Women Work twice as Hard for Impact – Maseli
Mrs. Pat Maseli is the Head, Upstream Monitoring and Regulation in Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) – Nigeria’s hydrocarbon regulatory agency. Notably recognized as one of the few women to have made her mark within Nigeria’s male-dominated oil and gas industry, she is also revered for record-breaking achievements within the industry. A botanist turned geologist, Mrs Maseli, is also the first Steering Committee Chairman for Women in Geosciences and Engineering (WiGE), an offshoot of NAPE. During this interview with Oge Obi, considering the position of women in the energy sector and the demands on them for successful impact, she expressed the view that, “for women to occupy their rightful place in the industry, they must work twice as hard and be exceptionally competent to remain relevant.” Excerpts.
How did your career in Geosciences start?
This is an interesting story, which I always love to tell. After obtaining my Higher School Certificate of Education (HSE), my ambition was to become a medical doctor. For a variety of reasons, this did not occur and I was admitted to read Botany at the University of Benin. Botany was not a popular course but I accepted the offer with the hope of reverting to medicine after a year. However, I excelled in the subject and as a result, my request to revert to medicine was rejected by the Dean of the faculty and so my career as a botanist began.
Following the conclusion of my university degree, I enrolled in Nigeria’s mandatory National Youth Service Program and was posted to Rivers State. To my surprise, my primary assignment was to NNPC’s Research and Development department. At the time when I joined, the newly created Environmental section was in the process of being established and they needed individuals with a background in biological sciences as part of the team.
Despite my background being ideal for this post, the head of the department was also looking for additional people to join the geology laboratory. As a result, I was deployed to the palynology section of the geology laboratory. As with my degree, I demonstrated exceptionally high levels of aptitude within my position, which was highly commended by the team and thankfully, earned me a permanent position within NNPC.
Upon taking up my position, I was deployed to the Petroleum Inspectorate arm of NNPC, which is today known as the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR). Within this position, I was assigned to work as a geologist within the Conservation Department, known today as the Upstream Division, where my performance led to permanent retention within the team. I was extremely fortunate to be sent on several secondments to external organizations, including Shell Petroleum Development Company, the focus of which was to encourage hands-on training through all facets of exploration and production. This included exposure to both national and international operations, well sitting, work over operations, participation in drilling exploration within new fields, onshore and offshore site visits.
During this time of gaining direct work experience and exposure within the industry, I chose to cement my development from an educational perspective by obtaining a Master’s degree in Petroleum Geology from the University of Port Harcourt.
What are some challenges you have encountered during the course of your career?
The Industry was, and to a large extent, still is a predominantly male-dominated sector. As a result, many of the facilities and programmes available to people hoping to forge a career in the industry were designed to be specifically tailored to men. A primary example of this was during my time of visiting drilling rigs, where accommodation had been designed to support the primary needs of a male contingent. As a result, women were relegated to office spaces and other areas, which was neither practical nor acceptable. Thankfully, as more women entered the industry and the barriers were dismantled and adjustments were made to accommodate female geoscientists and engineers.
Challenges and barriers were not only literal and physical but also societal and psychological. As a result of the low number of women within the industry, there were fewer female mentors available to assist women in their development and progression through the ranks. This meant it was harder for women to enjoy exposure to opportunities, capacity-building and training programs, especially those opportunities which allowed for international exposure and development. The direct consequence of this being that women often had to work harder than their male counterparts to prove themselves.
Despite this, I would say that my determination, hard work and the support of some very select individuals allowed me to thrive as an individual, receive the training I needed and ensured that I was able to reach the levels I have today.
How competitive is the field of geology?
Geology offers an opportunity to be part of a diverse, demanding and consistently challenging profession. As with many different fields, in order to remain professionally successful, you need to ensure you are in high demand which will be based on your technical skills and knowledge. The field is very competitive and it is not an “easy” profession. Passion and determination are required together with hard work to excel.
As a geologist, you must be prepared to keep learning and honing your skills. In doing this, you are sure to enjoy the rewards of a successful and fruitful career in geology.
How did you handle the issue of integrity in your early days as a young professional?
It is often said that integrity is doing the right thing even when nobody is watching. As a young person in the petroleum industry, your integrity will be put to the test. There could be pressure to release confidential information to various companies, circumvent procedures or overlook wrongdoing. The challenges are ample. Growing up with a strong Christian background, the importance of demonstrating integrity was instilled in me at a young age. This helped me develop my own code of conduct and ethics which aided me in doing the right thing at all times.
Beyond my religious beliefs, I believe that a professional career is a marathon and not a sprint. By taking a long-term view of my career, I was able to always choose the right path rather than looking for short-term gains. Within the Nigerian oil industry in particular, which can sometimes be a close-knit community, a reputation as a person of integrity can help advance your career, whilst the contrary view can close many opportunities.
How many years have you worked within the sector for?
My experience in the petroleum industry spans 34 years. This includes time spent at the Department of Petroleum Resources where I started my career and excludes the one year of National Youth Service. During this time, I took two years leave of absence to help my family relocate to Austria when my husband started work at the United Nations.
As a career woman, wife and mother, how have you managed the demands of career and family life?
There is a common saying that it takes a village to raise a child. In the same vein, it takes a community to help build a career woman, wife, mother, sister and friend to strike the right balance in managing all of her obligations. My mother gave me tremendous support with my children which meant that I was able to focus on my career. My husband was also another critical success factor for me. He was willing to make sacrifices to ensure that both our careers progressed; from helping with homework, attending school events, and both of us living on two different continents. He was and remains a strong pillar of support. For this reason, I would emphasize to young women the importance of choosing a partner who is committed to guaranteeing your success in your career. Together, these factors have all contributed to the right work-life balance; setting priorities, adequate planning, support, communication and working as a team.
What do you think is the difference between Nigerian career women and their counterparts in the western world?
We come from a traditionally patriarchal society, with strong ideas about what a woman should say, how she should behave and what her place is. Although society is evolving and more women have joined and are taking up leadership roles in the workforce, many of the beliefs about the role of women still persist. For this reason, the Nigerian woman has to be both firm and flexible – standing her ground while taking cognizance of societal expectations. This is probably not much like her western counterparts, however, the roles are more clearly-defined here, and thus balancing the act is especially crucial within the Nigerian context. This tension often leads to conflicts, the use of terms such as “iron lady” or the sidelining of women. As such, Nigerian women need to exercise a great deal of emotional intelligence as well.
As the Head of Upstream Monitoring and Regulation in DPR, how has it been meeting up with the demands of your job of evaluation of applications and granting of licenses, permits, and approvals?
As you are aware, the industry is dynamic with new technology constantly evolving, which can be highly capital intensive. Therefore, you must be well positioned to be able to discharge your duties as a world-class regulator operating in a dynamic environment. You have to be abreast of new or emerging technologies, arrange for their presentations to UMR staff for their understanding and application if necessary. If the technology is viable, then we take it through the process of adoption/acceptance by the Department. We constantly review existing guidelines applicable to the Division with a view to updating them to close any gap. We have developed standard operating procedure (SOP) for the evaluation of all application resubmitted to the Division in order to shorten processing time and improve efficiency. Engagement of oil companies in technical meetings and workshops has also helped in improving understanding both for staff and the operators. Creating a harmonious environment in the Division to foster good relationship among staff does encourage a team spirit on the job.
What new approaches did you bring on board as you assumed office?
As an individual, I like to take my time to review my environment and see how current processes and practices are functioning before onboarding a new approach or system. Often your greatest assets are the individuals in your team and the understanding they possess of their working environment and job roles.
That being said, there were some skills which I chose to develop within my team. For example, we took time to identify the gaps and areas of improvement in upstream operations. In doing this we were able to identify team members who would benefit from training and capacity building programs and facilitate them taking part in these sessions.
A direct consequence of these actions was that we were able to create a collaborative and successful work environment, increasing productivity within the workforce. From a more procedural perspective, once the team was functioning in a more harmonious manner, we were able to identify that some of our guidelines were obsolete and in need of review. Furthermore, we developed more effective standard operating procedures (SOPs) for evaluating applications for various activities with a view to reducing processing time and improve our efficiency.
As one of the few women in a managerial position in oil and gas, can you estimate the percentage of women players in this industry?
The number is quite low. It is less than 20% even with some contributions from the private sector. The oil and gas industry is still overwhelmingly male-dominated. We hope both indigenous and international oil companies will help improve and shore up the numbers.
What can be done to break gender barriers in the industry?
Historically, women have been very unaware of the oil and gas industry. Knowledge of the sector was limited, exposure to opportunities for them was sparse and as such, having the basic knowledge of how to pursue a career in the sector was limited. In fact, there were often some job roles that were dedicated to women such as secretarial work, teaching, being a nurse or engaging in a small-scale business that would have had little interference with their ability to manage the family. In today’s professional world, gender equality is a topic on everyone’s lips and as such, more of a focal point for women and employers alike. However, one question we must ask ourselves is;
“Are the barriers women face at work self-imposed or dictated by the work environment?”
It is important for women to be empowered with the right attitude and confidence to tackle responsibilities and even go beyond. We need to start being the voice at the table, overcome hesitation and be vocal about what we are thinking and put out the signal that we are in the race too. Women must strive and be encouraged to have the determination to achieve goals of attaining executive/management level positions in their respective organizations. Presently, I am the Steering Committee Chairman for Women in Geosciences (WiGE). Our strategy is to visit primary and secondary schools and introduce young women to the industry from various perspectives,ranging from geology to engineering. etc. By doing this, we hope not only to encourage young women to begin considering the sector but to also encourage them to choose to study subjects that can help them enter the industry in the future. At the NAPE ICE, WiGE event, we hosted over 250 participants, mainly female students. Eventually, we are going to raise that number from what it is now. With the teeming population of female geologists, engineers, and geophysicists that I am seeing here, I am sure we will be able to increase the proportion of women occupying strategic positions in the very near future.
What should be the government’s role in this?
We need more women to be in charge. The government should create a clear avenue through which more women can come on board. For instance, we have not had a female GMD of NNPC or a female director of DPR. They need to open that up because there are women that are well-qualified to occupy these positions. I believe we will make a lot of difference in the industry if women are given a chance to head these big governmental organizations.
What would you consider as breaking the glass ceiling for the women in this industry?
A glass ceiling is a metaphor used to represent an invisible barrier that keeps a given demography, in this case, women, from rising beyond certain hierarchy. In many professions, a woman cannot break through the glass ceiling to the upper level of management. In recent times, we have begun to see the trend reverse. One could even say that we are experiencing a paradigm shift. This is especially the case in the private sector where a few women have managed to climb the ranks to become Managing Directors and Chief Executive Officers of various companies. Such progress has trickled into the public domain, albeit slowly. In the Petroleum Ministry for example, we have had a few female permanent secretaries who have left behind a track-record of excellence. We look forward to welcoming more females playing key roles. There are plenty more glass ceilings to crack.
Beyond oil and gas, what other industry can these female geologists or women in geosciences fit into?
Although the oil and gas industry remains lucrative, the next frontier of opportunities lies in mining of solid minerals. Nigeria is blessed with a wealth of mineral deposits ranging from gold, iron ore to uranium. As the oil industry is saturated with geologists and unemployment continues to loom, they should begin to gravitate towards the mining industry, using their expertise to make it more lucrative.
What is your message to the girls?
Firstly, to get into the industry, it is important they make the right educational choices. STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) will give them the grounding they need to penetrate the industry. Taking the bold step to take these traditionally male-dominated subjects is the most crucial first step to changing the gender make-up of the industry. Mentors are also important for development in any career but especially the oil and gas industry. Whether you are a budding female geologist or engineer, going out of your way to find out about inspirational women in the industry and connect with them will give you guidance and support throughout your career. Finally, there is no success without hard work. So they will have to be competent in their areas of expertise but also be willing to work twice as hard as their male counterparts if they are to get to the top and break the glass ceilings.
What is the roadmap for the Nigerian oil and gas industry in a diversified economy?
The roadmap for Nigeria’s energy sector is grounded on the recognition that oil and gas are critical for its economic growth. This was captured perfectly by the 7 Big Wins presented by the President in 2016, which has the objective of revamping the Petroleum industry. It is hoped that this will, in turn, create wealth and add value to the citizenry. Efforts should also be made to address security-related issues, to review the development of the oil-producing regions and to review and develop policies and regulation with a special focus on revamping the gas sector and curbing waste. Steps have already been taken in pursuance of these goals. The gas commercialization project, for example, must be lauded for its effort to convert gas taken at flares into useful energy. Apart from the economic gains it will provide, it will also reduce CO2 emissions and reduce environmental pollution. The Department of Petroleum Resources estimates that all flares will be extinguished by 2020.
Drastic steps should also be taken to fix the old refineries and build new ones. There is so much talk about modular refineries that will be short-term and a quick fix but this needs to be turned into concrete action. With 2.2 million barrels of oil being produced per day, we should be a refining nation. We have the capacity for 2.6 million barrels of oil per day but we will only achieve that if the challenges affecting the industry are resolved.
Traditionally import dependent consumers like the United States are increasingly on the cusps of energy self-sufficiency, while we still need to export some of our crude to cater for our foreign exchange requirements, we still need to meet the demands of our teeming population. This will require full deregulation of the downstream sector and liberalisation of the market. Effective implementation will be imperative to achieving the roadmap.