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Addressing the professional gathering at the Federation of Indian Petroleum Industry (FIPI)’s “Women in Indian Energy Sector” event on 28 September 2021, Director (HR) Dr Alka Mittal noted that there are ample opportunities now in the industry for women. She shared that the choice has to come from the women themselves.

Dr Mittal was speaking at the panel discussion on “Career Opportunities for Women in Energy Sector”, organized in a hybrid mode. The insightful session moderated by MD & Partner BCG Dr Rahool Panandiker, was also participated by eminent women leaders like CMD of Shipping Corporation of India Harjeet Kaur Joshi and Deputy Vice-President (Global) & CEO (South Asia) of Deakin University Ravneet Pawha.

Director (HR) assured that when women from technical backgrounds come for interviews, they are looked at favorably now for hiring; “but the women themselves should select the technical lines and see themselves as going up in career.”

“75% of our workforce in the energy industry in general and ONGC in general, is related to technical disciplines. One of the reasons behind low participation of women at the energy sector is due to the lack of technically qualified women deciding to join the STEM courses at the outset,” said Dr Mittal.

Director (HR) at the FIPI panel discussion on “Career Opportunities for Women in Energy Sector”
Director (HR) at the FIPI panel discussion on “Career Opportunities for Women in Energy Sector”

Citing some interesting statistics, Director (HR) shared that the women participation in the Indian energy sector is a mere 8%, in contrast to 22% in the global core sector and 28% in general. She said that while infrastructure and socio-cultural attitudes are still key factors restricting women from entering and rising in core technical jobs, a major barrier is also catalyzed by women themselves. “Women have to come forward, despite family pressures, and start seeing themselves in top management positions.”

Giving a historical perspective, Dr Mittal said, “The situation has evolved through the decades. Earlier, women asking for field jobs might have been refused due to lack of infrastructure to facilitate them or women themselves rejected field duties. However, the situation has changed now and the eco-system is favorable to accommodate women even in field-jobs. Women should take the challenges as it is easier now. The kind of challenges we accepted during our career path is the reason why we are in this position now,” said Dr Mittal.

On the role of men to encourage women to reach higher roles in the energy sector, Director (HR) said that every working woman should be nurtured through proper mentoring, training, development and appreciation. “Male executives should play a major role in confidence-building of their female peers. If all stakeholders acknowledge and recognize this, time will certainly change,” said Dr Mittal, adding that every organization must have career-building opportunities along with facilities to ease working for women, especially in the core areas.

Dr Mittal also cited the example of Shipping Corporation of India CMD Harjeet Kaur Joshi – who is also a former ONGCian – to state that when technically sound women join the sector they go a long way to reach greater heights. “There are lots of opportunities for a gender-balanced workforce,” she said.

Shipping Corporation of India CMD Harjeet Kaur Joshi said that there are no entry barriers for women in the energy sector. She said that these days there are several women in defense and navy and the energy sector is almost the same. Thanking ONGC for grooming her in the earlier phase of her career, Ms Joshi shared her experience working with ONGC Videsh limited – the Maharatna’s overseas arm. She shared that it was quite challenging for her to take up her first project at Yemen; “however, I gradually became an expert of oil and gas exploration in the Middle East”.

She exhorted all to encourage more women to join the STEM career, in which usually men are more attracted to. Stating that many women, especially working parents, even after joining the core business areas, leave due to family pressure, she said, “There are no limits other than your own mind. Women should stay determined and take up challenging assignments.”

Deputy Vice-President (Global) & CEO (South Asia) of Deakin University Ravneet Pawha pointed out a couple of key challenges for women in the energy sector like institutional barrier and societal barrier. She expressed skepticism over the sector’s endeavor to hire mid-term women employees and to try and retain them. She stated that there are still pressing issues like company policies prohibiting women to be hired for field jobs, inadequate facilities to make a workplace conducive for women, harassment in workplace, etc.

Earlier, addressing the gathering through a virtual message, Petroleum Secretary Tarun Kapoor said that the role of women in any sector should be looked at with hope. He noted that if women are given key roles to play in an organization, the progress will evidently get better. Mr Kapoor mentioned that women in the energy sector comprise just 27% at the entry-level in the global workforce and the numbers are even lower at the senior level. “The contribution of women to the GDP is just 18% in India, while it is 40% in China.”

Petroleum Secretary Tarun Kapoor on role of women in the energy sector
Petroleum Secretary Tarun Kapoor on role of women in the energy sector

The Petroleum Secretary said that in academics, girls have been doing much better than the boys and hence their inclusion should be proportionately more at the senior levels of major organizations. He said that even if the numbers are less, women have been excelling in handling power, thermal and hydro projects in major companies like ONGC, IOCL, HPCL, etc. “It is from experience that I can assure that women outperform at their tasks when they are being deputed in key roles,” said Mr Kapoor.

Chairman Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) and Chairman FIPI S M Vaidya noted that while discussing about empowerment of women we are essentially talking about empowering the society. He said that a society loses its purpose when women are not allowed to realize their true potential. Stating that the number of women in the board-level committees is minimal, he said that a gender equality-denied workforce is not just a moral imperative but bad for the business too.

Chairman Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) and Chairman FIPI S M Vaidya
Chairman Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) and Chairman FIPI S M Vaidya

Mr Vaidya stressed on the capabilities of women in enriching decision-making practices and hence enhancing productivity. “It is a matter of concern that there are only around 2700 women employees in the energy sector and just 600 in the executive levels.”

Delivering the welcome address, Director FIPI R K Malhotra mentioned that the series of seminars organized by FIPI, especially focused on the role of women in the energy sector, is part of the observance of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav – celebrating 75 years of India’s independence. He said that over the years a lot has been done to empower women but it is not sufficient. “The transition requires innovative solutions in the business model, to enable equal participation of women in the administrative level,” said Mr Malhotra.

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