ABU DHABI // Heyam Al Bloushi has not only broken a trend in her own culture, but has broken a trend in her industry.
The first Emirati women to work offshore for Gasco, she is the only woman out on the platform at all.
As a school pupil, Ms Al Bloushi, 25, always loved science but also knew she wanted to break the mould, not follow what was expected of her by the culture, the education system or even her family.
She had originally dreamed of becoming a surgeon but coming out of high school with 75 per cent, she did not manage to get into her first choice of study. However, though she admits she was “devastated” this did not deter her, in spite of feeling “the black sheep of the family” for her perceived failure. “If you don’t get 75 per cent you’re seen as not good enough,” she said. “There is so much social pressure. People’s attitudes brought me down and it was a lot to deal with at 17.” However, she was determined to prove her doubters wrong and pursue her love of maths and science. Her older brother was studying at the Petroleum Institute (PI) and it seemed there were good jobs in the industry so when she was accepted, she felt she had been given a second chance to prove herself.
During her time studying for her undergraduate degree in 2010, she spent six weeks in Ruwais at the plant, doing her internship and then five months in the US in 2012 at the Nasa research centre working on desalination of human waste and forward osmosis, something she says is hugely relevant to the UAE.
After this, she had a job interview back in Ruwais with Gasco. “If they wanted to put me in the middle of the sea, I didn’t mind,” she said, even happy working the required shifts of five days on and two off or three on and four off and balancing her work with studying for a masters degree. “I saw it as a great opportunity. I wanted to be different to everyone else. I had bigger dreams. I wanted to become the first female CEO of an Adnoc company.” Having been denied her dream of studying a masters degree in biomedical engineering at Cornell University in the US, her family compromised to let her accept the Gasco job, provided her father could drive her to and from work, though this only lasted a few weeks before she was allowed to go by herself.
Her first day of work at the plant however, was tough. “I was so excited when I went in and was introducing myself to everyone. Even though I had studied with girls, I had lived with brothers all my life so I was used to that male kind of environment. However, it was different in the plant and I knew nobody. Every time I entered a room, everyone would stop what they were doing and went silent. I felt like an alien who just landed off another planet. I felt out of place and it took months to get through that. It was like that every day. I expected that reaction though. You can’t blame them. They never saw a woman in a plant before. Once they saw I was serious and was there to learn, they started to treat me as an engineer.”
However, she recalls: “The first few steps were scary. I didn’t sleep the first few nights. I felt very alone, like I was in another country.” However, she feels empowered and is using her experience to empower others around her.
“I’ve seen a positive impact of this decision. Families in Al Gharbia are opening up to the idea of their daughters studying engineering,” she said. “They met a girl who is fully covered, a young Muslim, an Emirati who hasn’t deviated from the culture and is making a successful career without compromising her culture or values.”
Ms Al Bloushi is also bringing a group of 15 girls from PI to the plant in Ruwais, showing them the career opportunities out there for them.
Name: Heyam Al Bloushi
Address: Abu Dhabi
Education: Bachelors from PI in mechanical engineering. Studying for her masters degree from PI now.
Marital status: single