Emirati Women's Day: Oil drilling chief who manages 66 men describes life in the field

AlUnood AlNuaimi, 25, works in the desert for 21-day stints

As a teenager, Emirati AlUnood AlNuaimi had an unusually strong interest in pipelines and petroleum, and her final school chemistry project mimicked the flow of drilling fluids in a constraint environment.

Now 25, she is one of the newest recruits for Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and works as a drilling supervisor on an onshore oilfield, managing a team of men who are boring a well in the desert.

"Working for Adnoc was always the dream," she told The National.

I knew going into petroleum engineering that it is a male dominated industry and I was unfazed
AlUnood AlNuaimi

"I had an amazing chemistry teacher who was very supportive and had some exposure into oil and gas and I got so fixated. I had multiple scholarships to do other types of engineering but I was very persistent about wanting to go into petroleum engineering."

In the field, Ms AlNuaimi lives far from home, isolated and deep in the desert, one of only two women working alongside a team of 66 men for three weeks at a time.

The work involves 12-hour shifts supervising the boring and cementing of the well, with regular visits to the drill cabin, analysis of trends and health and safety meetings with contractors.

As the UAE on Saturday celebrates Emirati Women's Day for the seventh time, Ms AlNuaimi said she is proud to be working as a woman in male-dominated environment.

"Often at university, I would be the only girl in a class of 25 guys, so it didn't go unnoticed," she said.

"Most men were very supportive – whether it was my instructors or my colleagues – but occasionally it would come up in conversations as a little joke but there's always a bit of truth in a joke.

"Someone might say 'women don't belong in the field' but I was unfazed, because I am the kind of person who when I say want to go somewhere, I'm going to get there.

"I knew going into petroleum engineering that it is a male-dominated industry and I didn't care."

Moving towards a balanced workforce

Growing up, Ms AlNuaimi always had the support of her family and comes from a long line of independent women. Her mother worked as a TV news presenter and her grandmother as a successful trader of cloth and jewellery opened her own seamstress shop and salon.

As an only daughter with one brother and lots of uncles, Ms AlNuaimi learnt early how to hold her own among men.

"You learn how to have thicker skin but I come from a line of very strong, educated women. They're go-getters."

Now she said she feels supported by Adnoc, one the world's largest oil companies, which she joined in June.

The company actively recruits women and employs more than 5,580 across the group, including more than 800 on sites and about 1,150 engineers.

About a third of all new recruits are Emirati women and since 2017 women in technical roles have increased by 21 per cent. The company has pledged to double female representation in its technical positions to 25 per cent by 2030.

This move towards gender balance is important, said Ms AlNuaimi.

"Women see things from a different perspective, and men see it from another perspective. Men see the bigger picture, women see details – no one is superior to the other. This is what everyone brings to the table.

"We are a team and teams need different perspectives."

In practical terms, Adnoc provides female-only accommodation in the field, as well as culturally appropriate overalls so women such as Ms AlNuaimi can live and work alongside their male colleagues without compromising on their beliefs – even out in the rough and ready environment of a nascent oilfield.

"So far my experience of working with men is that they're my brothers and they consider me their sister, and here on the front line we are working shoulder to shoulder.

"Across the board, all of the women in the group feel safe, secure and respected. There's no limitation, regardless of your gender."

Updated: August 28th 2021, 2:27 PM