Women breaking glass ceiling at oil and gas companies

Jakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - Women executives in the local oil and gas industry are breaking the so-called glass ceiling that prevents women and minorities from reaching senior management positions.

"Personally, I do not reckon we ought to make a distinction between men and women, as nowadays every person enjoys similar opportunities in every place," Galaila Karen Agustiawan, the CEO of state-owned energy firm PT Pertamina, told The Jakarta Post recently.

"As a CEO, I have become a role model for the women working at Pertamina. They can see with their own eyes how fierce I am in fighting for the company's interests among all the men. They know that if I must sprint, I will take off my high heels and put them back on only after I reach my destination," Karen said. "It's all a matter of choice."

The 54-year-old made history in 2009 as the first woman to lead the most bankable state-owned corporation. Karen recently made another record, becoming the first Pertamina CEO in recent years to win an extension of her appointment from shareholders to run the company.

Pertamina, which employs more than 1,400 women, or around 10 percent of its total workforce, booked a record-high 25.89 trillion rupiah (US$2.67 billion) in net profits last year.

Karen entered the industry after she graduated from the Bandung Institute Technology (ITB) in 1984, joining Mobil Oil (now ExxonMobil). She is not the sole woman to rise to the top in the sector.

The former oil and gas chief at the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry, Evita Herawati Legowo, was the government's main representative to the industry from her initial appointment in 2008 until her retirement in November last year.

Evita, 61, who was once nominated to lead the country's former upstream regulator BPMigas (now SKKMigas), said that women in Indonesia currently had more significant roles in business than compared to the 1970s.

"This is shown by many women these days holding key positions, whether in the field, headquarters or even as regulators," she said.

The Indonesian Petroleum Association (IPA), the country's umbrella industry group for giant contractors, also has a woman leading it for the first time.

Elisabeth Proust, the president director of French firm Total E&P Indonesie, was appointed to chair the organization last year, becoming the first woman in the four decades of the IPA to do so.

Indonesia's largest publicly listed oil and gas company, PT Medco Energi Internasional (MEDC), currently has Stanford University-graduated Frila Berlini Yaman as its chief operating officer for exploration and production.

Women comprise about 20 percent of MEDC's workforce.

Meanwhile, Marjolijn Elisabeth Wajong currently runs Australia-based oil and gas contractor Santos Indonesia as its president and general manager. Santos is a gas supplier for state electricity firm PLN and operates blocks in the Madura Strait, East Java, among others.

"It is very liberating to see many women at the top in the industry, so that people can see how we ladies are able to perform in this so-called 'tough industry'," Marjolijn said.

Santos Indonesia currently employs 64 women, comprising about one-third of its 190 employees, who mainly work at the company's offices in Jakarta and Surabaya, East Java.

Marjolijn, who has been in the oil and gas business since 1981, said that she believed that women could work on site just as well as men, "as long as they are healthy".

She thought highly of her campus senior Sri Fatimah Tarmizi - now a lecturer - who in 1972 broke the gender barrier by becoming the first woman to ever graduate from an Indonesian institution with a petroleum engineering degree.

"[Siti] really did inspire me as she once took a softer line by putting her family first - even becoming a kindergarten teacher once - before going back into the petroleum world. She did not give up," Marjolijn said.

Triple duty as a career woman, wife and mother was cited as the main obstacle for women to succeed in the workplace, several surveys have said.

Karen, the wife of Herman Agustiawan, a member of the National Energy Council, and a mother of three, said that as a CEO, she ensured that her women employees felt at ease at the workplace by providing office day care and maternity leave.

"We treat both men and women employees equally 100 percent, including salary and benefits. If women employees want to have their husbands covered by their health insurance, they are allowed to do so," Karen said.

"Principally, it is about working smarter, not harder. Personally, for me, family does come first. But women have something men do not possess - the ability to multi-task."

Echoing Karen, Marjolijn, the mother of one, said that she had no problems with women employees having to leave the office for awhile, although she acknowledged that in Indonesia it was not yet a common practice for employees to work at home full-time.

"We are lucky to live in the era of information technology, and some of the employees in the company have shown that they are able to accomplish their work brilliantly, despite having to leave sometimes for family-related reasons," Marjolijn said.

In the end, however, family support had been the most important factor behind their success, the women said.

"My late father was the person who made me a person that I am today," Karen said. "I was very close to my dad, and he taught me to never give up in getting what I want. My husband and my children also play a big role in shaping my career."

"A woman's first duty is the family," Marjolijn said.

"From the start, my husband, who also worked in the corporate world before retiring, has been supporting me. In return, I must show them that I know my place and never take any activity outside my main job," she added.

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