Women climb the technical ladder
Historically dominated by ‘oilmen’ – tough guys in hard hats and hard-bargaining male executives – the oil industry is slowly following other business sectors in opening its doors to women. Uganda is no exception, as is shown here by profiles of three women who are rising fast in highly technical positions.
For this to become a trend, however, Uganda will need to perform better in senior school science. According to the National Examinations Board, sciences were a weak area in last year’s A-level results and the number of girls taking sciences actually dropped.
‘You don’t need big biceps!’
Proscovia Nabbanja was the first woman technical staff to be employed by the Petroleum Exploration and Production Department (PEPD), where she now serves as Senior Geologist.
She joined the department 13 years ago after completing a BSc in Geology and Chemistry at Makerere University.
“It was hard to blend in because we had several field trips which had harsh, aggressive conditions,” she recalls.
But the mother of three persevered and has since risen through the ranks to become the point person supervising a team that reviews technical proposals from the oil companies on all issues relating to the oil wells.
“It could be maybe where the oil well is going to be drilled, a suspension of the well, should it be plugged and abandoned or which horizon within the well should be tested. We discuss it with the oil companies after which we prepare the consent and the companies can go ahead and execute those programmes,” she says.
Mrs. Nabbanja also deploys staff at the oil wells to monitor the oil companies’ compliance with the approved work plans, and is responsible for managing the data that comes out of the drilling processes.
“I have to ensure that the data is per what was approved. If it is the right data, I ensure that the team reviews and evaluates it,” she says.
She explains that it is such data that is used to estimate the quantity of oil and gas that the country possesses.
Mrs. Nabbanja does not regret her decision to disregard advice from some of her friends to leave the ‘masculine’ sector.
“Some of my friends encouraged me to leave the profession and go for something more feminine but I never listened to them. You still maintain your feminine nature and it has nothing to do with developing biceps,” she jokes.
Now with a Masters in Geology from the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine in the United Kingdom, and several other professional qualifications from Uganda and overseas, Mrs. Nabbanja certainly has what it takes to enforce technical compliance in a sector she describes as “dynamic.”
“Everything is urgent and any minute wasted, billions are lost,” she concludes.
‘Being part of the process is exciting’
Pauline Irene Batebe is part of the government team working round the clock to ensure that Uganda’s oil refinery is constructed.
Her role as a Petroleum Refining Officer, includes ensuring that equipment brought into the country to assemble the refinery and pipelines is of the right quality and standards.
“We have crude oil and this has to be processed to come up with petrol, diesel, kerosene and aviation fuel. My job is to ensure that whatever machinery we put in place to convert this crude into these finished products is appropriate,” she explains.
Ms. Batebe took a BSc in Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Dar-es-Saalam, after which she obtained a Masters in Advanced Chemical Engineering from Manchester University, with a bias in refinery design and operation.
“Like any other woman, when you join a male dominated sector, there will always be some misconceptions that you are a woman and cannot handle the job so you really need to work hard. I have always ensured that I do my work to the best of my ability,” she says.
“I love my work because I see it contributing to the transformation of Uganda. Being part of this process of changing the nation is just exciting,” she says.
Ms. Batebe has a passion for research and plans to commence doctoral studies in Product Design and Engineering in 2015.
Not frightened by ‘manly’ jobs
Thirty-year old Catherine Amusugut has worked at the Petroleum Exploration and Production Department for five years, having started there as a trainee while still pursuing a BSc in Geology and Chemistry at Makerere University.
She confesses that geology was not her dream career at the start, but she has grown to appreciate it and has no regrets. She has since upgraded to a Masters in Petroleum Geoscience from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, thanks to a scholarship from PEPD.
Ms. Amusugut’s job entails reviewing the oil companies’ work programs to make sure they are efficient.
“They usually present a range of things like seismic survey they are planning to undertake, the wells they are going to drill, where they are going to drill them, for how long and for what reasons. We listen to all this and make sure that all this information is convincing enough to allow them to explore that area, and appraise it, to decide if we have commercial resources there and to decide if we go on to develop this field,” she explains.
In executing such a critical role, Ms. Amusugut, has on some occasions found herself advising oil company executives forty years her senior, who have cut their teeth over time in the industry.
“Someone may think you are questioning their competence yet in actual sense you are just doing your job. But the good thing is we have gone to the same schools they (oil executives) have gone to and we have been exposed to the same technologies that they have been exposed to,” she adds.
Ms. Amusugut is certainly not frightened by ‘manly jobs’ and hopes to one day lead a team that plans and oversees the drilling of a well.
“Whether we find oil or not, it would be good experience,” she concludes.
Report by Flavia Nalubega and Beatrice Ongode