman has changed a long time ago, since numerous females have occupied senior positions, especially in the oil field, where there is no distinction between male and female, Abdel-Latif opines.
“Thanks God I have achieved many successes in my career. I have risen in the ranks until I became assistant chairman of the Natural Gas Holding Company for external affairs. I have also been general manager of marketing research department at the Egyptian Petroleum Authority,” she says.
By Mohamed El-Sayed