On the occasion of the Women International Day in March, Egypt Oil & Gas (EOG) Committee caught this opportunity for launching its first edition of the “She is Energy” webinar, on March 29, under the patronage and with the participation of Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, Tarek El Molla. The event aimed to highlight the impact of women’s inclusion in the oil and gas sector and how to empower them, especially in the leading positions. A number of oil and gas leaders along with the minister participated in the panel discussion. The webinar was organized by EOG Newspaper, supported by the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, and sponsored by ENAP.

The webinar witnessed the participation of prominent speakers such as; Sameh Sabry, Senior Vice President Managing Director Egypt at Wintershall Dea and EOG Committee Chairman, Denisse Abudinén, Chief Executive E&P Business at ENAP, Badria Khalfan, Chief HR Officer at Dragon Oil, Dalia ElGabry, Managing Director at Badr Petroleum Company (Bapetco), Hala Borai, Vice President of Financial and Commercial Affairs at the Egyptian Natural Gas Company (GASCO), and Nihad Shelbaya, Business Venture Manager of ExxonMobil Egypt. The event was moderated by Mohamed Fouad, Managing Director at EOG.

The webinar  tackled a number of issues including the role of gender diversity in advancing industry economy, the tools of the ministry to support women in technical positions in the sector, how cooperation between the government and companies can help in increasing gender diversity, the exerted efforts for enabling women to hold leadership positions and the impact of increasing women in boardrooms on enhancing the sector’s performance.

Women in Society

El Molla began his remarks highlighting the importance of such an event, stressing that women’s empowerment in the oil and gas sector is a crucial topic that needs to be highlighted and promoted. El Molla noted that since women represent 50% of the population, it is essential to develop and engage their skills. The minister stressed that “the role of women and their empowerment is an integral part of Egypt’s 2030 vision.” He also expressed his belief that gender equality and women’s rights improvement are some of the main pillars to achieve sustainable development.

The minister also referred to the support President Abdel Al-Sisi has always shown for women and his keenness to foster their growth. He noted that Egypt has managed over the past few years to take steady steps  to achieve gender equality and engage women in the political scene as well. This is shown by having eight women ministers representing 25% of the cabinet. El Molla also highlighted his ministry’s commitment to the country’s vision to empower women and improve their capabilities. “Women currently represent around 30% of the total employees in the EGPC and holding companies, out of which 33% in the leading positions” the minister stated.

El Molla added that currently, women exist in offices, sites as well as fields and are taking part in the sector’s major success stories such as the Zohr field, while in the modernization project,  women represent 40% across the different programs adopted by the Modernization Project. The minister stressed that human capital is the most important asset so that it was a main part of the modernization strategy, so developing the Middle Management program was designed to train the best talents regardless of gender. He noted that 20% of the candidates were women. “To further enhance the role of women in the sector and ensure gender equality, the sector has established the equal opportunity unit.”

Empowering Women

About this unit, the minister explained that it was  established with  coordination between the petroleum ministry and the National Council for Women (NCW), to provide the necessary mechanism and policies that ensure social, cultural, and economic rights on the basis of equal opportunities that came in line with the Women’s Empowerment Strategy 2030. Meanwhile, El Molla highlighted the role of the Egyptian Petroleum Show (EGYPS), in this regard, as a platform to foster growth and mentorship for women’s empowerment. He added that since the first edition of EGYPS in 2017, the sector created a feature fully dedicated  to women which invited prominent leading women in the sector, presenting them as role models to tell their success stories across various sectors in Egypt.

“Along the years, this feature has become an awaited occasion to celebrate and acknowledge the current and future leading women in the Egyptian sector [as well as] share best practices to enhance [women’s] inclusion in the industry,” the minister elaborated.

At the end of his speech, El Molla affirmed  that gender parity is a key driver to enhance the sector’s economic performance, stressing that the women empowerment and their inclusion in the workforce is an important pillar for the continued development of the sector as well as Egypt.

In a video that was introduced during the webinar, a number of leading women in the oil and gas industry introduced a thank-you message to the minister for his efforts to support them. They also praised the programs designed for their empowerment and introduced some advice for the women who work in the sector to achieve success.

In the Spotlight

Sameh Sabry, Senior Vice President Managing Director Egypt at Wintershall Dea and EOG Committee Chairman has opened the panel discussion hailing  the participation of the minister, considering it an important message to encourage and support women in the Egyptian oil and gas sector. He noted that the webinar aims to explore, promote and encourage gender equality in the oil and gas sector. Sabry added that despite all the efforts that had been done so far, the industry is mostly  man-dominated, particularly  the technical disciplines.“The oil and gas industry still has to do more efforts to encourage more females to join and to make it easier for joining females to progress a successful career”.

From a business point of view, Sabry underlined  that the diverse team is much more innovative, productive, and ultimately more competitive, while highlighting that “we [Wintershall Dea] believe that diversity is a key for success.” He sees that the sector’s leaders have to emphasize the benefit of diversity.

Significance of women role in the industry also emphasized by Denisse Abudinén, Chief Executive E&P Business at ENAP, who elaborated that “women could play a very important role to diversify the industry workforce.”

She explained that the industry needs different people with different skills from the bottom to the top levels which could be achieved by women inclusion in the industry as they may have a different and valuable point of view. “We have to encourage them [women] to work in the industry,” Abudinén elaborated. She also sees  that engaging women in leadership positions should become the norm.

Abudinén also added that women, recently, represent 50% of ENAP’s senior management positions while there are  two women in the board members. She put a significant insight by saying “to all women and young females out there; you can reach for the top, your hard work pays off, you will be judged on your ideas, your dedication, and your talent, not for your chromosomes,” noting that the gender-balanced industry is a better industry for all its workforce.

Abudinén highlighted ENAP’s operation history in Egypt noting that ENAP has a very successful history of more than 18 years of operation in the Western Desert with full coordination with the Egyptian government. She declared that ENAP has recently completed a 3D seismic acquisition in Ras Qattara concession and has confirmed a drilling plan for the coming years, praising  Egypt for having a stronger economy under the leadership of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, and expressing her pride to have a branch for the company in Egypt as well as her appreciation for the Egyptian government’s support.

Additionally, Abudinén, mentioned that ENAP, recently, has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC) focusing on two models. The first model is to introduce EGPC personnel to the application of ENAP operation and standards  while the second one is about conventional reservoirs based on ENAP successful activities in Chile.

An Uphill Climb

About the factors that helped her to reach its current position, ENAP’s Chief Executive E&P Business stated that there are two main factors for that. The first one is that she always follows her gut. She explained that in 2007, she joined ENAP Sipetrol as a planning engineer in the E&P department, then after three years, she did her Masters in International Management at the University of London and then  she came back to ENAP and hold various positions until reaching to be the Head of Corporate Strategy and Business Development.

“I never give up for pursuing what I feel I wanted in my life in every moment,” Abudinén said. Abudinén advised others to be confident and follow their gut in order to do what is better for them in their career and in their life.  The second factor for her success, according to her, was that she never felt that she had to be different as she is female. Abudinén elaborated that most of the time she was the only woman in the team and the youngest one on the board which is a positive thing from her point of view. Abudinén praised the ENAP working environment as it supports women’s inclusion and diversity.

Badria Khalfan, Chief HR Officer at Dragon Oil , who was the first Emirati female to step foot in the oil industry around the mid-80s, reflected on the progress of women inclusion strategies in the industry. She remarked that back then, being a woman in this male-dominated industry was only strange for her male counterparts, but not to her. The trailblazer defied the industry norms and was the first Emirati female to work on offshore sites.

She could climb the professional ladder until she became the Chief HR Officer of Dragon Oil. Khalfan did not only create a new path for herself, but she became an inspiration and a prominent role model for women in the industry. “By breaking stereotypes, nowadays, women are less hesitant and more encouraged to join the industry,” she observed.

Dalia ElGabry, Managing Director at Badr Petroleum Company (Bapetco) talked of her journey of challenges and taking risks and how she chose to pursue an alternative path that led her for jobs abroad, regardless of the concerns of her family and friends. However, ElGabry realized that she took the best decision for her career and family as well, and she decided to keep taking similar risks and chances in the future. She highlighted that all of these risks and challenges leverage her leadership skills. “I do strongly believe that success is measured by the positive impact we can have on the people around us every day and how we can help them grow, develop, and get empowered.”

ElGabry further mentioned her career in Shell, pointing out how her female mentors inspired her and influenced her career by providing constructive feedback. She highlighted the necessity of mentoring young talents in order to empower them. “I strongly believe that mentoring, and a strong focus on equality are both keys to nurturing young talents in our industry,”  said ElGabry, who praised Shell’s environment as the company has always prioritized quality of work and she never experienced discrimination being a woman.

On another note, Nihad Shelbaya, Business Venture Manager of ExxonMobil Egypt shed the light on one of the main barriers facing women; others  do not often believe in their own capabilities and they need to speak up,  especially since there is a significant change in the oil and gas sector, showing that there are very successful examples of young female engineers doing a great job.

Supportive Entities

Hala Borai, Vice President of Financial and Commercial Affairs at the Egyptian Natural Gas Company (GASCO) elaborated that GASCO empowers women by providing them with the needed experiences and mentoring opportunities. The company also promotes educational courses and developing strategies. “GASCO leadership believes that women empowerment in the corporate world has a crucial direct impact on economic growth and sustainability,” Borai stated.

Borai also added that “GASCO has a commitment to build a pipeline of women to access key positions and encourage them for leadership positions by strengthening their skills especially decision-making skills and risk management.”

Additionally, Shelbaya expressed her gratitude for being recognized by the First Lady, Entissar Al-Sisi in a ceremony entitled “The Egyptian Woman: The Icon of Success” among a group of unique remarkable females in different fields and sectors. “I fully believe in the female potential and what she brings to the world around her. Thus it is critical to make females feel heard, highlight their talents, acknowledge their efforts, and celebrate their wins, of every size.”

Shelbaya has been recognized for her efforts in road safety as she is the co-founder of the Nada Foundation of Safer Egyptian Road. She considered the recognition a strong message from Egypt’s leadership in terms of empowering women and appreciating their efforts and activities, praising all women recognized as they represented Egypt in a very honorable way.

According to Khalfan, Dragon Oil is empowering women in line with the country’s strategy, noting that UAE’s government includes nine female ministries in addition to the head of the parliament. “We [Dragon Oil] sponsored many female employees to study different disciplines and engineering then they join us as fresh graduates,” Khalfan added. She mentioned that Dragon Oil also organizes summer training for women to encourage them. “We network with young females by participating in big events like ADIPEC and EGYPS,” Khalfan added.

Khalfan pointed that before women start working, they know what the company prepares for them and once they join, they engage in development programs. Additionally, she noted that the mindset of the females has been changed; they do not mind working abroad or in offshore fields, which encourages the company to exert more efforts for empowering them.

Approaches to Cultural Inclusion

“The oil and gas industry still has to do more efforts to encourage more females to join and to make it easier for joining females to progress a successful career,” Sabry noted. He referred that the oil and gas industry needs extra efforts to empower females, including right flexibility, equity, and cultural inclusion, not only diversity, in order to promote females’ productive careers in the industry.

Sabry also highlighted Wintershall Dea’s efforts and targets to promote women in the company by mentioning that “we [Wintershall Dea] have a target by 2025 to make sure that we have at least 30% of our three senior executive levels held by females. Currently, we are in a range of 25% which I believe should grow further and further.” Sabry believes that the company can achieve all of its targets by defusing stereotypes and cultivating a strong culture in which women believe in themselves as much as any male in similar positions.

Meanwhile, Sabry suggested that demonstrating cultural inclusion requires a lot of effort from leaders to encourage women to participate in a leading position. Sabry also implied that the company has a very strong network of women and it has a lot of activities to encourage women to participate, emphasizing that women are adding value in their own way.

Furthermore, Sabry added that the company has improved human resources (HR) policies and mentoring programs by adopting the Flex Forward policy which requires all employees, regardless of COVID-19 circumstances, to come to work only twice a week to maximize flexibility for both males and females achieving a work-life balance.

Borai reflected on her journey in the industry and noted that she has been very fortunate to have broad-minded leaders. She explained that, as a result, she had access to every available resource to empower not only herself as a woman, but all her colleagues as well. She added that getting both theoretical training as well as hands-on experience on both national and international levels enriched her professional capacity. She credited the leaders who have allowed her to build and enhance her capabilities which led her to become a role model for colleagues.

Shelbaya emphasized that inclusion and diversity come at the top of ExxonMobil Egypt’s agenda. “We believe in the inclusion of diversity in thoughts, skills, knowledge, cultures, ideas because it makes us more competitive, more resilient, and better able to navigate through the complex and constantly changing global energy.” To challenge gender bias, the company’s HR adopted several tools and strategies such as; allowing flexible work hours and providing maternity leaves.

In addition to that, there have been some efforts done with managers or supervisors who would not generally allow a woman to assume a role that is generally held by men. She commended women’s confidence nowadays in expressing their capabilities and their interest which has led to having women in positions as chemists, field engineers, and others.

This has led to a myriad of success stories that inspire many everywhere. As a leader of ExxonMobil’s Women Interest Network (WIN) chapter in Egypt, Shelbaya illustrated that “this chapter enables and appreciates the value of women performance and women caliber.”

She believes that narrowing the gender gap should not be just a quota that needs to be achieved, but rather to give opportunities to the talented and qualified. WIN helps in fulfilling that goal through its networks which are inclusive of all genders and different professional levels.

The Future Ahead

Women have proved many times over that they are fit to lead and that have a role in diversifying the industry’s activities. “It is time for new initiatives, now we are facing new challenges in the industry; energy transition and digital implementation. In addition to that, the world is facing new challenges with COVID-19,” Abudinén remarked. This further pushes the energy industry to adapt to the new world where women could contribute with a different and flexible valuable point of view.

ElGabry reflected on Egypt’s women’s inclusion in the oil and gas sector’s future. She stated that now the government exerts efforts to embrace women in the workplace. ElGabry added that with the several initiatives at hand right now, the government ensures that women get needed training, developing their digital literacy, and financial inclusion. “All of this allows women to hone their skills and take part in influential areas like the oil and gas sector.”  she noted.

Giving credit where it is due, ElGabry acknowledged the petroleum ministry’s role in boosting women’s role. She remarked that women’s presence in the ministry is evident across their platforms where EGYPS is a clear example of that. Fixating on EGYPS’s Equality in Energy Award where she serves as a judge, Elgabry stated that “it has built upon the legacy of honoring and celebrating achievements of exceptional women in the oil and gas sector.” She continued that the significance of such an award extends to recognize champions of inclusion and diversity.

There are a lot of talents in the industry but “we need to make sure that we provide those talents with the right level of support and recognition to ensure that they flourish,” Elgabry noted. She added that EGYPS’ Women in Energy sessions are another example of platforms that voices women’s professional concerns that still exist to this day.

“If I look forward into the future… there are key considerations that we need to keep in mind. Having a diverse team of professionals will promote collaboration and communication in the workforce. Establishing appropriate policies and regulations for gender equality is super important.” On a final note, Elgabry added that the more women have a place in senior-level positions, the narrower the gender gap gets.

The webinar was concluded by Sabry’s note about increasing women’s presence in boardrooms. He denoted that female representation in boardrooms is essential to changing the unbiased-gender-based culture in any workplace.  By doing so, it becomes “a role model and an example not only to males who might have unconscious bias but also to females who sometimes do not believe that this is possible.”

Sabry ended his note by stating that there should be harmony between culture and policies in order to enable women to develop further, noting that policies should be tailored for all individuals to allow  more inclusive work environment.