I am very proud to have won the International Women’s Prize and I thank the jury for the Women’s Industry Awards. I am honored to have been nominated alongside outstanding competitors.
Let’s talk a little about women abroad!
I’ve lived on 4 continents in countries that many would find difficult to locate on a map, and I still continue to travel very frequently for my work. I am fast approaching one hundred countries visited.
Thirty years ago, I left for Nigeria as a Field Engineer, alone. Alone on an offshore drilling rig amongst 80 men, Alone at the operations base and one of three women working as engineers for the company in Africa.
I’m used to being alone though. I lived a similar experience at university, with only 5% females studying Mechanical Engineering.
The situation was very different in the city of Warri. I’m alone at work, but also in the “city” – without means of external communication, without the option to make international phone calls, and without female company. I had a lot of male friends, but I couldn’t talk to them about typical women’s issues. Being immersed in such an environment at age 22, with no way of chatting and “gossiping” with a woman from time to time was not always easy, but it certainly strengthened my character!
Twenty years ago, I went to Indonesia. There were many expat women, but I was one of the few working. I had to explain to my daughters why I could not pick them up after school like all the other mums. That also meant having to deal with occasional jealousy from women who had sacrificed their own careers to follow their husbands. My situation showed that there was a possible alternative. The 1998 Indonesian crisis was another solo experience for me, as I stayed to represent the company, along with a lot of men to deal with the turbulent situation!
Ten years ago, I went Angola. Now I am starting to see some women in the company, mostly young engineers. Schlumberger’s diversity policy is paying off. But I remain the only female in meetings of the Business Representatives with the Embassy.
When three years ago, working in Shanghai, I realize that I know about ten expatriate women whose husbands decided to follow them – it seems like about 10% of non-working partners (followers) are men. That’s when I start telling myself that things are really changing.
But the best proof of change occurred a few months ago. I was in a tiny, remotely located Zambian airport and I saw five or six expatriate women on their own who were clearly there to work. Not the daughter of …, nor wife of …! I was so moved to see this that I felt like going over to kiss them. Certainly, they would think I was crazy, but I was truly happy!
So yes, there is progress. The day when women’s mobility becomes obvious, we will have taken a big step with regards to unconscious bias towards gender equality.