Greater unified effort from the energy sector is needed to encourage women to pursue careers in the oil and gas industry, which statistics show continues to be a male-dominated field, experts said on Sunday during a VIP panel discussion.
Challenges to bridging the gender gap were addressed during this year’s first panel discussion on “Women in Industry”, an exclusive series of ADIPEC 2014 Middle East Petroleum Club (MEPC) events and initiatives dedicated to women in the energy sector.
Numerous reports have shown the critical role of gender diversity in meeting business goals, from sourcing talent pools to increasing profitability.
However, a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers in association with the Women’s Oil Council looked at the 100 largest listed oil and gas companies in the world and found that only 11 percent of board seats were held by women.
The study shows that while it is clear why women play a pivotal role in the energy sector, achieving progress remains a challenge.
Offering opportunities for professional development is key to making the oil and gas industry a viable career choice for women, said Souad M. Al Hosani, President and Founder of Nexus Business Services. “Oil and gas companies can retain women in their sector by offering them leadership positions and growth in their career,” said Al Hosani. “Leading and mentoring are two important challenges that need to be looked at for women in the oil and gas sector.”
These challenges go beyond the borders of the Middle East and are faced by the industry worldwide, according to experts.
“This is not just a regional challenge, it is a global challenge,” said Cynthia Babski, Internal Communication Manager at Qatar Shell Service Company. “Companies need to have a pro-active plan in place that goes beyond a recruitment quota.”
“For example, Shell is addressing the gender imbalance by implementing supportive and inclusive corporate policies, from designating fieldwork timings, to protocols that address work-life balance. Such policies can change the dynamic of the work environment, and ultimately how people perceive the industry.”
Strong female networks are crucial to building a sustainable professional environment for women in the industry, said Maryam Amiri, Senior Communications Advisor at the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC).
“There are cultural barriers that we need to address, but these take time to change and will not happen overnight,” Amiri said.
“I would like to see a stronger support system among women. We need a ‘sisterhood’, a network of women who stand by each other, especially given these challenges that we all acknowledge. You often find this bond between men, but not so much among women because they are afraid of jeopardising their relationships.”
The forum is of critical importance in light of new employment trends showing a growing number of women graduates considering the energy industry for long-term career opportunities.
According to a recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ‘UAE Economic Vision: Women in Science, Technology and Engineering’ (STE), women account for 50.7 percent of graduates in STE and math-related courses across all institutions, and 56.8 percent in government universities in the 2011-2012 academic year.
The report showed that among those studying STE and mathematics (STEM), and wanting to stay in STE in the UAE, the energy sector was the second most attractive industry to work in (17 percent) after green technology (22 percent).
However both professional and cultural barriers continue to prevent women from making a smooth transition from university into the workforce.
According to the EIU report, 60 percent of STEM respondents with experience working in an STE environment believe that female employees face obstacles when trying to manage work-life balance, and 66 percent of STEM respondents see cultural issues as a barrier to women in those fields.
“Managers must be continuously educated about what is needed to overcome these challenges,” said Samar El Mnhrawy, Vice President of Human Resources at Baker Hughes. “For example, in addition to mandating that 30 percent of our field engineers must be women, we offer female employees a rotation schedule that encourages them to get experience on the field. We also have specially dedicated nursing rooms for new mothers.
“We have yet to fully tap into the potential of this talent pool. However, with these small but imperative steps, we are definitely moving in the right direction.”
An important factor that should not be underestimated, experts said, is the pressure women often place on themselves.
Women should also take charge of their careers and should not be victims to circumstance,” Babski said. “Do not be afraid to voice your opinion and share your thoughts with your line manager. Make it happen for yourself. It will be difficult, but you are paving the path for others to follow.”
With a local, regional, and global mission to recruit more women in the energy sector, young female graduates must not be discouraged, say women pioneers in the industry.
“Women who are truly interested in engineering should not let anyone force them to change their career paths. It can be challenging at times, but the key is to focus on the positive and not the negative,” said Mariam Al Hendi, Young ADIPEC Ambassador and a Mechanical Engineer at GASCO.
“Everywhere in the UAE there are people encouraging women to pursue their dreams; it is part of the vision and mission of our leadership. People subjecting women to gender profiling must realise half the global population is female, and not harnessing the talents of women because of their gender is not only discriminatory, but also a waste of human resources.”
This article was first published in Saudi Gazette on Monday, Sep. 08, 2014.