Women must work hard to be relevant in male- dominated fields’

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Recently, Mrs. Patience Maseli retired from the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) as the first female Deputy Director of Upstream Division, after 35 years of meritorious service. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Botany from the University of Benin and a Master of Science in Petroleum Geology from the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. An Amazon in the oil industry, Maseli operated in a male-dominated terrain but worked twice as hard to develop herself to reach the pinnacle of her career. Now a consultant in the industry, the highlight of her career was the christening of a drillship West Capella in South Korea, which has her name, inscribed on it. Maseli, a geologist, tells IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA about her sojourn in the oil industry.

You recently retired from the Department of Petroleum Resources after 35 years of meritorious service, how do you view retirement?
I am retired but certainly not tired. I still have a lot to contribute to the petroleum industry. For now, I will like to take a break and get recharged for the next phase and catch up on things I could not do because of my hectic work schedule. I am also spending time with my family.

You are from Ibrede Town in Ndokwa East Local Council of Delta State, can you tell us about your childhood and the role your parents played in your accomplishments?
Ibrede community originally was in Isoko North Local Council. It was later carved into Ndokwa East Local Council during a boundary adjustment. Ibrede community belongs to Isoko tribe, but I didn’t grow up at home. My parents lived and worked in Benin City for the most part of my early years, and as such, I acquired my primary, secondary and tertiary education in Benin City. I had a beautiful childhood, especially coming from a background where both parents were educationists. That meant we had to study hard, especially after school hours. Also, as the first child of three siblings and in particular, the only female, a lot of attention was focused on me. I was well-groomed both domestically and educationally for the future. My parents, indeed, provided a good foundation that shaped me.

How did you get into the Oil and Gas Industry, specifically in the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR)?
My journey into the industry began in 1982 after my graduation from the University of Benin. I was deployed to Rivers State for the mandatory National Youth Service Programme (NYSC). My primary assignment was in NNPC Research and Development Division, where I worked in the geology laboratory. My performance earned me employment into the organisation in 1983 and I was deployed to the Petroleum Inspectorate Division, which today is the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR). With a career spanning 35 years, through diligence, hard work, and grace of God, I rose through the ranks from Petrophysicist in 1983 to occupy the position of Deputy Director and Head, Upstream in 2017 up till November 2018, when I attained the mandatory retirement age.

Upon my promotion as an Assistant Director in 2006, I was responsible for the Resources Management Branch of the Upstream Division Of DPR. In 2014, I was redeployed to the Exploration Branch and also doubled as the National Data Repository (NDR), where all oil and gas industry data is kept in safe custody. It’s actually called the industry data bank. One of the remarkable achievements is that under my leadership, the standard of the facility was raised to international standards. In 2015, I was thereafter deployed to the Domestic Gas Obligation branch of the Gas Division to strengthen the regulation and monitoring of the domestic gas sector.

During this period, the domestic sector went through a commendable level of Gas revolution in alignment with the seven big wins programme. This gave rise to the Nigerian Gas Flare Commercialization project, which will be a big leap towards actualizing the flare down programme by the Petroleum Minister. Having effectively established the Domestic Gas Branch, I was then redeployed to lead the Upstream Division in 2017. Within these periods, I have represented DPR in many forums, locally and internationally in Norway, France, UK, United States, South Korea, Italy etc. It’s been an interesting experience.

You have done extremely well as a geoscientist in a male-dominated field. You also pioneered, alongside other women, and served as the first Steering Committee Chairperson for Women in Geosciences and Engineering (WiGE). What challenges do women in that field face and how were you able to surmount them to get to the peak of your career?
To get to the peak in a male-dominated industry, glass ceilings have to be broken down. When I was recruited, women hardly went to the rig because the infrastructure was not gender-sensitive and we were relegated to the office, this was disadvantageous as young engineers and geologists were expected to be in the field and build capacity. We pushed for the change and, today, women are in there with the men. The modern rigs have been built to accommodate both genders

Also, getting a female mentor was a challenge since the women were few. It was a challenge and I had to cope with these challenges as well as having male mentors. Women had to work twice as hard as the men to get to the top. That was tough because as a woman, you had to take care of the home as well. I was at the drilling site when Shell’s Agbada 59 and 60 wells were drilled and did one week on and off in the late ’80s. That experience helped me a lot in my career. Navigating to the top required hard work, DPR sent me on several training programmes locally and internationally, in addition to self-development. I belong to several professional bodies such as the Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationist (NAPE), where I am a fellow; Nigerian Mining and Geosciences Society (NMGS); American Association of Petroleum Geologist (AAPG) and Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE). A lot of capacity is built from participating in the technical meetings of these associations and attending international conferences as well.

What is your advice for aspiring women, how can they navigate the male-dominated and challenging field?
For students in secondary schools, they have to take some of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. Those already in the field, I will advise they should be hardworking, professional, focused, dedicated and committed and also develop themselves without relying solely on the organisation. They should make their voice heard, contribute at meetings, put their opinions across and not allow themselves to be relegated to the background.

How do you intend to transfer your experience to the younger generation?
I have mentored many females both in DPR and the wider industry. I have given talks at women events in the industry on how to progress in their careers and achieve a work-life balance. That was why I joined in forming WiGE because a few women ascend to top management positions in this industry. Its objective is to assist women to navigate their careers to the top. WiGE is affiliated to NAPE and at the yearly conferences, there is a side event where both young and old participate. We bring in motivational speakers drawn from and outside the industry to educate the young ones. We have achieved a lot since we were established over five years ago. We also plan to visit secondary schools to guide female students on choice of subjects and careers.

What are your secrets for the smooth balance between family and work, seeing that you have excelled in effectively in both?
Effective planning and family support, especially from my spouse, my mother and domestic wards. It is God’s grace.

Some say life begins at 40, others say 50, but for you, it seems life begins at 60 because you still look young and energetic?
It takes a lot of discipline to be healthy and fit. The secret lies in eating fresh foods, fruits, and vegetables, exercise, avoiding frizzy drinks and packet juices, active for Go. For instance, I have been singing in the choir right from primary school till date at the Church of God Mission and the Redeemed Christian Church Of God, Promised Land Parish. Singing brings a lot of refreshment to the body. I am also happily married. That takes a lot of stress off me.

What are you plans after retirement?
Mostly consulting and taking care of my grandchildren. Living a relaxed life, exploring the world and places, which hitherto I couldn’t see. Above all, I will continue to serve God

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