Attracting talented women to be part of the oil and gas sector is an important step towards achieving gender parity in the industry. However, retaining them and enhancing their skills is crucial to give them the opportunity to grow and become future leaders.

Due to the several challenges faced by female employees in the male-dominated sector, many talented women give up on the field.  In order to establish more assertive strategies to retain these talents, it is very important to consider women’s motives behind their pursuit of careers in the industry to build on them, in addition to considering the singularities of some female workers, such as motherhood.

Challenges in Attracting and Retaining Talented Women

According to a survey made by NES Global Talent, many talented women are encouraged to be part of the sector because of their passion and love for having a challenging life with different situations to handle. Moreover, being part of the sector represents a great opportunity to enrich their knowledge by giving them the needed chances to capitalize on their potentials and establish their own career.

Despite their motivation and great strides made towards achieving gender equality in the industry, there are still many areas where women are under-represented. One of the main hurdles facing women is the few available job opportunities, which weakens their will to be included in the sector. Additionally, culture-based challenges for women to pursue technical education leads them to suffer from limited experience, which prevents them from tackling technical and upper management roles – both essential to achieve career progress in the oil and gas sector.

“In Egypt, we find a lack of women covering technical positions. For example, in the last five years, 5% of the students in the petroleum engineering sector were women. I think we still need to do a lot in raising awareness about women’s capabilities in technical fields,” said Laura Capra, Head of Reservoir Engineering at Dana Gas Egypt, during the Egypt Petroleum Show (EGYPS) Women in Energy Conference.

Neglecting the inclusion of women in the workforce makes oil and gas companies have very limited options to choose from when it comes to filling higher positions. The industry’s relative lack of gender diversity, particularly in senior ranks, subsequently leads to a negative perception among women as a career destination. This could result in the industry gradually finding it harder to recruit women across the board, with many talented women opting to drop out at earlier stages.

Some companies have been trying to place a system of policies and programs to achieve gender diversity. However, they often find resistance due to the mentality of workers, as some of them do not believe in such policies and hence do not follow them. This resistance often discourages women to fight for their space inside of the sector.

Additionally, there is a gap between the companies’ plan and the workers experience, which might make women believe that they will not be provided with the equal opportunities that they deserve. Therefore, without bridging the gap between corporate intent and individual worker’s experience, companies will not achieve the desired change.

Beyond setting policies, the managers’ mentality is also a point to consider. In order to enable companies to achieve the desired change and get rid of all obstacles facing women in their path, frontline managers, including plant managers, regional sales leaders, store managers, team coaches, and general managers, must help in applying these policies for making progress on gender-diversity goals.

“Empowering women has two approaches: the top-down approach is by the top managers that set the policies; the bottom-up approach is by first-line managers and supervisors, because they can see the capabilities of females, their points of strength and their points of improvement,” said Sara Mortada, Development Head for Petroleum Affairs at the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, during EGYPS Women in Energy Conference.

Increasing Efforts to Achieve Diversity

Increasing the representation of talented women in the sector has become a business priority. On the mid-career level, companies must guarantee that women and men have the same available opportunities to improve their career paths. Work-life balance policies should be available and applied equally across genders.

Moreover, at the senior-leadership level, the sector should provide women with more elasticity and support to help them succeed and achieve their goals, in addition to extending the variety of career paths from which senior leaders are selected and make sure that decision standards for promotions are equally applied to both men and women.

The cooperation between oil and gas companies and the government is also a successful formula to attract, retain and mentor women in the sector. The UAE presents a successful model to follow in this aspect. “In the UAE, women empowerment started years ago. Women are supported by the government and especially was by Sheik Zayed [who said] in a famous speech that any development-seeking nation should not leave women in poverty or illiteracy,” Capra said.

“I know that there is good collaboration between Egypt and the UAE to support Egypt’s growth and prosperity and part of this role is to take the social development model of the UAE in Egypt,” she added.

While it is evident that the process of attracting and retaining talented women has begun to bear fruits, it is still important to actively discuss the inclusion and the empowerment of women in the sector. With gender gap as a global issue, embracing female employees and showing them that the oil and gas sector has its doors open to them and invests in their skills, is important to keep women’s interest in the sector and provide them with the motivation to grow.