Needless to say, the world of oil and gas is very rough and tough; it is traditionally known as a male-dominated environment. However, some oil and gas companies are keen to ensure gender parity and workforce diversity, while others are leaving the gender gap to get wider. Although many companies seek to integrate gender parity in their policies, activities, and processes, they still fight a lot of issues like gender disparity, and unconscious bias in many aspects. Hence, changing mindsets, offering fair opportunities, and implementing supportive policies are necessary to promote diversity.

Companies’ Master Keys

According to a report published in 2019 by Catalyst, an organization that focuses on gender equality at work, the number of women in the oil and gas industry, worldwide, are fewer than in any other industry. At entry-level positions, the report identified that women represent 27% of the workforce; this figure decreases tremendously in higher positions, comprising of just 17% at the senior levels and even 1% in CEOs positions.

The gender pay gap is one of the fundamental shortcomings that may lead women to quit their jobs. According to a report published by Schlumberger, in 2019, women occupied 16.9% of its worldwide workforce. Consequently, Schlumberger tried to implement equal pay to ensure fair compensation for all workers.

Dina Assem, Field Development and Engagement Manager in the Reservoir Performance Division at Schlumberger, “I believe focusing on diversity without working the inclusion dynamics is not a winning strategy,” she further added.

Another company that seeks to apply policies that support women’s employment rights is Apache Corporation. One of its main job policies is to provide all employees with fair employment opportunities. Radwa Tolba, International Human Resources Business Partner at Apache, mentioned that “the company tends to achieve gender equality through policies and procedures giving equal opportunities and rights to both genders equally without giving rights to anyone above the other.”

Delving into Workers’ Mindsets

Companies couldn’t achieve their gender parity targets and policies without bridging the gap between them and their workers’ mindsets. Tolba referred to this by noting that the main concern of bridging the gender gap is altering the technical workers’ mindsets; they believe that women don’t have the ability to execute technical responsibilities as men would.

On the other hand, Mahmoud Koriesh, Senior Petroleum Engineer at Dragon Oil, considers himself to be gender blind in both field-based positions or office-based positions. He said that “it does not make any difference if the employee is a man or a woman, what really matters is that he or she fits perfectly to the position and is the most qualified candidate for the job.” Koriesh also noted that “being a valuable employee who provides quality work and results has nothing to do with gender.” In addition, Koriesh confirmed that women have features, which make them unique compared to men in the industry by mentioning that “one good quality for a woman than a man is her natural intuition for multi-tasking, she can balance between different tasks and track perfectly the progress and handle the obstacles.”

Moreover, Assem also ensured that women can implement any technical tasks as efficiently as men, highlighting that “compassion and resilience [differentiates true women leaders] combined with fairness, decisiveness, humility and supported by the right environment can be unbeatable.” Assem also stated that “in terms of the job itself, there is no technical challenges that are unique to women or men.” However, she mentioned that there are more industry challenges for women than men. Unfortunately, this is due to the cultural and social norms that don’t support women field engineers as they sometimes feel unwelcome on rigs or even accepted by the client. “It also requires females with a solid mentality, high levels of resilience and belief in their dreams, I call it mental-toughness,” Assem commented.

Inspecting Unconscious Bias

Besides, the Human Resources department plays an important role in achieving gender parity and they are responsible from the hiring to the retiring stages of all employees in the company. Thus, they have to put retention plans, programs and establish effective diversity programs. However, they, unfortunately, face unconscious bias in recruitment, job descriptions, promotions, and performance evaluation processes which represents a challenging and critical point in their positions. Unconscious bias retards women’s achievements, especially for working mothers who are limited in their opportunities within the oil and gas sector. Companies should investigate and put standards to avoid any stereotyping or unfair employment to achieve their objectives.

Tolba further clarified that “all employees regardless their gender are equally evaluated according to the agreed standards of the company and the evaluation matrix and its ethical and environmental aspects.”

According to a report by Mckinsey & Company, in 2019, despite the fact that women have high potential and equal performance proportions when compared to men, women are more likely to lose their job. This is because of the unconscious bias that occurs when women are ignored in promotions. Therefore, the number of women in the industry has declined, especially in high level-positions. “For every 100 men promoted to the senior vice president level in oil and gas companies, only 40 women are [getting promoted],” the report stated.

Furthermore, Assem stated that women take a long time to get promoted and they are under-represented in the senior and c-suite level, which makes women are very hesitant to join the oil and gas industry.

Companies’ Awareness Campaigns

It is necessary for companies to handle all these issues by encouraging the employment of women through training, awareness programs, and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities.

For instance, Halliburton tries to boost its work environment diversity through a CSR approach by creating Women Sharing Excellence (WSE) which promotes and encourages employees’ development and retention.

Additionally, Schlumberger created its own educational foundation development programs through its organization “Schlumberger foundation” to achieve gender parity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by reducing and eliminating barriers facing women in these fields and bridging the gender gap.

Paving Way for Women Inclusion

It is clear that retaining and empowering women in the oil and gas field still involves a lot of challenges starting from companies’ women inclusion and gender bias to women’s reluctance to join the industry.

Koriesh highlighted his suggestion to promote and increase women’s existence in the industry by raising awareness among young female graduates, encouraging them to participate and join the industry, especially since a lot of women have a wrong perception that the industry is limited for men. Thus, young female graduates should learn more about the oil and gas industry as “it is an interdisciplinary industry, this will get some of them interested in the industry.” He further stated that “I see that many conferences are focusing on the role of women in the oil & gas industry but the problem is that these conferences are meant for the folk who are already related to the industry, what we need is to be in touch with the women who are not involved in the industry and let them know more.”

Furthermore, Tolba suggested that “every company and its management in particular must highlight the role of women and enhance their existence in the company and further enhance their capabilities.”

Additionally, Assem suggested that “diversity and inclusion should come from the top. It should be embedded in every corporate strategy and driven by the senior leadership team. Once this is achieved, the mindset will gradually change, the stereotypes will be challenged and the whole narrative around female presence and impact will be reframed.” She also added that companies should shed light on women’s achievements and efforts to encourage new generations to join this industry and to have a role model to follow. All these suggestions will contribute in the economic growth in Egypt and will enhance women’s participation.

Egypt Tearing Out Constraints

“In Egypt, Women empowerment is finally gaining momentum, and it is really a chance for aspiring women leaders to shine,” Assem stated.  She also highlighted that the situation in Egypt regarding women’s inclusion in oil and gas industry is being supported. It is also very exciting to see women in cabinet, which will eliminate all the cultural and social obstacles towards having female figures running major companies. In addition, Assem expects that women will have a golden chance in the coming period. Finally, having gender diversity in the oil and gas industry will require the full support of the government, companies, and even workers. There will continue to be more efforts targeted at nurturing and developing the social and cultural norms within the industry.