Government enforced quotas must work together with corporate policies and education to effectively boost female leadership in the energy sector, top-level women from the industry said last week during an exclusive panel discussion.
Challenges facing women in the oil and gas industry
Challenges facing women with hopes of professional growth in the oil and gas industry were addressed in a passionate discussion on “Women in Industry”, an exclusive series of ADIPEC 2014 events and initiatives dedicated to women in the energy sector.
Educating women to learn how to prioritise so that they do not lose interest in their career goals is essential to ensure that women are retained in the field and grow within their profession, according to industry leaders.
“There is this constant struggle between wanting a career, fulfilling our ambitions and achieving a life/work balance as mothers and wives. When young women enter motherhood phase, wanting a career fades away because of the responsibilities of being a wife and a mother,” said Intisaar Al Kindy, Exploration Director at Petroleum Development Oman.
“We need to make sure that the ‘wanting’ spark stays in play. Companies can help by developing policies addressing work/life balance, offering opportunities for professional development, and introducing mentorship programmes.”
Harnessing individual qualities
The secret to a woman unlocking her true potential is the realisation that she can harness her own abilities to achieve success, women leaders asserted.
“Do not try to be a man in a man’s world,” said Nawal Al Hosany, Director of Sustainability at Masdar, and Director of the Zayed Future Energy Prize. “Be yourself. Use your unique skills as a woman, be it multi-tasking or emotional intelligence, to reach the top. This is something I have learned with great difficulty, and what I would like to pass on to all ambitious women out there.”
According to 2013 data from the US-based research firm GMI Ratings, women account for 11% of corporate board seats across the world. However in the GCC, they account for only 1.5%, 2008 figures from the Dubai-based Institute for Corporate Governance show.
The practice of government enforced quotas is a double-edged sword, experts said, as it might offer short-term results at the cost of long-term credibility. The topic sparked a passionate debate, with women highlighting the pros and cons of such regulations.
Pros and cons of enforced quotas
“This form of positive discrimination may not be the best approach,” Al Kindy said. “Women in the field are already perceived as having reached their position with some form of nepotism. They involuntarily enter with this chip on their shoulder, and by enforcing a quota you might exacerbate these perceptions. A performance-based approach works best.”
Others agreed that while enforced quotas may render a credibility issue in the long-run, a phased-approach could be the most effective method of introducing women into boards that are heavily dominated by men, such as those in the oil and gas industry.
“Many positions are granted to individuals based on trust and people they know, and the social fabric here is different. Some men, senior and intelligent men, truly believe that women do not have the capacity to contribute to leading roles because they have never had the experience working with them in such positions,” Al Hosany said.
“By enforcing a quota, you make them go out of their comfort zone and learn for themselves that women are, in fact, capable. Once it becomes generally accepted, then you no longer need to have quotas in place.”
Challenging the perception of entitlement
Perseverance, commitment, and dedication are crucial to professional development, speakers said. This, and the confidence to speak up when credit is due, plays a critical role when it comes to women climbing the career ladder and shattering the glass ceiling.
“The UAE gives us the opportunity to grow, but it doesn’t come with ease. I had to work hard to earn my stripes and reach where I am today,” said Mahra Al Suwaidi, Chief Executive Officer of Horizon Energy.
“Women, like all professionals, should never enter the workplace with a sense of entitlement. Work hard so that you earn your way to the top and take advantage of the opportunities presented to you. If you feel that you’ve earned something, do not be afraid to voice it out. Play with your unique abilities, and use being a woman as a strength rather than a weakness.”
The ability to stay focused and goal-oriented is also important, according to experts, as sometimes it is easy to get side-tracked and distracted with other responsibilities in life.
“Always have a clear and objective path, and you will be successful. Sometimes it is easy for lines to get blurred along the journey, but the moment you find yourself going off-track, try to wheel yourself back in,” said Huda Al Matroushi, Vice President of General Services at Abu Dhabi Gas Industries Ltd (GASCO).
“With our visionary leadership and the many opportunities presented to women in the UAE, I am certain that we will witness more women leaders reaching positions of CEOs, deputy directors, and board members, and I am excited to see what the future holds for these inspirational women.”
The series will conclude with a landmark event taking place at ADIPEC featuring insights from HE Sheikha Lubna Bint Khalid Al Qasimi, Minister of International Cooperation and Development, and the first lady to be appointed to a ministerial post in the UAE.
The finale will also feature live on-stage discussions and interviews with women leaders in the industry, including Vicki Hollub, President of Occidental Oil and Gas in the Americas, Elisabeth Proust, CEO and Managing Director at TOTAL in Nigeria, and Kathy Pepper, Vice President of the ExxonMobil Production Company in the Middle East and Russia, who will share their journey to success in their fields. The session will take place at the MEPC Theatre on November 11, and will offer attendees a networking opportunity where they can share their thoughts and ideas with likeminded individuals.
Adapted from press release by Cecilia Rehn
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