The topic of female discrimination always crops up whenever I am asked about my career or to feature in an article. I am always asked if being a female has hindered my career in any way, do I get treated differently because of my sex, is it hard being a female working in a male dominant industry. I am very proud of my position offshore as I’m sure all of my followers know by now, but I am even prouder to be able to say that female discrimination is not something I have experienced to date. The offshore energy sector is a male dominated industry, which is not news to anyone, just a mere 3.6% of women make up this industry and statistics in fact show that this number is decreasing. There is a complete misconception that needs to be addressed with regards to a women's place within the oil and gas industry. We live in a world full of stereotypes, I know I am not your stereotypical offshore worker but that isn't to say that I am not suited to this line of work. You don't have to fit the stereotypical mold that society has formed of ‘the offshore worker’ to succeed within this industry.
Out of pure curiosity I recently googled the phrase 'Offshore Women'. I read through multiple forum posts from a variety of females of all ages and backgrounds expressing their curiosity about entering into the offshore world. The prevailing theme and question asked within a large majority of these posits was 'What role can I as a female do offshore?’ Equal opportunities seem to be an increasingly popular recruitment tagline around major companies but does this phrase truly apply. It shouldn't be a case of which positions are suitable for females offshore, ALL positions are suitable. Some roles are obviously more physically demanding than others, you don't have to be some macho built like a brick house guy to be good at your job offshore. Working offshore is dirty work, coveralls, steel toecap boots and a hard hat are from my usual attire but it is quite liberating as a women to spend a month in a world that isn't shallow and based on appearance. Physical capability, appearance and gender don't even come into the equation if you knuckle down and do your job to the best of your ability, like any career you will succeed.
Female or male the most important tool I believe you need to work offshore is a thick skin and a sense of humour. You have to be able to take a joke and not take comments to personally. The guys I work with have made the odd comment about my looks, nothing I can’t handle and if anything I take it as a compliment. The guys I have been lucky enough to work with have treated me with respect, after all the offshore environment is a professional place of work. You work as a team, you support one another and you focus on people’s strengths, not their gender. I weigh in at almighty 48kg and i'm not embarrassed to admit that some physical tasks associated with my role as an engineer I find difficult, but fortunately enough there is enough employed muscle on board to lend a helping hand whenever needed.
Various industry initiatives are in place to help and try and counter the in balance of the current male to female ratio within the industry workforce. Multiple organisations have been set up all over the world to raise awareness and the profile of women within the sector.
Shell has highlighted their belief and desire for diversity and the importance a women's perspective can offer. Shell Women’s Network, a voluntary internal initiative which helps to create forums to assist in the development and growth of female employees. This initiative has been very successful for Shell, and it is now operating in eight Shell locations around the world.
ExxonMobil is encouraging females to consider science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers through their annual 'Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day' program. This event targets the younger generation offering them a chance to work and with ExxonMobil employees serving as mentors to the participants. Since ExxonMobil began its “Introduce a Girl to Engineering” program more than a decade ago, more than 11,000 students have participated in activities conducted at company facilities or classroom demonstrations.
Pink Petro founded by Katie Mehnert is the social channel for women in energy, on a mission to get women connected. Pink Petro believes that women bring a unique perspective to the world and connect members of their community to quality resources and learning. Pink Petro is a great community to be part of for executives, professionals, and students. Since its short inception six months ago, the community has members in 20 countries and is powered by Shell, Halliburton and Jive Software.
A little closer to home, the Women’s Energy Network (WEN), a business networking group for Women in the energy industry in the East of Anglia UK. Founded by Emma Bishop, a senior manager within the energy sector for the past 8 years, aiming to educate individuals in what a fantastic industry energy is. WEN offers support in the form of networking opportunities for females supporting and enhancing their development through their skill set.
I know a large amount of women that work on cruise ships in a variety of roles all over the world. Working on a survey vessel or Drillship might not be as glamorous but it certainly is rewarding. Venturing into the offshore world is a scary though and I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous the first time but it is without a doubt the best decision I have ever made. My advice to any females contemplating entering into the offshore energy sector is to not be shy and give it a go. Don't be discouraged or intimidated by the male-dominance of the offshore world, the majority of them are harmless. On multiple occasions the guys have said to me that they love having a female on board, it offers a different dynamic and a different perspective. There are aspects of the job that make it not suitable for both males and females. Male friends of mine that don't work within the industry often admit that they couldn't do it, the time away from home would be too difficult. Be prepared for what you are planning on entering into, it is physical, dirty and hard work. All that being said, it is the best decision I ever made and I wouldn’t change my job for the world. This job has opened my eyes to just how beautiful and diverse the world is, and allowed me to experience a variety of cultures I might not have ever got the opportunity to experience otherwise.
In the famous words of Marilyn Monroe - "I don't mind living in a man’s world as long as I can be a women in it".