8 March is the International Women’s Day, when the world celebrates how far women have come in society, politics and economics – while also acknowledging that there is still a way to go before the “gender-gap” is closed, especially in certain sectors such as the oil and gas industry.
In relation to International Women’s Day, we have asked a few female employees to share some thoughts on the subject – touching both on how it is to be a woman in the oil and gas industry in general, but also specifically within BW Offshore.
We have spoken with Amanda, Ida and Jessica, all working in technical positions within the Company. The gender parity is greatest in the technical and operational departments, and speaking with our female colleagues therefore provides valuable input for reflection.
Current position: Control Room Operator
Location: BW Catcher FPSO, offshore Aberdeen, UK
History with BW Offshore: Originally employed by BW Offshore as an Outside Operations Technician in 2017, Amanda was promoted to Control Room Operator in 2020.
Current assignment: Amanda is currently seconded to BW Offshore’s Aberdeen office as a Shutdown Co-ordinator as she is pregnant. She will return offshore to her Control Room Operator role when her maternity leave is completed in 2023.
Ginika Jessica Iworisha
Current position: Operations Engineer
Location: Lagos, Nigeria
History with BW Offshore: Jessica started her career with BW Offshore in a one-year graduate programme in 2015 as a Quality Control and Assurance trainee. Opon completion of the programme, she was promoted to QAQC Engineer within the Projects function in 2016. In 2018, she moved to Operations as an Operations Planner, and since 2020 she has worked as an Operations Engineer.
Current assignment: Jessica is currently based in BW Offshore’s office in Lagos, Nigeria, supporting the unit ABO FPSO. She will soon embark on a long-term assignment to Singapore to support the ongoing Barossa Project.
Current position: Graduate Engineer
Location: BW Catcher FPSO, offshore Aberdeen, UK
History with BW Offshore: Starting in April 2020 as a Graduate Engineer, Ida was initially based in the Oslo office, focusing on process engineering. In August 2021, she was re-located to the Aberdeen office to support the BW Catcher FPSO.
Current assignment: Ida is currently assigned as an Operations Technician on the BW Catcher FPSO, and will remain on rotation until completing the BW Offshore Graduate Programme in April 2023.
Question: What is your view on the gender diversity in the industry?
Amanda: In my experience, the oil and gas industry provides great career opportunities for both men and women. Today, we should expect to see a more diverse workforce. Having a better gender balance allows there to be more diversity, which can only be a good thing when decisions are being made. I also feel that if the industry was to be more equally gender-balanced it would create a friendlier and more inclusive atmosphere.
Ida: There are several reasons why more women should be working in the oil and gas industry! Getting more female leaders and workers offshore can set the stage to accommodate innovative and creative thinking which is an indispensable component in the energy transition. There are many benefits with gender diversity in business, such as equal workplace and society, as well as improved financial performance.
Jessica: Although having more women will improve gender balance within the oil and gas industry, the industry is in dire need of talent. With less than 25% of the workforce being women, the industry is missing out on leveraging a potentially sizeable pool of talent.
The industry is also facing challenges like low oil prices, innovative advancements in technology, and the impending retirement of about three quarters of the current workforce. For oil and gas companies to succeed, there is a need to maintain adequate influx of talent, inclusive of women.
Question: Would you advice other women to choose a similar career as yours?
Amanda: I would always recommend that other women choose a similar career as me! Having this career has allowed me financial security, while getting to both travel the world AND have plenty of time to spend with friends and family during my leave periods. I also really enjoy the offshore environment. Due to all the time spent with colleagues offshore, it allows you to build tight bonds with them that I don’t think you would form in an office environment.
I have always wanted to have children, but have put it off for a few years longer than I would have liked due to my career choice, not believing that this could really be possible, and this feeling probably puts a lot of women off from working in the sector. I am very happy to now be six months pregnant, and BW Offshore has been great since the minute I informed the company - there were actually more options available to me than I realised!
Being pregnant, I am currently doing an onshore assignment in our Aberdeen office. When my maternity leave is completed, I fully intend to go back offshore to my rotational role. Although it may be difficult leaving a young child for two weeks at a time, I really believe that having three weeks of leave will allow me to have better quality time with the child, and that the pros to this massively outweigh the cons. I feel I will be a strong mentor to my child by being a working mother and giving a real-life example of what hard work and ambition can achieve.
Ida: I would definitely encourage women to choose a similar career, especially if they are passionate about learning. What I really appreciate about this career is that I am always learning and developing new skills because of the constant technological advancements.
Jessica: If they have the passion for it, why not? It’s an interesting industry to work in, and you are truly impacting people’s lives because everyone uses energy. Also, there is room for growth, as you learn new things everyday via new technologies, methodologies, and policies.
Question: How is it to be a woman in a male dominant environment?
Amanda: When I first started working in the North Sea there wasn’t even a female changing room onboard the FPSO. This is when I realised that I was going to be a minority onboard. It was nerve-wrecking to begin with, as I was the only female (outside of the catering crew) on the facility, but in all honesty, I haven’t ever come up against any form of discrimination or adverse reactions whilst onboard any facility in the North Sea. I have always worked in upstream production and haven’t seen any reason why there couldn’t be more women carrying out the job roles within the disciplines that are available offshore.
The BW Catcher FPSO is by far the most inclusive facility I have worked on, I have been fortunate enough to work alongside fantastic male mentors that haven’t seen my gender as any reason not to challenge my ambitions.
Ida: In my experience, that depends on the workplace culture. At a former workplace it was quite unpleasant working in a male dominant environment where gender discrimination was a major issue. The workplace culture at BW Offshore has been the opposite, where being in a male dominant environment has been a positive experience.
Jessica: I must admit that it can be quite challenging at times, but it gets easier with time. As a woman in oil and gas operations, I enjoy respect and support from my male colleagues, while collaborating to provide solutions and impact everyday lives. This breeds trust and care.
On the home page of many oil and gas company websites, you find sweaty men in dirty coveralls, carrying heavy tools. This scares women into believing that all oil and gas jobs are dirty and very physical. However, there are many technical, operational, and business support functions that do not require so much physical strength. We need to paint a more diversity friendly picture.Jessica Iworisha, Operations Engineer
Question: What is, in your opinion, the best and worst aspects of working within Oil and Gas?
Amanda: Financially, it’s a great career choice, you earn more than the average wage and afford the nicer things in life. The work/life balance is fantastic - forming close, lifelong friendships with colleagues. When your rotation is complete, you have the ability to completely step away from work for three weeks at a time, and focus on family and friends, and I feel that is special. Employee welfare is a high priority onboard the BW Catcher FPSO.
The bad points about a career in this sector, is that you may miss important events while you’re offshore - for example family birthdays, Christmas and even funerals. Also working up to 21 days, 12-hour shifts consecutively can take its toll on my body, especially if I have been on night shift. Working 21 night shifts in a row is tough when you come home, and trying to get back to a normal sleeping pattern can take me up to a week. The North Sea can also be quite a harsh working environment, with strong, cold winds, rain and snow - all common in the winter months. However, this is balanced by the gorgeous days of calm and sunshine in the summer, and there’s nothing quite like seeing the sunrise coming up at 4.30am over the horizon.
Jessica: The best part for me is the realisation that my choice of having a family with children is even more feasible than I imagined. This is quite the opposite compared to my former place of employment, where having a child was a huge risk for women, as the chances of losing your job or being back-tracked was very high. Thanks to BW Offshore, I don’t only get to have a beautiful career, I am also able to have a stable family life.
The worst part is having to rely on many external factors to achieve smooth operations. Examples include global supply chain and logistics concerns, and recently the Covid-19 pandemic, etc.
Question: Do you feel there are equal opportunities for men and women in the industry? Do you think there are some degree of unconscious bias?
Ida: There are still not equal opportunities for men and women, and I do think there are some degree of bias when it comes to hiring and promotion. Women often have to work more and harder than men to get the same opportunities presented and the same recognition for their effort. Due to the fact that this is a male dominated environment, there is an inclination, as well as preference, to select a man during promotions.
Jessica: Yes - In my experience, I have seen people unconsciously attribute certain attitudes and stereotypes to women. I believe this to a large extent has been because of some level of subconscious wiring over the years, which has resulted in the performance support bias experienced by a lot of women in oil and gas. Many men naturally believe their fellow men can perform better, thereby providing more resources and opportunities to men. These opportunities have allowed men to grow competence on the job, putting them at an advantage and underpinning their rise to senior-level positions. Women, on the other hand, are being looked at differently and reviewed not only based on KPIs but also on things such as childbirth, ability to relocate with their families for work, the assumption that a woman might not be interested in taking up more responsibilities, etc. This puts undue pressure on women, frustrating them into leaving before they get to senior positions.
As the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is about breaking the bias, I hope that together, we will work towards an industry free of stereotypes and discrimination to build a more diverse and inclusive workplace for women.
I strongly believe that we have a responsibility to not only change the narratives and stereotypes that affect us negatively, but we need to rewire our brains differently. We also need to be role models. With one role model after another, we will get there in a few years. Everything is possible.
Question: Do the Oil and Gas industry do enough to attract women?
Amanda: I think the oil and gas industry could do more to attract women. For example, when I was leaving school, this was never mentioned to me as a career choice – even though I lived very closely to Aberdeen, which at the time was booming with oil and gas. I don’t think companies sell the fact that they are a family friendly and progressive workplace enough to attract more women. On-site talks in schools and colleges would be beneficial to those who are possibly interested in an oil and gas career.
Ida: I think if the oil and gas industry did enough there would be a higher number of women in the industry. If more was invested in developing female leaders, it would eventually reflect on the gender diversity in the business.
Jessica: I wish I could say yes, but perception matters. On the home page of many oil and gas company websites, you find sweaty men in dirty coveralls, carrying heavy tools. This scares women into believing that all oil and gas jobs are dirty and very physical. However, there are many technical, operational, and business support functions that do not require so much physical strength. We need to paint a more diversity friendly picture.
Also, the industry can expand the talent pool it draws from by taking steps to increase women’s participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) programmes from secondary and undergraduate levels. This will boost the industry’s attractiveness to women as a career choice by promoting the wide range of jobs available and making career paths more flexible. Industry leaders should strive to remove barriers that make it difficult for women to work in the industry.
Having experienced the tremendous improvement made by BW Offshore to encourage women, I am optimistic about the future of women in the oil and gas industry.
Getting more female leaders and workers offshore can set the stage to accommodate innovative and creative thinking which is an indispensable component in the energy transition.Ida Refvem, Graduate Engineer
Diversity makes us stronger
As described by Hans Kristian Langsrud, BW Offshore's Head of Engineering: “In BW Offshore we have a fantastic team of talented individuals. From conducting hundreds of interviews over the past ten years, my experience is that looking for talent is an exciting task, and I feel like I am unwrapping a gift every time I enter an interview. What the gift will be, I of course never know up front. But what I do know, is that I find talent everywhere, regardless of culture, background, nationality and of course gender. In BW Offshore we know that being a diverse and inclusive company gives us a competitive edge. One of BW Offshore’s corporate values is “Leverage the Team”, and in order to do this in the best way possible, we need a well-rounded team playing to all sorts of different strengths."
BW Offshore has formalised the Company’s support for diversity and equal opportunities through its Human Capital Policy and its “Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Statement”. Click here to read the Company's statement.
Employing people with different backgrounds, experiences, mindsets and ideas for improvement and development contributes to BW Offshore being the innovative company that it is today, and is a key factor for the success of the company to deliver on our purpose to engineer offshore solutions to progress the future of energy.Hans Kristian Langsrud, Head of Engineering