Women in Oil & Gas: The Journey from Being an Engineering Student to Roughing It on an Oil Rig
Aliaa Ezz El Din, a 27-year-old Egyptian oil and gas field engineer says that field work in her industry is difficult not only for women, but for everyone. “It’s a very harsh environment. You miss events, like childbirths, lots of weddings and social events,” says Aliaa, who is with the Wellbore Intervention (WBI) team at Baker Hughes, a GE company (BHGE).
“But that’s what defines oil and gas. You have deal with it, working in the middle of nowhere with sand all around.” For women, of course, it’s even more challenging, she says.
“Not only here in Egypt, but the culture in the oil and gas everywhere is that it’s just for men. It’s difficult for people to deal with that, to have a female on the [production] rig. And for me as a supervisor, it was initially difficult to overcome the culture issues. But I had a lot of support” from people in the field and more generally from BHGE.
Her success, though, wasn’t just about outside support, Aliaa says. “You have to depend on yourself, have self-confidence and work hard to overcome whatever challenges you face.”
Her advice? “Never give up, even if you find a lot of obstacles in your way. Find the strength to overcome it. That’s what this field [of oil and gas] has taught me. That everything is possible. And never underestimate your ability to do something. Don’t say ‘no’. Try.”
Aliaa is a supervisor on the WBI team, which provides troubleshooting and problem-solving during all phases of well development and production to get things back on track as quickly as possible.
Aliaa is the first female BHGE field engineer in the Middle East working on a WBI team and the first female supervisor on a WBI team here in the region.
As was the case with her colleagues, customers too are initially surprised to see a female engineer. “What you always hear is: ‘But you’re a female!’ I explain that I’ve been on rigs onshore and offshore and have experience locally in Egypt and abroad on North Sea platforms. They say, ‘Okay, we’ll give it a try.’ And then they see the work I do. It’s just at the beginning when people question. After, everyone is fine.”
Ever since Aliaa joined BHGE from university in 2013, the company has helped her develop her career. They ensured she gained the necessary field experience, even providing her a small caravan for sleeping when she was the only female at a rig site in Egypt.
They also sent her to BHGE operations in the North Sea and Azerbaijan. “They want to have this diversity,” she says. “They really care about it, so they have provided me with help for everything, from training to field exposure, to travel and international assignments.”
Her family, too, has been supportive. “They trust me and my decisions, and that I will know how to find a way. They know I will do my best to achieve what I want to achieve and so support me to make my decisions.”
That said, Aliaa acknowledges it’s not been easy for her family when, for example, “they can’t even reach me by telephone when I’m on the rig.”
Aliaa, who loved math when she was young, earned a BA in engineering in the Gas and Petrochemical Department at Alexandria University and an MSc in Chemical Engineering from the same university. “I liked studying and was a top-ten student … so I never imagined that one day I would be in the field. I thought I would be in an office.”
For Aliaa, success is not only an issue of determination but also a “matter of passion. If you like what you are doing, you going to do it.” The two highlights of Aliaa’s career so far include working in the North Sea, which is one of the largest and most complex oil and gas fields in the world, and supporting the supergiant offshore Zohr Gas Field in Egypt.
Zohr “is the biggest field in Egypt, and the most important nowadays, so being involved, is something huge. It’s the biggest production for Egypt, help country a lot and be a great turning point. Encouraged by her opportunities at BHGE and driven by her own passion to learn, Aliaa aspires to become the first women in front-line management for the company. “Since I’m still young, I have a lot of opportunities to learn,” she says.