Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Working with women… men will still be men. Specially oilfield ones!

The first time I wrote about a female working with SLB, the article made it to INM Masala Pipeline. Lakshmi enjoyed a very short lived (one day type short!) celebrity status in Kakinada. The last time I wrote an article on women in SLB (this time for CAGazzette), it was vetoed down by the boss (although I still maintain that the article was harmless, mostly). And the women in SLB have presented me another chance (if I can shrug the laziness for a while and keep the words harmless). So, amid the rofo, pipeline, market share, CRM crashes and all sorts of target crises, here I go…

It was still my early days with SLB and the Kakinada base was still the kind where containers were offices when Satish Pai visited. As goes with any VIP visit a round table was called. When it was time for questions one of the ‘true’ oilfield men asked a question, which most present there failed to understand. The person who asked had few decades on rigs, the person to whom the question was asked had few decades with oilfield as well. They understood each other. ‘Why is SLB recruiting field personnel who have only one hand?’ was the question asked by the oilfield gentleman. Satish Pai smiled.

Early 2006 and it was my first SLB training and as the instructor walked into the classroom at ELC that morning his first comments were (with a lot of Latin American accent!) – ‘Great, no girls! Now I can teach you guys without having to watch my words!’ More than anything the rig hands, the oilfield men, fear watching their words. Women make them do so (not all but most oilfield women, some just join the other club!).

Two years after the first training at ELC, I walked into another classroom at SLB training school (at KTC this time) and that was an all boys class as well. With a difference. The instructor and tutor were both ladies. Synergies of gender diversity were beginning to show up. The tutor was from somewhere in Russian region and was as hot as her red Porsche! Thankfully she sat at the back of the class! (and we all could pay attention to what was happening in front).

During this training at KTC, one Friday evening we had our class event. The planning was done by our course instructor. We went and watched a baseball game (out of 6 students there were 3 Americans!), then dinner of pizzas while throwing balls at some gaming alley and the night ended with a trip to a ‘gentlemen’s club’! None of the male instructors had been this generous! At the club we stood in queue and presented our IDs to the security manager. As my turn came the security manager asked me to remove my scarf. No scarves allowed inside. Club rule! I tried reasoning with them, sir this is not a scarf, sir look at my passport photo, it comes with the same thing which by the way is a turban, sir we keep our heads covered, sir… sir… The fellow was strict like some rig safety officer, just won’t budge. Realising that I was to miss on the opportunity of one dollar lap dances and much more, heartbroken I readied myself to say good byes to the others. But our course instructor won’t give up as yet. She went to talk to the security guy and having understood the root cause (various gangs have scarves as their identifications, each with a different color and the clubs had seen gang violence, hence the rule) she came up with a solution. If I wore a baseball cap all the time I was inside the club, the security will be ok. Since I was wearing an under-turban, patka, baseball cap solution worked! So there I was, finally permitted to live my one dollar American dream. Thanks to a female in SLB. Now that is ‘how synergy is created in a gender diverse work force’!

We did few jobs in Gujarat in 2007. For first five odd jobs it was an all male crew. Since the land jobs are a better option to send trainees for field exposure, one of the jobs our FSM sent a female trainee with us. She helped a bit with the work, but more than that the rig crew helped a lot! When we returned for the next job one and all from the rig floor asked ‘didn’t she come?’ They remember SLB crew members names (when they are female crew members) and in the process they remember SLB. Brand recognition!  Synergies of a diverse workforce! There are a lot of advantages of a diverse (I mean gender diverse) workforce on a rig. Don’t believe me? Ask our current completions FSM if she wasn’t woken up in the middle of her sleep by the other SLB crew members (males!) for making a call to the crane operator to move some load!

Who says men don’t like gossip? We do! At least the kind which involves females. We don’t really care much about the male only gossip (at least in India!). And will there be any SLB/work gossip if there are no female colleagues? Only one gender workforce won’t give us scandals… and without scandals no gossip. Talk about synergies!

It may nigh be impossible for a male admin of any segment to get a car out of Rana (gender diversity I tell you… it works). If it was a male only workforce will SLB’s very own Amitabha Chatterjee write his novel? Where will we men find our muse while working in oilfield? And if we didn’t have the female mannequin at Mahape reception (dear Suraksha) won’t it be such a dreary place (no matter how hard Rajput ji tries to smile at the visitors!)? And the danger of a male only workforce might have been - no safety mannequin; or even worse a male mannequin!. Who would want a ‘Mr Surakshit’? Suraksha works better.

The client seminar is about to start. Hotel staff has arranged the conference hall very well and all looks good (to my eyes!). In walks Azra. ‘I asked for red roses to be placed on the tables’. The hotel staff runs around and lo behold, we have red roses on tables. Benefits… always benefits of gender diverse point of views.

Client engineers (at Baku) while signing my FTLs would go through every line, check every supporting document and ask all sorts of questions. Getting a ticket signed there was a rather time consuming affair. One month I had some other work and our admin went to get the tickets signed, I was worried about the answers to the questions. There were no questions! Tickets signed in minimal possible time!

We had few new recruits in the office over last few weeks under field exposure program. First came a male recruit. Our FSM was in a training the first few days of the week. We got his orientation done and then just let him be with some small work here and there. FSM wasn’t disturbed. Next week came a female recruit. Our FSM was sick on Monday. But within first few hour five guys called/texted her about the presence of a ‘good looking’ FE. Communication does improve with gender diversity.

A natural extension of gender diversity in an organisation like SLB is dual careers. Now here are some definite synergies (more so for individuals involved). It is time of a downturn in the activity. There will be some people who would find themselves without a job. Dual careers… very rarely in that list.

As part of Well Services team in Perth I found myself sitting in a female dominated team (guys were busy hammering iron in Karratha!). Ops manager, EIC, sales manager, two DESCs, admin and two female FEs. There were two or three of us males. That was a time when both n+1 and n+2 were females for me and you get reasonably good SLP3 ratings and comments I tell you. But that is not the synergy I found the best. There was an SPE dinner. There were free entry passes with the boss. These were couple only entry passes (may be because they had a dance floor!). And for once I did not struggle to find a date! One just need to look… tons of synergies friends!
When we put on coveralls.. all is covered so to say. Male, female.. all is blue in SLB world. The physical activity, the long hours, the grease and grime, safety glasses, hard hats, gloves, boots the unforgivable oilfield work ethic may hide all the differences. But once the showers are done and hair let loose… the diversity does bring in new fragrances, such a blessing when surrounded by sweaty human beings (essentially sweaty men!).

We are professionals when we are at SLB. But even the professionals when washed clean of their work do prefer the presence of fairer sex. It may be a point of view… but if you think about it this point of view has a female in focus!  Professionals or not, oilfield or not, us men.. well we will be men.

Things have changed (and are moving in positive direction with every passing day) in terms of how most of oilfield men (especially real old hands) view ladies in covies at a rig floor. Listening to the question that day at Kakinada, Satish Pai smiled. And as only a person with sufficient wisdom for his position could answer, he did. I do not remember his words but the gist was – ‘There are women now in almost all kind of jobs and doing all these jobs as good as anyone. They are already in Oilfield and in SLB. We are just going to push and increase the numbers. The world, especially oilfield world, is changing in terms of gender diversity.’

Jokes apart, things have certainly changed in oilfield over last few decades as far as gender diversity is concerned. And how!

(written for a company magazine, edition dedicated to gender diversity in oilfield, March 2012, Mumbai - the editors of this edition deemed the article unfit for publication :) )

(the article my boss vetoed down)

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