Welcome to my blog on Usine Nouvelle, for which I am preparing a series of articles that I could call “What is it like for a woman working in a very masculine industry? ”
After all, does my male counterpart understand what we are facing? Does a young engineer fresh out of school know what is really waiting for her?
The idea is not to talk about statistics, quotas, laws, salaries, etc. I want to share my experiences in an environment still too little feminized, and above all to understand the invisible difficulties, the famous unconscious bias and other obstacles that hinder the career of a woman in the industry. As a starting point I will return to the beginning of my career. After 30 years of working in the oil and then cement industries, my recruitment now seems a distant memory.
How did I enter the oil industry?
When I was a student mechanical engineer at INSA Lyon, like many young people of my age, I did not know what I wanted to do, but I was sure of one thing, I did not want a routine job, or to work in an office. It was then that I discovered the profession of field engineer and it was love at first sight, a profession perfect for me! At a recruitment forum, I made my way to the Schlumberger stand, an oilfield services company, and I asked the recruiter how to apply for a job. He looked at me nonchalantly and said “This is not a job for you,” without asking me a single question. Even though my CV was more than acceptable for a fresh-out : A humanitarian mission in Mali, an industrial internship in Brazil and presidency of the Student Government at my University, all by the tender age of 21 years.
I told him that I would not budge until he gave me a plausible explanation so I stayed there … 1 hour … 2 hours … 3 hours … Faced with my unshakable motivation (well, more likely to get rid of me) he finally gave in and gave me a questionnaire, followed by a job interview, punctuated with sexist questions: “What does your mother think of your choice? “. Me: “Do you ask this question to men? “. Him: (embarrassed): “Ahh… no”. Me: (calmly): “So you do not really need me to answer? “.
Was I dealing with a particularly sexist company and a misogynist recruiter? Not at all. I had in front of me a person who had never dealt with the recruitment of a female engineer, and who just did not know how to handle it.
Today questions so openly sexist are rarely heard of. Recruitment processes are formalized, male and female candidates receive similar treatment.
Voila, that’s it!
Problem solved. Article completed.
Signed: Magali Anderson
I wish I could finish my article there, except that differences still exist. The sexism I faced was undeniable and indefensible because it was so visible. Today for certain industries it exists, but more obscurely. For example, sexism can be found in the way a job offer is written or in the very masculine image that an industry projects itself, offering the impression to women that they are not suitable for it.
There are two issues. Companies that don’t know how or want to recruit women, and women who do not know they can access certain industries
I suggest to start with the problematic company. The recruiter is faced with the fear of introducing a disruptive element that could change the dynamics of the group. And not just any element, a young graduate woman, who has not yet proven herself or acquired legitimacy. The recruiter must therefore leave his comfort zone.
To make this possible he will recruit a ground-breaker, a woman with a strong character who can manage in this male dominated environment. That’s good, but is it sustainable, and above all, what about all the women who are very competent but less “driven”? The trailblazers are not necessarily going to change the mentality of the group because they blend in. The fight is really won the day any woman, regardless of her personality, can integrate.
As a company, how do you motivate recruiters to recruit more diversely? There’s not plethora of effective short term methods : numerical objectives. Recruiters will have to find ways to attract women. Change the speech, better explain what these industries are like, get female employees to say why it’s great to work there. Often that’s all it takes. You will find motivated female candidates who do not want a routine job, looking to embrace a career that is “different” and who will flourish in male dominated work environments.
Next, the candidates, my second problem.
Self-censorship still exists, meaning many women cannot imagine themselves working in certain jobs. This can simply because there are not enough visible model roles. Ladies, we must change this.
Answer job postings, dare to be different, choose to be out of your comfort zone. Then, when you are in front of the recruiter, conduct yourself as you would normally do for any job interview, except that it may take a little more time and effort to show that you are quite capable of working in their industry. Your engineering degree is proof that you are capable (I am sure that all engineers will know exactly what I mean here) !
A fight from the past? I still meet managers who tell me “but our industry does not attract women”. This, to someone who started on an offshore oil rig in Nigeria, the only woman in the middle of 80 men, more than 30 years ago? Today an industry that now recruits + 25% of female engineers? Seriously?
This article is a cry from the heart, addressing women and men. My career and those of many others, show that the success of women in a male work environment is possible.
Recruitment is only the very first step but a very important one. If women do not choose to enter the male-dominated industries, the mix will not increase (Obvious, I know, but worth being stated!).
I dream of a day when entering these sectors will be as natural for a woman as it is for a man, and that so-called masculine or feminine industries will no longer exist. It will just be industries. Quite simply.
 Schlumberger has since become a leader on the subject by starting their Gender Diversity program in 1994
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