People@Work

A ‘rig’ side view of She Power

Richa Mishra | Updated on March 13, 2019

In charge: Women employees at ONGC’s offshore platform

‘Shenergy’ is the emerging new force that is fuelling the energy sector in India

Thirty-two years ago, when Sukla Mistry, a metallurgical engineer, joined Indian Oil Corporation Ltd, she had to beg her boss to give her an assignment befitting her qualification, and not restrict her to desk jobs.

“When I started off, forget field jobs, women were not even given shift duties,” says Mistry, who is today Executive Director, Barauni Refinery, of the oil major.

Jyoti Rana, Executive Engineer (Production) at ONGC’s Mumbai High Platform, Meena Morya, Executive Engineer (Electrical) also at Mumbai High Platform, and Ekta Powar, Production Engineer at IndianOil’s Naphtha Cracker Unit at Panipat, have similar stories to share of their journey in the energy sector.

However, things are changing. Just how much was evident at the 13th edition of Petrotech — a biennial platform for national and international experts in the oil and gas industry, where a special showcase was “SHENERGY”. At this pavilion, women who kept the rigs well-oiled shared their experiences — stories that would definitely inspire more to venture into oil fields where danger and crisis are close cousins.

In fact, President, OPEC, & Petroleum Minister of Venezuela, Manuel Salvador Quevedo Fernandez, was so impressed with the concept of SHENERGY that he said he was taking the idea back to the inter-governmental organisation of 14 nations to carry forward the campaign there.

Forging ahead

Women have been breaking the glass ceiling everywhere but in the energy sector it has been a particularly tough march. The good news is that more women are now being hired.

“In the last year or so we are seeing a shift, particularly with more companies wanting to meet the diversity standards in recruitment,” says Manish Ambwani, Global Head – Operations, GreenTree Advisory Services Pvt Ltd, a global executive search firm specialising in recruitment for the oil and gas sector.

There was Nishi Vasudeva who rose to become Chairman and Managing Director of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd — the first woman ever to head a Navratna PSU, who was essentially from the refinery marketing side. Then there was Yasmine Hilton, in the private sector, who was the first woman to head an energy company in India.

The hope is to see women leaders emerge from the core operations or technical side. And there are many now reporting at the rigs, with full support from their families.

Take Lakshmi, with the CHTU (Cooker HydroTreating Unit) of Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd, who relishes the challenge of her work. “I am really enjoying my work and the family has had no problems with my job,” Lakshmi says.

Today, women are also working at the world’s highest LPG Bottling Plant situated at 11,800 ft. in Phey Village of Ladakh district. The plant, operated by IndianOil, has 11 women who carry out various technical and non-technical activities such as cylinder filling and handling, quality control checks, plant and store maintenance, document management, besides canteen management and gardening, among others.

Although women have got assignments to their liking, the battle is far from over. They point out that while a man can perform 80 per cent and still get acceptance, women have to give 200 per cent to receive the same appreciation. “She” has to keep proving herself everyday, says Mistry.

“Initially and even today at times we are seen as aliens walking in the control room, but now acceptability has increased,” says Powar.

Another battle is to get gender-specific policies in place. Amenities like separate toilets for women at the plant are a basic requirement. ONGC is working towards equipping platforms with facilities for women as well, says Morya. Security is another requirement. At the platforms a woman is not deputed alone. “At least two women are posted at a time,” says an official from ONGC.

“It is difficult to have gender-specific policies based on the departments the women are associated with. But we do try to change depending on the demand,” says a senior executive from ONGC.

When a woman returns from a maternity break, the organisations ensure that their promotions are not affected because of the leave taken. “Post-maternity we come back to the same position and rank and it does not affect our promotion as the organisation assesses us on the six-month period we put in prior to going on leave,” says Powar.

Another challenge organisations face is providing more flexibility, says Alka Mittal, Director (HR) ONGC, who is also the first functional director on ONGC Board. “We are taking measures to ensure that the best of facilities are available for women,” Mittal says, adding that “Today, ONGC provides 730 days of paid childcare leave.”

Though women are shattering the myth that “oil field rig side or refineries-cum-petrochemical plants are not right for girls”, female representation is still low. A key issue for oil companies is that a lot of women drop out at the mid-career level. The next big task is to check this attrition so that there is an ample pool available for leadership roles.

Published on March 13, 2019

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