[How to diversify your team] – Tip #5 Let them talk!

Today, I’d like to address the issue of speaking up in companies.

If at first sight, this issue might seem secondary, the unequal relationship to speech between genders has many consequences. This cause is very much linked to that of work recognition.        

For example, when male employees speak up in meetings, or promote their work to their hierarchy more than their female counterparts, they appear more involved, and will be more easily considered for a promotion when the time comes.

If I use the term “men”, it is to lighten the text and avoid the very heavy saying “a somewhat significant share of men, or at least a greater share than that of women”. There are obviously important contrasts within the male (and female) gender, starting with introverts and extroverts. Women are therefore far from being the only ones who would benefit from a change in mindset.   

Inequality in the relationship to speech is at the root of many other inequalities, which is why it is so important to tackle it. Additionally, companies will benefit from promoting (and prevent from losing) great employees who are not sufficiently recognized. They will also gain more from their contributions.    

Now that I have come to this conclusion, a question remains:         

What can be done to solve this problem?

As stated earlier, women generally speak up less in meetings than men. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that they will only express an opinion if they consider themselves very competent on the subject. The second reason is related to what is called “manterrupting”.

For those who are not familiar with this term, here is the definition, which I gave in TIP#3: “The regular cutting off of women’s voices in meetings not only denies their competence, but also allows men to take ownership their ideas. A word has even been coined to define this phenomenon, which is far more common than it seems: manterrupting. “.        

Thus, being accustomed to having their voices cut off, women are more hesitant to speak up.

The good news is that it is quite simple to improve this situation. Just stay cautious during the meeting and go around the table regularly, asking those who have not yet spoken to give their opinions. This way you will get a real diversity of thoughts, instead only listening to those who are more expansive.

When someone expresses an original idea or even one that goes against the grain of the status quo, don’t fall into the “it will never work” trap. Innovation is based on the variety of ideas and therefore requires being open to unconventional ideas.

As for the issue of cutting people off, even though this is more often the result of an unconscious act rather than a bad intention, it must be treated with my famous “zero tolerance”. I once worked with a very enthusiastic man who had the habit of systematically cutting off his female colleagues. Why women? Certainly out of impatience, because they spoke with a small, timid voice, which was easy to interrupt. After asking him several times to stop doing it, I ended up playing the provocation card: “I know that you think, as a man, that your voice matters more than women’s, but I would like to listen to them.” I didn’t mean it of course, but it had the merit of opening his eyes to his inappropriate behavior, which never happened again.

Another equally effective option is to ask everyone to share their opinion by email, or in person (during a one-on-one meetings) for those who have difficulty expressing ideas in writing. This allows for input from employees who are uncomfortable in public and won’t speak up in a meeting.

Don’t miss out on diversity of thought and speech.

Speech is a crucial issue in the fight for the cause of women. Companies would benefit a lot from listening more to their employees. Recognizing everyone’s work for what it’s worth (and not for the share of talking in a conversation) is also about being more fair. After all, if there’s one thing we’re learning in the age of social media, it’s that it’s not always the people who take up the most space in the public arena who deserve the most to be heard. 

Recipe 3 – Do not take things personally

It may seem contradictory to some of my previous writings… indeed, I advocate finding a job that we love, with values ​​in which we identify. This often involves personal commitment.

And that’s exactly why I want to write about this topic. It’s so easy to take everything personally. A negative e-mail? “My boss does not love me”, a project rejected? “My boss does not love me”, comments on our action plan? “My boss does not love me”, I was not invited to an important meeting? “My boss does not love me. “

Do you realise that you sound just like Calimero *?

It’s true that it can happen, a boss who doesn’t like us. That can be terrible, especially if it turns into harassment. But before we get to that point, let’s make sure that this disenchantment is real.

 We all have natural affinities and colleagues we “like” more than others … It’s human, of course, but that does not justify treating people differently in the workplace.

 So, how do we dissociate the work from the affect?

 The first thing to do is to sit down and think. Don’t let your emotions take over.

And then, ask yourself what the reason of the rejection/oversight/etc. is.

A project can be rejected because it is badly put together, it was badly sold, or it is not just in the current strategy of the company. You really have to step back at that point. It can be difficult, if you’ve been working on it for months, to accept all this wasted time, but it’s often an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and ask for a meeting with your boss to understand what could be improved next time. Above all, avoid building a bad reputation by reacting emotionally. Getting offended and rejecting criticism will only worsen the situation, and give the image that you’re arrogant.

Most of the time, once we accepted that there can be good reasons for our project to be rejected, things get better.

But there are the other moments… the e-mail that’s a bit too direct, or even aggressive, following a delay on a project; the meeting that we haven’t been invited to; the e-mail on which we weren’t copied…

There, it is even easier to take it personally … “If my boss respected me, she/he would not write to me like that.”

Except that it depends on the type of boss. I’m one of those bosses who get straight to the point and who consider that sending a direct email to someone on the team is a sign of trust. Because this person knows that I am very busy, and we know each other well enough to avoid wasting time.

A few simple rules to follow in this case: (after having passed the infamous “I’ll sleep on it”)

1 – Wonder if the boss is doing the same thing with everyone? (or more simply, avoid paranoia)

2 – Put yourself in the shoes of the boss – Would I do the same if I were in her/his place? Is he doing it to increase efficiency for example? Does her/his level of stress explain certain shortcomings (even if his role should be not to pass on this infamous stress)? Or was it simply a human mistake (because we all make mistakes, and it’s alright)?

3 – Is it really that bad? Am I not overreacting? Sometimes, when tired, it is easy to exaggerate very trivial signs

4 – Did we interpret the tone of the e-mail correctly? The problem with e-mails is that they are, by definition, silent. There is no tone of voice that goes with them and that allows us to understand if it’s humor, or if the tone is benevolent. So, in doubt, always think that it was written in a positive way. This will avoid stressing too much.

And if none of that works, if you continue to think there’s a problem, then sometimes the best is to break the ice and just calmly ask your boss or colleague what’s going on.

But in the end, you always have to assume that they’re attacking an opinion, a position, or sometimes a role, but very rarely a person. So we send Calimero* back to our childhood cartoons and we go back to the office with a beautiful smile!

Note – Of course, I’m talking about normal relationships at work. In case of harassment, it’s a whole other topic that I’ll discuss one day in an article.

* For the young generation who might be reading me… Calimero is a little black chick who walks around with his eggshell on his head and a bundle on his shoulder. His favorite phrase: “Life is really too unfair!”

Recipe 2 – stepping out of your comfort zone

A friend who is very invested in the feminist debate was telling me about a bias he experienced recently.

When a manager (him, for instance) has two positions to attribute to two equally skilled candidates, they tend to give the simplest one to the woman and the more complicated one to the man. He seeks to increase the chances of success of women – after all, there are very few women, we’re not going to risk their failure!

However, by doing that, not only do we not give women the opportunity to show what they’re worth, but also, we don’t prepare them for executive positions. During the next round of promotions…who will we give the super job to? The one who had a very challenging job and who succeeded beautifully, or the one who, although deserving, had a less visible success, because the original challenge was not as important? This is how, even with the best intentions, we can slow down women’s progression.

Stepping out of your comfort zone is the best way to learn new things. It’s in unknown territories that you have the opportunity to take risks (controlled) and stand out, proving that you’re ready for a new role.

When a task is particularly difficult, there’s no other choice but to roll up your sleeves and use all your neurons.

Nevertheless, when a mission is a little less challenging, it’s not a reason to settle for laziness! There’s always a way to have an impact in your work.

The turning point of career happened while I was in a manufacturing position. We’re in 2004. The oil and gas industry is growing exponentially, as it does once in a while. The tools that I’m producing have a 9-month fabrication lead-time. In the beginning of 2005, my book of orders is identical to that of the previous year. Clearly, people on the ground remain cautious of the industry’s growth. In my opinion, it’s pretty obvious that it’s not normal. I could’ve settled for the more comfortable option, at that time, and execute the agreed-upon strategy, without questioning it. But I don’t like comfort… so I go all the way up to the president, to offer the implementation of an increased tool production by 80%, and all this, without any orders. After seeing my business plan, the president follows me in my “madness”. I mean, madness I like to call “controlled risk-taking”.

End of the year, we still have tools on the shelves. I create an ad campaign for operations that have received additional Capex in view of growth.

Since no other center made the same bet as me, they’re very happy to spend their money. We end the year having sold everything and having doubled our production.

It’s after this exploit that I became the CEO of Angola.

Would they have offered me this promotion without taking that previous risk? I don’t think so.

This promotion is the direct result of me stepping out of my comfort zone. Managers promote people who are going to make their departments evolve, who are going to improve processes, who are going to lead their teams to new heights. People who don’t just pass the relay from one position to another. 

You might say, it’s all lovely, but how do we do it exactly?

First, you need to analyze the situation and think about how to make it evolve. Keep an open mind and accept all ideas, even the most absurd. In a world where technologies increase at such a rapid rate, the absurd of yesterday is the normal of tomorrow! (For those who saw my TEDx, I know, I used this phrase already, but I still love it!)

Let’s not let ourselves get trapped in the “we’ve always done it this way”.

Once an idea is agreed upon and the implementation plan is established, it’s important to find support to launch it – for instance, in my case, my boss and the president. For this, it’s important to have concrete knowledge of your file to be more credible (see my previous article on the “No”, which I won’t develop further here).

But above all, we must dare! After all, what are we really risking? Our idea being rejected? Yes, of course, it happens. But in this case, it allows us to learn and bounce back easier, and it also shows that we’re not afraid of offering innovative ideas, even if they’re not always approved. Either way, we come out of it a winner.

Are you going to be scared? Yes, most likely. I wasn’t showing off when I walked in to the president’ office to tell him about my rather wild idea.

But it’s so worth it that taking that risk and the fear of failing are largely compensated.

In each job that I had, I can precisely tell you what I changed, and how the position has evolved under my responsibility. It most likely helped my career progression, but above all, it made my job a lot more interesting and entertaining, while allowing me to come out of it with great satisfaction.

Thus, if you don’t step out of your comfort zone by ambition, do it at least to have fun! (but I’ll say it again – the risk has to be controlled and approved by your hierarchy).

Queen Bees, do they exist?

When I was appointed as the Europe General Manager for Schlumberger, the announcement was made through the company’s usual communication channels. Two other women were appointed at the head of a region or a country at the same time as me.

One of my colleagues came to see me to congratulate me. And he added, “Now that there are several executive women, there is going to some fights”

I was rather surprised by this remark and especially as I did not understand it. No one had told me about the “Queen Bee” Syndrome. I did not know that such a thing existed. On the contrary, having spent the majority of my career as the only woman at my level in various positions I held, I was thrilled to finally have female peers.

What is Queen Bee Syndrome?

Eve Program wrote an excellent article on the subject here. Simply put, this term refers to the idea that when a woman reaches a leadership position, she prevents other women from advancing for fear of losing her place of status!

There have been several studies supporting this thesis. The most recent in 2015, by the University of Maryland, concluded that the probability for a woman to be promoted drops by 50% in circumstances where the manager is a woman. Conversely a study by the Columbia Business School shows that this thesis of the queen is a myth (links to the studies here et here). Certainly, the numbers can be interpreted differently. As an example, in the case of the University of Maryland study, assuming that the results are correct, before concluding that women are their own worst enemies, we need to look at the other hypotheses. In many male dominated companies, once a woman has been promoted to an executive position, the management considers that the diversity work is done, therefore no need to promote other women. On the contrary, when a company has a female executive company director, the number of female employees increases.

But let’s stop talking about numbers and studies and let’s try to understand why this metaphor is an issue in itself. Could it be an easy way to challenge women’s ascension? Nice image than the one of “witches” who argue as soon as they have that power? Such person clearly does not have the right credibility to manage a team. But in reality, have you met many of them?

However, it is certain that without speaking of “queen of bees”, that work must be done to improve unity among female colleagues.

For example, several years ago a Human Resources manager told me, ” You guys, the trailblazers, are not supporting younger women, as you think that as no one helped you, why should you help them? The recurring theme of: “If I did it, why can’t they?”

Thinking about it, I realized he was right. I also had a tendency to look down upon women who were turning to me for assistance when they faced certain barriers to work. After all, I had managed to cope alone, they have to do the same. I was also part of the problem.

When I started in the oil industry 30 years ago, you had to be strong enough to deal with everyday sexism. However, we need to have change. Shouldn’t our responsibility be to give anyone, if they have the skills and talent needed, a chance to follow the career they merit, and to be able to do in an environment that is agreeable?

During my career, I observed two types of behaviors among women in industry.

There are those who think that their role is to support their female colleagues. They will try to promote women around them and this is not a matter of making positive discrimination, but simply of finding the famous “Talented, Silent”. In other words, they have to go against their cognitive biases that tend to have them offer managerial positions, mostly, to men.

Then there are those who will not do or say anything, just stay neutral. They will not proactively engage in support other female employees, but they will not try to impede their progress either.

However, I have never met a woman who used her power to impair others. They certainly exist, but we must stop believing that they are the majority! Although I am clearly in the first category, I do not spare inept women who work for me. If they are not capable to perform their job, I take action, and sometimes a harsh one.

Finally, the question I ask myself is this: “How common are these queen bees? More prevalent than men?  When a woman manager is demanding, or “bossy” she proves the opinion about the stereotypical status of the jealous shrew and thus discredits her authority.

Thus, is it time to fight against the commonly held belief that female interactions are based on pettiness and jealousy and instead prove that it is through solidarity and sorority that we will reach an egalitarian society. The myth of the queen bee must disappear, along with all the other perceptions suggesting that female relationships are driven solely by rivalry.

Ladies, with an average of less than 10% of women in executive positions, we have a lot of ground to conquer, but we will be stronger if we do it together!

What about women truck drivers?

Firstly, I wanted to wish you all the best for 2019!

And for my first article of the year, I’d like to talk about a topic that is important to me, a new objective that I’ve set: increasing the number of female drivers.

The photo says it all.

In yellow, me… behind me, a huge mining equipment. Next to me, in orange – the driver of this mastodon. This photo was taken in the Philippines in late 2018.

A few months ago, I was visiting Romania and we were talking about the training of drivers, in the context of the road safety program. The manager told me that his main problem was the number of drivers who, once trained, left to go to countries in Western Europe in search of better wages. 

I then asked him about the percentage of female drivers – very surprised, he told me that there were none.

You’re probably wondering how that is related to our problem.

Hiring women drivers would make up for the loss in workforce. Moreover, hiring women today is possible and opportune for many reasons:

  1. Nowadays, driving a truck doesn’t require a Herculean strength. Drivers no longer need to be “big guys” (at least, not for our operations).
  2. Women have fewer fatal accidents – according to the last report on accidents, published in January 2018 by the National Interministerial Observatory of Road Safety:
    1. 67% of license points withdrawn regarded men
    1. Men represent 75% of convicts for manslaughter
    1. 88% of drivers involved in a fatal alcohol-related crash are men
    1. And to answer the question of kilometers: there’s no reliable statistic on the proportion of female vs. male drivers but…: driving licenses were delivered to 49% of women. According to a study TNS Sofres issued in 2012, the annual mileage of female drivers (11 200km) is almost the same as that of men (12 500km). Other studies talk about 20 to 30% of km less.
  3. Women take better care of their equipment than men (it was confirmed by countries that have already launched the initiative and are starting to have statistical returns).
  4. Women are less likely to leave their families to move abroad, once trained, even if it would mean earning more.
  5. Some of our activities (quarrying, truck driving) are fixed-time jobs, without long-distance travels, which is ideal for people wishing to return home every night.

So the question that immediately comes to mind is: where to find female drivers?

Unfortunately, today, there are very little. In France, according to several sources, women only represent 3 to 5% of drivers of heavy goods (transport of goods only – they supposedly represent 20% of passenger transports).

What about prejudices? Is there any discrimination in the transportation industry?

Some people may think that there is some form of discrimination, but it seems that it’s not the case for truck drivers. The article excerpt below shows it:

“Prejudices, often unfounded, on female truck drivers:  those who intend to become truck drivers are often afraid to find themselves facing a “macho” sector or some kind of discrimination during the hiring process. Yet, very few differences are found between men and women in the application of the profession. The sector is actually quite tolerant and allows for gender diversity” (link in French here)

Nevertheless, the percentage of female drivers remains very low… it’s a bit like the story of the chicken and the egg. If there’s no job at hand, women will not go through training – and if there are no trained women, companies are not going to hire women, and the number of women will stagnate.

What solutions can we implement?

To go back to the case of Romania, they are looking to secure a partnership with a driving school to form women, who would be promised to have a job after.

More generally, and for now, we’re focusing mainly on the missions with short travels, which allow women to return home at night. Indeed, this solution appears to be more suitable, given that in a lot of countries, places to rest on the road aren’t made to accommodate women. Thus, let’s prove that we can recruit women for short trips, and we’ll tackle the problem of long trips later – once our strategy will have proven successful.

During my trips, I often hear people complaining about the lack of truck drivers – which is a common problem on all continents. However, there’s one element missing from their analysis: female truck drivers!

(ha… and here are the first 4 female drivers recruited in Uganda…)

Magali… she’s got some!

My TEDx on December 3rd  started like this: “Magali, she’s the only boss we’ve had that had balls”

Good start.

I was referring the words used by some old members of my team – from the center I worked in 15 years ago – to describe me.

Except that… I’d been told that before!

One time, young engineer in Nigeria, we’ve been dealing with technicians on strike for weeks. We were going on a mission, two engineers to replace the three technicians – we were exhausted, but management wasn’t giving up. One day, we were in the base. I was the only woman. And we all agreed that we should go talk to the bosses about our tiredness and how desperately the situation had to change – they all stare at me and tell me, as one man: “Magali, you’re the only one with balls here – you should go!

In the dictionary, “having some” is defined as such: “being brave, having audacity, character, being energetic; having the courage to”

Therefore, I decided that being told that was quite a compliment. Because to me, above anything else, this expression means having the courage to question the established order. Which I always try to do. That’s how I worked in Nigeria on an oil rig at the age on 22, at a time where they weren’t hiring women.

I must admit, I also thought it was a nice way to introduce myself and draw the public’s attention during the TEDx. Impertinence is most likely one of the qualities that have allowed me to survive and progress in a very masculine world. After all, I don’t think the word “balls” is often used on stage – especially by a woman.

But although I appreciate the “compliment”, I don’t think that it makes me a man. And I’m not sure I like being defined by masculine attributes.

Yet, based on years of observation, there’s no shortage of women who’ve got some – maybe it’s because I work in an environment that is mainly masculine and has so few women that we notice them. But in general, most women I’ve worked with lacked neither courage, nor audacity, nor character.  

So, maybe it would be time to rethink this expression. Because words matter. Because this expression can be taken with humor, but the truth is that when a woman is successful, we grant her male attributes.

However, when we say that mixed teams are more performing than teams where only one sex is represented, it’s only true if we have a true diversity and if women behave the way they want to, without trying to imitate men’s management style. They do it too often – and it’s understandable – to try and fit in without causing chaos.

So it would be good to find an equivalent expression for women – and since we don’t have to stay at the genital level, I wouldn’t advise a female equivalent (which I have, I must admit, used a number of times, but more for the pleasure of seeing my interlocutors’ faces than by personal belief).

So, next time you meet a woman who’s got some… tell her she’s got some… courage, audacity, or character.

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.