The participation of women in the oil and gas sector sharply declines in senior positions. Although the number of women joining the sector has increased, the small number of female leaders is often demotivating and leads women to give up on the industry at very early stages. In order to help break this cycle, Egypt Oil & Gas brought together four prominent women working in different divisions of the industry to discuss topics related to female participation and to inspire young female professionals.

When Women Win, Everyone Wins

Gender-related challenges are a global issue; yet, some societies are still more resistant than others when it comes to the expansion of female participation in certain fields. For Amina Taha, Deputy Commercial and Legal Management at Cheiron Petroleum Corporation, this is particularly true in Egypt.

“In a conservative society such as ours, women are expected to take care of family chores in parallel to their professional commitments. This may limit the time they have to concentrate on professional targets. This is so ingrained in people’s mind that, even in cases where a woman can actually exclusively focus on her profession (maybe because she has no family to take care of), her professional efforts are still looked at as something anomalous or extraordinary,” she said.

Although the oil and gas sector cannot change alone all the discouraging mindsets that prevent women from joining or staying in a male-dominated field, applying changes to attract more women to the sector can indeed plant a seed to increase female protagonism as a whole, which further generates enormous economic gains.

“According to a recent Mckinsey study, it has been proven that diversity drives financial performance, where gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform. This is an important fact that cannot be overlooked,” said Sherine Nehad, Communications Manager at Shell Egypt.

“I believe that attracting female talent in the oil and gas sector is half the battle. Retaining, advancing and mentoring them to leadership positions and adding to the diversity of thought – at leadership and board level – is another journey that businesses and industry must undertake,” Sherine added.

Commenting on the role of diversity, Anaam Khamis, Country Manager at Dragon Oil, stated that “driving and enhancing a culture of diversity is very healthy to corporate’s DNA and will always create and promote equal opportunities within the workforce.”

The Way to the Top

For Maha F. Attia, Vice Head of the Technical Office at the Ministry of Petroleum, greater gender balance is a worthwhile and attainable goal for the industry. “The industry could boost women’s representation steadily and materially over time — and reap a host of benefits, including improved organizational performance, creativity, decision making, and morale,” she said.

In Amina’s opinion, however, enhancing diversity and increasing female representation in leading positions do not necessarily happen with a change in the sector’s policies. “I do not think that a significant change will come by enacting specific policies. Change will come gradually, as a few more women reach higher hierarchical positions and then a few more, until a sufficient percentage is reached to change the mindset of our male colleagues. At that point, change will proceed faster.”

Yet, there are still measures that could be taken to speed up this process. “Shell has women networks around the world, which provide their beneficiaries with mentorship programs, and networking opportunities to exchange experiences, learn leadership qualities and overcome the obstacles they could face in the workplace. We also run activities that help women maintain their physical and mental wellbeing and manage stress levels. Interesting enough, we have good male representation in such networks as the topics mostly apply to everyone,” Sherine illustrated.

When it comes to female participation in senior roles, Maha believes it can be enhanced with the establishment of a sustainable culture of equality that ensures that women are aware of and are offered the same career advancement opportunities as men. For this, every company should have its leaders committed to this issue. “Every executive and senior manager should take at least one talented female employee under his or her supervision and continuously observe the percentage of females in the work force,” she noted.

For Anaam, the culture of diversity is crucial for women to succeed in the sector, an idea that she sustained by mentioning her own case as example. “I have not personally experienced gender challenges throughout my career as I have worked in multinational organizations that had equal chances to distinctive talents. I was also blessed to build my career in an international company where we had strict compliance implemented to protect women and furnish a safe work environment,” she said.

“I was also lucky to work for several years in the UAE, where the local work culture believes in women empowerment,” Anaam added.

A flexible gender-neutral environment, and policies and services that make the industry more accommodating for both genders are also important approaches, according to Maha. In addition, oil and gas companies should “overcome structural barriers that thwart women’s advancement in the workforce, giving women influential roles in developing strategies and plans would help this happen.” Creating transparency by tracking how women contribute to the business,  setting targets to build a more inclusive workforce, and changing recruitment strategies also enable change.

According to Sherine, Shell has worked to reduce the gender gap in engineering and technology on both global and local levels with a primary focus on senior roles. “In the last five years, the company increased female representation on its board of directors significantly. We allocate a certain percentage of female representation for new recruits. In Egypt, we had around 40% females as new recruits in 2018,” she said, adding that “almost 25% of the total Shell Egypt population are females, with around 12% in senior leadership roles and 8% expat out roles,” a percentage that the company is working on increasing.

Making Life at the Field Easier

When it comes to field engineers, working at remote areas can be quite challenging for women, who might suffer from the lack of infrastructure and policies to guarantee their safety and inclusion. Because of this, some women find it hard to acquire the necessary technical experience to equally compete with their male colleagues for higher roles.

Commenting on this issue, Maha sustained her belief that the problem is more related to the lack of a culture of diversity. “I believe that the working conditions in the fields are not the main obstacles for attracting females to work in fields; it is more about wrong perceptions on how the oil and gas industry is harsh and male-dominated, which are driven by our deeply-held beliefs and culture, and which make some females hesitate to join it,” she stated. “This is why I believe we should start working on challenging these perceptions, and we can work on this by using many channels such as media campaigns to increase awareness about women’s role in the fields and how crucial it is for the success of the industry.”

“Community networks can also help change the mindset of the next generation’s females by sharing their experiences with similar cases and encouraging parents to allow their girls to explore all available technical opportunities,” Maha continued.

For Amina, successful stories from abroad are clear examples that more women can be included to Egypt’s remote fields. “In other countries and cultures, it is pretty common to have females on platforms and remote fields; hence, it must be possible to make this happen here.”

“All roles are open to women in the oil and gas industry. I see chemical engineers, structural engineers, geophysicists and many others excelling at their work. Working for a period of time in the field may actually be needed in some cases to advance their career, and this can be achieved at an early career stage,” said Maha. “We can work on upgrading the sites and providing the necessary conditions for women to be able to visit the sites.”

At Shell, many actions are taken to reduce women’s concerns regarding working in remote fields. “Today’s talent is more diverse than ever before. An inclusive work environment is key to innovating, developing, and retaining that talent. Through long-term partnerships with universities and research centers, we also help women gain exposure in fields where they are underrepresented, like science and engineering.  Shell promotes a culture that is gender balanced and this extends to the way we hire and develop our female talent,” she noted.

According to Sherine, being flexible with mothers also motivates more women to work in remote areas and in the oil and gas sector as a whole. “Catering to the very special nature of being a mother, Shell has policies especially dedicated for mothers, providing support especially with post-maternity rehabilitation. Such policies include flexible working hours – with an option to work from home, in addition to allocating “nursery rooms” at the company’s premises, enabling female workers to bring their toddlers during working hours,” she said. “In addition, Shell – last year – has extended the duration of the maternity leave to become four months instead of the regular three months as the Egyptian labor law,” she continued.

Be a Daredevil

Maha, Anaam, Sherine and Amina had a number of advices for female employees who look at succeeding in the sector.

“Believe in what you do; always look ahead to the next challenge and never backwards to the past achievements,” said Amina. In addition, women should not be shy to ask for help when they need. “It is always okay to ask for help every once in a while.”

According to Anaam, women outperform their male counterparts in multitasking and they should use this as an advantage. “Explore your capabilities, believe in yourself, be yourself and continuously work on developing your capabilities. Stay eager to learn. Build trust and credibility, and prove accountability. Be enthusiastic and work dynamically; then your hard work pays off regardless of your gender,” she advised.

“I believe we as women are powerful beyond measure. We are multitaskers by nature and innately compassionate. We have nurturing hearts and can move mountains when we set our minds to it. No one is born with an immunity to self-doubt or fear of failure, but each of us has the ability to reclaim the power in our lives,” Sherine disclosed.

“My message to women in oil and gas, or any sector really, is to believe in yourself, believe in yourself, and believe in yourself. Do not let others define your worth, and do not let your inner critic dictate your decisions or limit your actions. When you give in to such thoughts, you miss out on sharpening your talents, and consequently affecting your growth,” she added.

As Sherine noted, the International Women’s Day theme for this year is Balance for Better. “I see this as a brilliant one, where everyone has a part to play. We live in a time where the world expects balance, providing an equal opportunity. Balance drives business performance, certainly driving a better working world.”

From her side, Maha advised women not to give up on their aspirations or consider them impossible. “Even if things are not easy, they have to believe in themselves and stay confident. They will succeed only if they take the chance and they will also be paving the way for future females in the sector. They have to keep pushing for the same opportunities and exposure as men, including things like trainings and professional development as well as field visits,” she disclosed.

“Women at the start of their careers should look up to the industry’s successful female figures and draw inspiration from them. They can reach out to them and get their insight on how to succeed as a female in the oil and gas industry. They should also seek direct help from their managers and senior executives, who can advise them as well as support them in ways that help advance their careers whilst accommodating their personal lives,” Maha concluded.