And couples in companies?

Last week, I was celebrating my tenth article for the Usine Nouvelle blog. Ten article without mentioning my husband once, a huge achievement for me!

Therefore, today I’m going to talk about the thematic of couples in companies.

I met David on an oil rig in Nigeria. In other words, in a romantic atmosphere. Wearing my work helmet and my security boots, I’d put all the chances on my side. That being said, being the only woman on this structure in the middle of the sea, my charm didn’t need any artifice.

When our company found out that we were a couple, the reactions were rather mixed. They were already struggling with having a woman field engineer,they now had to handle a couple. Yet, we weren’t in the same service, and there was no interaction or possible conflict of interest to fear. We were way too far down the ladder to have that kind of power.

The reaction was simple. They decided to transfer me. It was the easiest and most radical way to solve the issue. Needless to say, with the lives we had– the amount time we spent on the rig and the little vacation we had, it was like asking us to break up. Long distance relationships, at a time where the means of communication were limited, was not conceivable. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, in 1990 Nigeria, I used to send urgent messages by telex!

The HR director for Africa asked to talk to me and told me to make a choice. “It took me three months to get a job, 24 years to find a husband… who do you think I’m going to pick?”

And that’s how I found myself jobless. At first, I really enjoyed the free time, especially after spending 3 years working 6.5 days/week with crazy hours. But quickly, I got bored and went on a job hunt.

It was 26 years ago. At the time, when two people started dating within a same company, one of them had to leave. In this case, it was me. The decision had nothing to do with the fact that I was a woman – it was simply because I was the one who was asked to make a choice.

And today, how have our careers evolved?

On Schlumberger’s end, once their gender diversity program began showing results, the double career issue, which I was a pioneer of, became a true challenge to address. And it was done. They ask couples to pick the one spouse that will become the lead of the career. The priority is then to find a job for the lead, and then to find a position that matches as much as possible the significant other’s ideals, if possible at the same place and at the same time.It worked for us during 15 years. It wasn’t always easy, and compromises had to be done, but we managed.

For an international company, there can be a lot of benefits to having couples. For instance, in Angola, the logistics of expatriate families were very complicated. First, the local infrastructures, after 22 years of civil war, were being rebuilt, which means that there was a huge shortage of houses,spots in school…etc. Plus, there were very little activities for the spouse,who, after a year, often asked to leave. In this case, the double career meant half the logistics, and a busy partner. A true win-win!

Knowing that 30% of relationships were formed at work, where do we stand today?

What does the law say? The French 1982 Auroux laws claim that “couple life isn’t within the scope of the company”. That means that we can’t be fired or transferred for it, but couples also can’t create trouble.

If the law states the ground rules, the reality of the company can be more complex, since a lot remain wary at the idea of having a couple in a service, for fear of disturbing the team (potential jealousy problems to handle), or unsuitable behaviors, or having two people team up against management, or having problems if one of them is under-performing. I’m not going to dwell on the list of fears, but rather on the consequences. All while complying with the law, a company can make the life of a couple difficult, until one decides to leave. For instance, sometimes voluntarily, management can transfer one to another service, or sometimes more subconsciously, it can delay a promotion. Similarly, if one is thinking about quitting, the partner can be put in an uncomfortable position.

For dual careers to happen in the best conditions possible, there a few ground rules to follow – no possibility of conflict of interest, no hierarchical connection, no common project. Never forget that we’re handling two individuals, not a couple: we don’t tell one the career options of the other…etc.

It is true that we can face unusual situations, like the time where,while I was working on the transfer of a couple, the husband told me not to look too much into finding a job for his wife because she didn’t know it yet,but he was about to leave her!

On the couple’s end, it’s important to accept a few compromises. Some people might be afraid of suffocating a little, not having much to talk about at night, not being able to handle the little flirts that can occur in a service… In our case, we were in the same company but never in the same service, so we weren’t tempted to talk about files at night, but being in the same company helped us support each other and better understand what the other one was going through on a daily basis.

Therefore, when I read that there’s a chance it might create bad vibes in the service because of potential jealousy, I think it just means that the couple has deeper issues to deal with!

In conclusion, I’ve had to manage a lot of double careers, including mine, and if I have to weigh the pros and the cons, the pros would win by far –you just need to apply commonsense rules, and there’s no reason for it to go wrong. The benefits for the company highly compensate all the potential problems.

Do you want to go for a drink?

A simple sentence, which can be said at the end of a hard day’s work, when we reckon a little beer would be nice before heading home.


A while back, we were talking about it with a friend, who was telling me that her colleagues often went for a drink together after work – without inviting her. And she goes on to tell me: how do you invite a male colleague for a drink without it being ambiguous?

In fact, I have never asked myself that question. It’s probably due to the fact that, from the beginning of my career, the tradition of going for a drink after work was so anchored that it seemed natural to invite my male colleagues or to be invited. However I must say, as I was telling you in the previous article, I’ve always set the boundaries very early on.

Also, for expatriates, becoming friends with colleagues is very common. We arrive in an unknown country with a new culture, and often the first friends we make are the ones from work. On the first night even, we invite the newbie to the local pub to better welcome her and help her settle in.

I then asked myself, once the topic had been brought up, where this problem was coming from. Clearly, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of inviting a colleague from the opposite sex.

Google is my friend, and I looked up articles on the theme of « having a drink with a colleague »

“Best of” of answers:

« 10 signs that show that your colleague has a crush on you…

Inviting a colleague for a drink – Seduction forum

First meeting with my colleague… and after?

Accepting to go have a drink, does it mean agreeing implicitly to go further/

Flirting at work: 4 steps to flirt with a colleague without…

Note: if we go for a drink outside, it’s not to talk about work, huh. »

After an hour of research, using different key words, I give up.

This isn’t too reassuring! Was my friend right to avoid seeing her colleagues outside of work? Having a relationship outside of work, is it bound to become ambiguous?

In studies showing the difference in career advancement between the two sexes, women’s lacking network often comes at the top of the myriad of causes. But how are these infamous networks created? Often times, while going for a drink with colleagues after work.

But if going for a drink is, in popular beliefs, synonymous with seduction, changing the status quo will be difficult. How can you develop a friendly relationship with a colleague? After all, it’s quite nice to have someone to unwind with at the end of day, and thus be able to criticize the boss, the boss of the boss and all the other departments.

It’s 2018, it may be time to make a little effort to change current mindsets.

Yes, Magali, nice story, but you still haven’t answered the original question which was… how do we do it?

Several solutions exist. We can start by inviting someone that we’re comfortable enough with and that we talk to often. We have a few coffee breaks together so that the invitation to go out for a drink doesn’t come out of the blue.

But before that, we can establish a few things… if you’re in a relationship, mention the significant other (without repeating it 45 times a day). Same thing, if he often talks about his kids/spouse… etc. It’s great, there’s very little chance that things will become ambiguous. Also, we can invite several colleagues at the same time to make sure there’s no misinterpretation.

Finally, try to set up a routine, such as the Friday night drink to celebrate for the upcoming weekend… after the third week, it won’t be uncomfortable anymore.

And of course, if we notice that out male colleagues often go out for drinks… Well, we tag along. As they’re leaving, we simply say: « Hey, I’d love to have a drink, mind if I join you ? » Maybe they’re just afraid to make the first move. Do it for them.

Come on, good resolution of the week… Tomorrow, I’m inviting a colleague of the opposite sex to have a drink.

And if I’m afraid of misunderstandings, I subtly leave this article on his or her desk during the day.

How to start as a female in a male dominated industry

A woman starting out in an almost exclusively male environment may sometimes feel the need to impose herself and to be aggressive in order to avoid coming off as “weak”. We often hear “you must have quite a character to work in this sector!” That is the attitude I myself adopted when I first started, which I’ll describe and explain in further detail. This will also allow me to give you a few key elements on a successful entry into a new company (spoiler: don’t behave like me at 22).

I started at Schlumberger in the training center – we spend four months there, before going on the field. The formation allows you to learn about the job, but also serves as a method of selection, with only half of the applicants staying. Stress is at its paroxysm and we all look at each other wondering who will make it.

Being the only woman, I feel like I need not only to succeed, but to succeed brilliantly, to prove that the presence of a woman is not a mistake. In 1989, women only account for 1% of recruits. Thus, I have the impression that I am under a microscope, as a part of a laboratory experiment called: “What can a woman do in this role?” Failing would show that the trust invested in me was not deserved.

Added to this is a deep belief that a woman has to prove herself, show that she belongs here. Perhaps the vestige of a mother with the baccalaureate, working at a time where most women were full-time housewives? An unconscious bias that originates from our societal system? To be honest, I don’t really know, but it’s clearly a bias that resisted to the past decades and that I find in a lot of women today still.

Thus, during this training, I constantly have to do more. Except that these beliefs, this feeling of having to legitimize my place, aren’t without consequences.

I automatically consider every sign of attention towards me as a sign or paternalistic sexism. I bite every hand that comes my way. And quickly, it backlashes and hits me back in the face, in boomerang mode. My colleagues stop talking to me. They are tired of my constant anger and have better things to do tan to take care of an irascible woman/hungry lioness in a cage.

It’s a vicious circle. I’m very aggressive, the others answer hostilely, comforting me in the idea that I was right to be that way… Etc.

And then, one day, I start questioning myself. I realize that, although I’m always right (of course), the fact that everyone is against me shows that it might actually maybe, possibly be my fault… and that I need to change my behavior – especially since isolation is weighing me down.

In doing this analysis of conscience, I realized that I became very unpleasant to live with, so it’s not surprising that others hate my company.

After deciding to change mindsets, it became easier than I thought. How did the change occur exactly? First, I had to stop comparing myself to others. In the end, no one but myself had asked me to be the best. Secondly, instead of attacking every colleague offering help – to show that “no, sir, I can manage on my own! It’s not because I’m a woman that you should think I can’t do it!”, I kindly accept any good soul willing to help me. Thus, my colleagues quickly become friends, and I become a part of the group.

Being a woman in a male-dominated environment is hard enough, there’s no need to make things more complicated. Companies offer a job to a collaborator because they think he/she is the most qualified for the position. They usually don’t do it out of the goodness of their heart. Once the person has accepted the position, all that’s left is to work and excel at the job, as expected. But the person has nothing to prove, and just needs to focus on doing the job to the best of his or her ability. It’s by doing the job well that people show everyone that they are the right person for the mission. Thus, wanting to prove your worth as a woman, as I’ve done in the past, is completely counterproductive and unjustified. If she’s been offered the job, then she’s entirely legitimate.

Unfortunately, this trend isn’t dead yet. There’s still a long way to go before it disappears fully. Women still are (or feel) more tested than men. It’s important to resist and not get sucked into the game of colleagues, who have no right to judge our credibility and capacity to fulfill a position that company executives have trusted us with.

At 22, having the strength to question myself is what allowed me to continue and find my place and eventually end up where I am today. But for one person that finds a fit, how many give up? How many end up depressed?

Just like me, maybe their erratic behavior kept others away, without having the chance to fix things. Or a lack of confidence in their legitimacy got the best of them. That’s why it’s important to take a step back and remember that if you are in this seat, it is because qualified people believe that you belong there. An endless comparison won’t get you anywhere. Keep your head high and work with confidence and pride!

My first steps on a platform – part two

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.

My first steps on an oil rig

I’m 22 when I land in Nigeria (see my previous articles). I leave the comfort of the student life to enter that of the expatriate life. Another kind of comfort, but still a comfort, since we’re taken care of outside of work.

I share a room in a house with three other engineers. For lunch and dinner, we eat a delicious meal prepared by the company cook. A housekeeper, hired by the company, often comes to clean the house. Let’s just say that Nigeria is not going to turn me into the perfect housewife, despite my genes, which should make the learning process easier.

In town, when going to work at the base, I’m the only woman, surrounded by engineers. It doesn’t change from my mechanical engineering school, where we were only 5% of women. But the heart of my work, the missions, take place on the rig, where I spend on average 20 days a month.

The apprenticeship of the job takes about ten months. We start with four months in the formation center in Italy, followed by six months where we work in pairs with an experienced engineer. The formation ends when we take a real life test to make sure that we’ve reached the autonomy necessary for us to be entrusted with the operations of a rig.

On each trip, I’m the first woman to set foot on the rig that we’re going to, and they’re never prepared. On my end, I’m jaded by the third rig.

Their reactions? Always the same…

At first, the surprise. Even if my name appears on the helicopter passenger list, they don’t necessarily identify as it being woman’s name – I had to include somewhere that we go to work in a helicopter – pretty cool, no?

Once the surprise is over, the questions begin. Of course, I can’t avoid the interrogation. I know it’s nice curiosity, but it’s a little tiring to systematically have to justify yourself (why a woman chooses to do this job… etc.).

And finally, after recovering from the shock, the customer freaks out at the idea that a woman may disrupt his well-oiled machine. However, I have never experienced the excuse of “juju”. Unlike boats, women don’t seem to be a sign of bad luck on a rig.

First issue, where is she going to sleep? The rigs didn’t have female quarters in my time. At first, they insist on finding me an individual room – either the infirmary or the VIP room – but I don’t like that much. I’m noticed enough to begin with, I don’t need to receive extra preferential treatment.

The standard rooms have four bunk beds. I find a way to create a little cocoon in one of the bottom bunks with extra hanging blankets. This solution not only avoids hassles and « normalizes » me a little, but above all it allows me to stay with my team. Sleeping is no longer a problem… even if I still have to bear with the men’s snoring. But we sleep so little that we tend to crawl into our beds, rocked by the permanent purring of the rig’s engines.

The main issue is the bathroom. Once again, no female bathroom. It doesn’t necessarily bother me to share it with men. The only problem is that they tend to forget that I’m here, so they often get out of the sower naked, as usual… Which could lead to pretty embarrassing moments for us all.

I quickly realize that there’s an individual bathroom – the boss’ one. During every mission, I manage to convince him to share it with me, which he does happily, until the day he finds himself surrounded my lingerie (the legend says he still hasn’t gotten over it).

This leads me to the last issue, the washing of my underwear… Apart from the fact that I don’t really trust the machine made to wash our blue jumpsuits, the rig employees categorically refuse to touch these « impious » objects… So I have to wash them by hand. Washing them is alright, but what about the drying? Putting my panties to dry in a room that I share with my team is not very tempting – so the bathroom it will be!

No life lesson today! Just some funny little stories, reflecting some of the small difficulties that a woman sometimes faces in a male environment. It seems pretty minor when told like this, but sometimes it doesn’t take a lot more to dissuade women from coming. Each of these little disturbances can give the impression that one doesn’t belong there.

Next week, a few more indiscretions about my life on the platform.


Where are the women in Computer Science?

At the women’s industry awards, a lot of the speeches revolved around the topic of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) – the speakers said they wanted to recruit more women, but they did not find enough female candidates post-graduation.

If we look at the number of women graduating from French universities, all specialties combined, the figure is increasing, or at least not decreasing.

According to the IESF survey (INGÉNIEURS ET SCIENTIFIQUES DE FRANCE), the number of graduates increased from 4% in 1968 to 15% in 1985, and 28-29% since 2012. We have seen a feminisation in scientific studies, although we can wonder why this figure has been stagnant for about 5 years.

But my real question is: “Why is there a drop in the field of computer science? ”

“Computer science is the only area where, after having been proportionally well represented, the share of women has declined sharply, while in all scientific and technical fields it increased from 5% in 1972 to 26% in 2010”, writes Isabelle Collet, professor of education and research in the sciences of education at the University of Geneva, in “Le Monde”.

And we are not talking about any decline. We are talking about the number halving in 20 years. I remember in my engineering school, the IT section was highly feminized compared to us mechanics! This was 30 years ago. For example, INSA Rennes: 55% women in computer science in 1979; 50% in 1980 … 14% in 2001! They are more women in Civil Engineering and Urban Planning (25%)!

The famous representations of gender-oriented fields, which discourage girls at a very young age from studying science, do not explain this phenomenon. Otherwise, it would be a more general problem.

Some hypotheses exist, such as the one that suggests that computer science convey a masculine image – the infamous archetypical “Geek”, which could justify why women do not recognize themselves there. Another one claims that it was a discipline little known in the 70s, so it did not attract men.

Continuing my research, I found this article from 2014, « When did women stop coding? » which I found interesting. It may be only part of the explanation, but it’s certainly worth a look.

The pioneers in computer science were women. For a long time, the number of women studying computer science grew faster than that of men. In 1984, something changed. There was a plateau, then a sharp dive.

Researchers discovered that this coincided with the influx of personal computers in homes.

Now, like me, you be scratching your head and ask why this is!

The explanation that follows, while surprising, makes perfect sense.

These early personal computers weren’t much more than toys. And these toys were marketed almost entirely to men and boys.. This is when the clichés were formed. I remember well in my final year of highschool how boys were trying out programming of basic games. There were no girls doing this in their spare time.

Thus, in terms of computer science studies, there was now a gap between boys and girls. The boys had been initiated. With the leveling up, teachers assumed that the foundations were acquired, and directly approached the level “2”, leaving the girls on the side of the road.

Now, institutions are brimming with innovative ideas to turn the tide, but we also need to learn from our mistakes and understand the impact of these toys on girls and boys.

Note – I managed to write a whole article about women in IT without mentioning Ada Lovelace once …

Sources:National Public Radio – When women stopped coding

International woman – Does it mean being alone?

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.

Staying with the subject of recruitment, let’s take a closer look at wages.

When we talk about wage inequality, the argument that often comes up is “Are we really talking about equivalent experience for an equivalent position? Women may have slowed down their career or taken time off when their children were born, these choices had an impact which explains the different wage evolution even for an equivalent position… Etc.”

There may be some truth in these arguments, but I don’t intend to cover that here. At least not yet.

Logically, we should not find a salary difference when leaving school?

Let’s have a look…….

The latest wage study conducted by the engineers and scientists society of France (IESF) showed a difference of almost 2k euros in starting salaries when the Conférence des Grandes Ecoles (CGE), mentions a 1.7k euros difference.

So, how can this be explained ? Firstly, graduate female engineers study predominantly in fields such as water, sanitation, agribusiness, etc. where wages are on average lower than other sectors of industry. Also, according to CGE and IESF, about 10% fewer women get a permanent employment placement for their first job !

Other reasons to understand this phenomenon are :

  1. Women are poorer at negotiating …

This may have been true before, but not so much now. Young women negotiate much better than their predecessors. But has this resulted in improved results for women ?

A recent study by HBR in Australia, which surveyed 4,600 employees, showed that women negociate just as much as men, but have less satisfactory results.

Another thing that surprised me, this time in the USA, a survey of 2500 people, found that when a job announcement does not say that the salary is negotiable, men would be more likely to negotiate than women. On the other hand, when it is explicit that salary is negotiable, women do negotiate more than men.

  1. Unconscious bias

Unfortunately, this exists for both the employer and employee. Many women are still not comfortable with the idea of ​​earning more than their partner and would self-censor. On the side of the companies they anticipate that a woman will be less mobile, will require maternity leave and will eventually choose a better work-family balance, which could impact productivity.

In my case, I experienced at least 2 times salary discrimination on hiring. I did a thorough salary research  when applying for the position and refused to budge on my requirements. I got the job at the requested salary, but with a big delay. I found out afterwards that I was really asking for a lot, which explained why they had hesitated to hire me. Another engineer was hired at the same time as me, same age, same experience but less relevant for the position. From the beginning, I was given more strategic projects than him. Then I discovered some time later that he was paid more. Needless to say that I did not stay much longer with this company.

The identification of the unconscious bias makes it conscious! Let’s inform young engineers to be aware of it and consequenctly to prepare for it (partake in negotiation training, for example) and let’s make sure that companies have a policy of hiring young graduates impartially..

My career as a female engineer: How I was hired to work on an oil platform.

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[1].

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

Yeah right………..

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.

[1] Schlumberger has since become a leader on the subject by starting their Gender Diversity program in 1994

Mother = Manager

What does a parent do?

A parent’s main mission is to help kids transition into responsible adults, with values that are going to make us proud.

A mother trusts her kids. She establishes rules clearly. She explains them, sometimes in a written form, but ensures that they’re both well understood and transparent. Kids know they have to follow the rules and that they’re not negotiable. They also know that if they decide to go against them, there will be consequences.

A mother will challenge her kids. She’ll be a bit stern at times, simply because she won’t accept mediocrity or semi-accomplishments. She’ll push them to give their best and won’t allow anything below excellence.

But she will encourage her children, and anytime they successfully accomplish what they’ve undertaken, she’ll always be there to praise them.

A mother will supervise her children’s grades, but will never do the homework for them.

A parent will set an example. We do not tell a kid to read when we don’t read ourselves. We do not tell a kid not to eat sweets to binge on them later. Knowledge goes through actions and precedents rather than words.

A mother doesn’t lie to her kids. She does what she says and says what she does… otherwise, refer to the previous paragraph.

A mother will admit when she’s wrong and do her mea culpa. She will accept that her kids may not agree with her and will be open to discussing and questioning her opinions, but she will always have the final say.

These are a few ground rules – we can obviously switch the word mother with the word father.  The topic of the article is not to discuss mother vs father roles, but skills developed when raising children.

Now, we play. We read the article again, but replace the word mother or parent by the word leader or manager. We replace the word kids by employees, and we see what happens.

The purpose of the exercise is not to say that employees are kids…but to show that being a parent entails the same qualities as those of a leader.

The parent-kid relationship isn’t that different from the leader-team one.

So why is it so difficult to go back to the work environment after a “raising kids” break? Why do women think that being a parent and a manager is incompatible? But also, why doesn’t our society acknowledge the experience acquired by being a parent?

Why do we believe that a woman needs to act as a man to become a manager? She already has all the required skills and has tested them on her own kids.

I myself have always considered that being a parent and manager is the same thing and I have always applied the recipes at home and at work.

I’ll end this article with an example of the parallel between work and home, specifically how I handled a conflict between two people from my team. A disagreement arose, email exchanges were getting heated, and each person was accusing the other of “treason” – and forwarding the emails to direct and functional hierarchy. Both had their rights and wrongs – as it’s often the case.

I called them both into my office and said: “My daughters are 10 and 12 years old. When they fight, I send them to their room to solve the issue on their own and tell them not to come back until they’ve reached an agreement. And they always do. Now, tell me if you’re capable of doing what kids do. I don’t want to see another email, other than the one signed by both of you, where you tell me that the you’ve solved the conflict and let me know what conclusion you’ve reached.”

A few days later, they came back to my office telling me “Boss, we’re happy to announce that we are back in the adult world” – end of the story.

So mothers, go update your CVs, put forward all the qualities you’ve acquired during your maternity leave, and get back in the game.