I was telling you in a previous article about my first steps on a platform, explaining the little hassles I faced. Today, I would like to discuss with you the notion of human relations. As you can imagine, being the only woman amongst 80 men wasn’t always simple.
During the first trips, I stay in the shadow of my tutor. I try to remain unnoticed, I make myself as small and possible and don’t go anywhere without him.
Being in training, I am not sure I understand what is happening around me, which doesn’t help me to assert myself. I’m not ready for the slightest confrontation; I don’t feel armed for that.
Nevertheless, my skillset expands rapidly. I become increasingly comfortable and start to gain in confidence.
And then one day, my tutor is called urgently on another mission. Ours isn’t finished, but what is left is easy enough for me to take over the project. There I am, alone for the first time.
A few minutes after his departure, while the helicopter is still in sight, the phone of our work unit rings. A voice, obviously a man’s, tells me that he’d like to get to know me better. My answer is icy : « this phone call is a mistake and I will forget it. But if you call me again, I will file a complaint against you to the head of the platform. »
You might be wondering, why such a violent reaction to this request ? Because this innocent request occurs in the middle of the sea, and I’m the only woman on board. I need to establish the rules from the start. And what might come off as a nice introduction in a normal environment cannot be allowed on a rig.
Thankfully, positioning myself from the first day was enough to build my reputation and no-one bothered me from that day on.
What happens if you don’t react like that? Actually it happened when a young intern joined us. She was much more polite than me, so she quickly became overwhelmed with requests of all kinds. Once again, nothing aggressive or mean, but it made her very uncomfortable and I had to intervene to make it stop.
A first clarification from the beginning is enough. Once the rules are established, it becomes possible to have friendly relations with colleagues, very nice indeed, because any kind of ambiguity has vanished. Again, I’m talking about an extreme environment. A woman who works in an environment that is almost exclusively male often understands the rules of the game as a result of an unpleasant experience. To avoid that, it is better to be firm from the start. Observe for a while, step-up and don’t let ordinary sexism shake you.
A few weeks later, once my training period is over, my first mission begins. It is a disaster. 30 years ago, we were constantly juggling with tools that take measurements at the bottom of the well, tickling the limits of that technology (> 120 degrees…etc.). Breakdowns can happen and our formation teaches us how to deal with them. My first solo job… and my first failure. This is a rather minor one, which doesn’t affect the hydrocarbon reservoir area, and therefore has no real impact. However, I submit a file with inconsistent results and erratic measures. The client, angry, seizes that opportunity to try and switch engineers to get « rid » of me. Long story short, he’s not willing to do me any favors and is certainly not ready to accept the inconveniences resulting from my inexperience. Having a woman on board is already complicated to manage, so he doesn’t tolerate any mistakes on her part.
I haven’t often been confronted to this kind of sexism, which requires women to be better than men and which doesn’t forgive anything. My boss supports me and I return to the same platform shortly after. This time, the mission runs smoothly – so much so that the client later asked my boss not to replace me. Once I had been accepted, he started appreciating what this feminine presence was bringing to the overall work atmosphere.
The first steps are difficult, to better walk the next ones.