By Omnia Farrag
While the public and private energy sectors address the gender disparity among employees through setting quotas for female workers and promoting internship programs targeting women, female-led initiatives and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have concurrently taken the significant steps towards a more diversified oil and gas sector. These initiatives and NGOs give women a valuable space to speak about their involvement in the sector, which helps in understanding the reasons behind their underrepresentation and acting upon them.
Egypt Oil & Gas talked to NGOs that support females in the energy sector in different places in the world in order to understand the role of civil society in achieving gender parity in the male-centered energy industry.
Under the slogan of “Awakening Women’s Potential in Oil, Gas, and Mining”, the Association for Women in Extractives and Energy in Kenya (AWEIK) aims to provide Kenyan women with the opportunities of professional and economic development in the extractive industries. AWEIK does so through highlighting and addressing socio-economic challenges that confront women in the sector. It adopts several strategies such as movement-building, advocacy, lobbying, and supporting women collective actions.
AWEIK is an independent organization. However, it works closely with the Kenyan government and the private sector to establish the participation of women in investment opportunities, decision-making processes, and professional growth in the petroleum sector, as Michelle Mwambela, former Coordinator and current active member at AWEIK, told Egypt Oil & Gas.
“AWEIK is working to ensure that its members have a seat on the ‘decision-making table,’ this being policy and legislative discussions. This aims to ensure the inclusion of women across all value chains, be it at the professional level (engineers, project managers, lawyers, etc), business level (suppliers) and community level,” Mwambela explained.
Moving to the US, Egypt Oil & Gas talked to the President of the Association of Women in Energy (AWE). AWE’s mission is to “encourage and unite women in energy”, according to the association’s website. It is dedicated solely to empowering women in the energy industry by providing opportunities for women to meet other energy industry professionals and to enhance their knowledge of the industry.
“AWE sponsors annually a Power Matters Conference which addresses and encompasses current energy-related issues,” AWE’s President, Becky Motal, told Egypt Oil & Gas. AWE’s Board is purposely comprised of women and men who are in senior executive positions within their own companies or organizations, Motal added.
The organization perceives the collaboration between AWE in one hand and the private and public sector in the other as a two-way channel. “AWE utilizes the expertise of these industry recognized leaders to assist women throughout the industry with real-life examples of succeeding in a complex, broad industry…. [They] provide personal experiences of challenges encountered over their careers, thus helping women in the industry better understand strategies and paths to success,” Motal explained. AWE’s Board members further bring the AWE values and purpose back into their own organization to complement any “female empowerment strategies” within their individual organizations, she added.
In Australia, Women in Oil and Gas (WIOG) works on supporting females in the petroleum sector through its events and activities. WIOG intends to increase women’s awareness about their opportunities and career path in the oil and gas sector. It aspires not only to attract talented women to the sector, but also to retain them through networking with the private sector and universities.
“The private sector works closely with Women in Oil and Gas by providing venues and speakers for WIOG’s very popular events. There is also a branch of WIOG at the University of Western Australia,” Sally Male, Advisory Council Members at WIOG, informed Egypt Oil & Gas.
In the UK, POWERful Women was surprised by the results of its own study, which was conducted in collaboration with PwC in 2015. The research showed that only 5% of executive board seats within the top UK-based energy companies are held by women, while 61% of the companies have no women on their board. Since then, POWERful set the goal of achieving 40% of middle management and 30% of executive board positions to be female by 2030.
Campaigning and reporting, supporting women in their careers, and sign-posting practical support to increase diversity are the government-supported initiative’s main strategies to accomplish its objective.
POWERful Women works in collaboration with the British government, industry leaders, and women who are in or aspiring to be in the industry, Francis Gugen, Founder Member in POWERful Women, told Egypt Oil & Gas. “We are a UK only initiative, but we do have some links with other similar initiatives elsewhere, such as MERM in Mexico, and Pink Petro in the US,” Maria Blakley, Project Manager at POWERful Women, added.
Although these organizations walk towards the same objective, each one of them points out distinct challenges. As for AWE, Motal believes one of the main challenges that the organization needs to overcome is how women in the energy sector themselves perceive their job. For this, AWE helps women recognize the need to take the time to occasionally focus on broader, external issues to their own respective job focus, as Motal stated. “It is important to help them understand it is equally critical to focus on one’s industry and not singularly on the job at hand. The challenge is to help them see beyond the ‘silo’ of their respective position and ask questions as to how and why their job fits in a bigger energy picture,” she further explained.
From POWERFul Women’s perspective, the main challenge faced is how to convince the industry leaders with the importance of diversity in their companies’ board, Francis Gugen said. Additionally, Gugen notes the challenge of “encouraging influential leaders to strive for and manage change in a systematic and organized fashion as would happen with any other business transformation.”
The low percentage of female engineering students, 18% in Australia, along with the high turnover of female employees in the petroleum sector, are the main challenges that WIOG faces, according to Male, who is also Engineering Education Chair at The University of Western Australia. “[The percentage of female engineering students] has remained relatively stagnant. Furthermore, women leave the profession at higher rates than men in their late 20s. Workplace
culture is known to be a key factor,” Male explained.
WIOG supports employers to improve inclusion by example. It works to solve these problems through providing both employers and female employees with examples of successful women and professional development opportunities for female employees, as Male further elaborated.
As for AWEIK, Mwambela believes that the culture perception of the petroleum industry as male-led has slowed down the uptake and acceptance of AWEIK’s work. However, this is not the only challenge AWEIK is encountering. “As a young organization, about a year and a half old, AWEIK faces financial challenges in implementing its activities and strategic plan. Moreover, the areas within which oil and gas are extracted are far flung and remote, making it difficult to have active presence and influence within communities which petroleum is extracted, Mwambela added.
In order to overcome the challenges and meet the final target of enhancing female participation, Becky Motal emphasized the importance of collaborative actions amongst women in all the branches of the energy industry. Additionally, she encouraged CEOs to broaden the knowledge of female employees with exposure to broader corporate issues, so that they become efficient parts of the company’s managerial board in the future.
“My advice for any women wanting to create similar initiatives is to establish a group, board or advisors of ‘women leaders’ in the petroleum industry or the broader energy industry. I would encourage seeking the assistance of male CEOs or other executives who understand the value to them and their organizations of utilizing the skills of talented women they have employed,” Motal said.
Mwambela echoed Motal regarding the importance of collective actions amongst women. “The power of collective bargaining and negotiation cannot be gained,” she said. She further advised female engineers to focus on capacity building and networking of women across all value chains of the petroleum sector, as this promotes knowledge exchange and experience sharing.
“Creating partnerships with similar organizations may help and you can share the costs of events that way. In my view events make you visible,” POWERful Women’s Blakley said.
Blakley believes that running these initiatives is challenging, but potentially very rewarding. “It helps to form a committee or board and to allocate operational roles such as ‘events coordinator’ or ‘membership secretary’ and to have regular scheduled meetings … It also helps to enlist support from senior professionals in the industry and the government and have them on the board or committee,” she said.
WIOG’s Male believes that not having large membership fees helped the organization to attract more members to it. “In the WIOG model, the employers in the sector support activities financially instead of individual membership fees,” she explained. In this line, Blakley suggested sponsorship packages for funding the organization.
Breaking the Stigma
The four organizations agree on the importance of highlighting women’s success stories in the field to proof the importance and the feasibility of including them in the sector. WIOG and POWERful showcase examples of successful women in the petroleum industry during their events and in their publications.
“WIOG provides numerous female role models as speakers [in its events], as well as leaders of cultural change in organizations in the industry,” Male said. POWERful Women’s Gugen echoes Male when it comes to promoting successful stories of female role models. POWERful Women demonstrates the business success of companies that have embraced diversity in their board, so that other companies can follow their lead.
Additionally, the company provides its audience with the recent statistics on the performance of companies that have female board members in order to prove the organization’s case. For example, POWERFul Women highlights McKinsey’s study, published in 2015, saying that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
AWEIK follows a similar strategy. Its petroleum sector membership is dominated by professional women working as engineers, management, and lawyers within the petroleum sector, according to Mwambela. “[It] encourages women to participate in other local content components such as training and procurement opportunities,” she added.
Meanwhile, Motal believes that the gender stigma idea is no longer relevant in the labor market. “It is important to not see this as a social stigma. The skill sets now needed for success in many of the sectors of the energy industry are multi-faceted,” she added, highlighting that skillful employees should find their place in the industry. “These needed skill sets go beyond traditional engineering, but also include the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) as well as financial and clearly technology given the operational and financial aspects. These are not skill sets that are exclusively male-dominated,” she explained.
How Can Egypt Catch up?
In Egypt, similar initiatives do not exist. Eman Allam, General Coordinator at the Young Engineers Coalition, believes that the country lacks such initiatives due to issues that add up more pressure to Egyptian engineers.
As an active member at the Engineers Syndicate, she sees that economic problems – such as employment, salaries, and contracts for both men and women – are given priority in the Engineers Syndicate’s agenda rather than gender disparity. “In addition, internal political conflicts in the syndicate, which lasted for the past 17 years, have hindered the syndicate from doing its job,” she added.
Commenting on her work experience in the energy sector in the Middle East, POWERful Women’s Maria Blakley explains she understands that challenges to create similar groups in Egypt might also go beyond the administrative and financial concerns. “I know from my experience in Dubai that … sometimes ‘community’ groups can be viewed as potentially dissident, so it is important to be mindful of that, and to state your purpose, aims, and objectives clearly, and to have some terms of reference for public review,” Blakley said.
Despite the challenges, Allam believes that the initiative of including women empowerment in the Ministry of Petroleum’s modernization program was an outstanding step to confront theaddress gender disparity in the Egyptian oil and gas sector. “There might be many female engineers who are willing to play an important role in the petroleum industry. If they receive help and support, that will definitely help them,” she stressed.