Together against stereotyping

Employees from different Tecpetrol operations share their experiences of the challenges facing women in the industry to celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

Circling February 11 on the calendar is an opportunity to think about full and equal participation and access to science for women and girls. The date was established in 2016 by the United Nations as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science and serves a dual purpose. Firstly, to highlight the gender gap in study opportunities, employment and promotion to leadership positions—and their associated economic benefits—and secondly, to underscore the role played by women as agents of change in issues that are critical for development. Such as 2022, where this year’s slogan is "Equity, Diversity and Inclusion: Water Unites Us," as part of a move to accelerate progress towards the achievement of SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation),

According to UN data, women tend to receive more modest research grants than their male colleagues and, although they represent 33.3% of all researchers, only 12% of the members of national science academic institutions are women. In cutting-edge fields such as artificial intelligence, only one in five professionals (22%) is female. And, although there an urgent need for qualified personnel in technology, women continue to represent only 28% of engineering graduates.


"In terms of quantities, there is definitely a gap: if 60% of the people in the office are women, in the field it’s a very different story as the ratio is 99 to 1," explains Angie Manrique (28 years old), from Engineering and Facilities in Colombia. Angie is a Petroleum Engineer with two years of experience as a Young Professional in the Oil & Gas industry, but she had to forge her own path. “When I joined Tecpetrol and spent the first year working in the office, I was the only woman in the sector, because there were no others working in Operations,” she told Tecpetrol Hoy in a conversation. "At first it was quite a shock for them, and they had to restrain themselves from making certain comments or jokes, but little by little they began to accept me and welcome me in," she explained. Although even today, when certain tasks need doing, such as preparing a presentation, they assign it to “the girl” because “she’ll do a good job”.

Just a couple of years earlier, Yael Bernardi (31 years old), a geologist based in Comodoro Rivadavia, was interviewed for a job by the manager of one of the main geological survey companies in the area and got no for an answer. "Look, we don't have any female-friendly trailers and you know these have to be shared." Even today, when most companies tend to assign individual cabins for fieldwork, those words expressed far more than a reticence about mixed accommodation. "That answer said everything, that there were no other women working in that area with whom I could share space," she adds. However, Yael also goes on to say that the changes that have happened over the last five years are remarkable. 

Carolina Gualavisí (38 years old) has fifteen years of experience in the oil sector and says that at the start, the distinction was presented as a matter of logistics. "In Ecuador, it was very rare to see a woman in the field, the drills were surrounded by a phalanx of men and they explained that they didn’t send women into the field because they couldn’t be assigned properly," explains Carolina, who is today the Reservoir Engineer at Pardaliservices. "I started my career in another company and I always infinitely preferred to take my breaks and sleep in the personnel transport vehicle because there really was nowhere else to stay." Although she admits that things are very different today, "there is still a long way to go." 

The university, an area in transition

Obviously, there are no restrictions on women studying at university, and in recent years, their enrollment in technical degree courses has risen significantly. However, this is all part of a deep-seated cultural change which still has a long way to go. “In two of my classes, my teachers had a hard time understanding the situation: first they said they were amazed to see so many women taking their classes and congratulated us. Then they added that they’d never seen women in the field and that drilling was really hard work—because of the long hours. To crown it all, they actually claimed to know that women preferred working in other sectors because they didn’t like to be working in an area with so many men,” recalls Angie Manrique, a graduate of the industrial university of Santander, in Colombia. 

This kind of distinction, so often repeated in off-hand comments, which has nothing to do with abilities, is often a feature of the generational gap. "You women should dedicate yourselves to research," Yael Bernardi remembers hearing from some of her professors at the National University of Patagonia San Juan Bosco, in Argentina. She also recalls the anecdotes told by her father, with thirty years’ work in the sector to his credit, who only ever talked about what the men did onsite. Despite his own experiences, he was supportive of his daughter’s determination and desire to study earth sciences. "I think we’re going through a transition and that in a couple of years we will see these changes bear fruit," she remarks.

Towards a future of greater empowerment

"Every day, more and more people are talking about the gender issue and there has been some progress, but the stereotypes are still very much present," says Angie Manrique, who has earned the respect of her colleagues, mostly men, but would like to see more women working alongside her. “We know how difficult it is for women to enter the industry. That’s the reason why our +d diversity program, designed to foster greater diversity and inclusion in all senses, was introduced two years ago. The idea is to ensure women have all the tools they need to deploy their capabilities and be appropriately recognized, reducing any gender biases still present at Tecpetrol,” explains Julieta Vieytes, manager of Human Resources for Buenos Aires and the Southern Cone, and a member of the governance team for the +d diversity program. As part of its approach to tackling diversity, Tecpetrol has implemented a Mentoring project, various editions of the Lean In Circles, maternity coaching, intergenerational meetings, and emotional support webinars, among a whole host of other initiatives. The results speak for themselves: during 2021, 30% of new entrants throughout the operations were women, 41% of them in technical positions.

For Yael Bernardi, this International Day is an opportunity to reflect on the issue, as she remembers her participation in a professional forum held in Neuquen with a dozen young women who were in the final years of their technical studies.  "I wanted to emphasize that we, as women, are entitled to take our own decisions, which is important as other people will listen to you, and you can always discuss these together with them and work as a team," she explained, sharing the advice she gave these young students. "Never let them forget that who we are, also has weight in the discussion."

Although women continue to encounter obstacles, Angie Manrique is firm about her convictions.  "I’d tell them not to be afraid, as people are increasingly aware that women have exactly the same abilities as men, so they should do what they want to do, and little by little this gap will be closed."

Around 30 Tecpetrol employees participated in the Lean In Circles, one of the company’s first diversity programs, centered on meetings where both men and women come together in an atmosphere of frankness and trust to discuss their views and experiences of diversity and inclusion. The Circles are also designed to strengthen networking, encourage people from different backgrounds to connect, and are instrumental in detecting bias in different work situations.       

Carolina Gualavisí took part in the intergenerational webinars organized by Tecpetrol University—and was the only woman in the Reservoirs webinar. For her, these channels of expression are crucial for change. “There should be far more opportunities for dialogue like these, where we as professional women can share our experiences and show by example what we are talking about, so that people, and indeed society, can see that the lack of gender differences is something that should be natural, and thus be able to welcome women as participants in this industry, on a par with their male colleagues.” Looking to the future, Carolina was positive about the way forward, "as it’s up to us as professionals to open doors and be supportive of other women coming up through the ranks."

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