Women at oil fields were a rare sight in the mid-90s, when Hinda Gharbi began her career at Schlumberger Ltd. as a wireline field engineer in Nigeria. Accommodation on site was always an issue for female workers, and site managers struggled with that. But with constant determination and a professional attitude, she gained support and made her way up in the company.
Eight years after joining Schlumberger, the company gave her leadership of the new technology portfolio of its wireline product line. “Trusting me with managing such an important portfolio was both an honor and a responsibility. I think this is where having people—especially respected leaders in the organization—believe in me was such a boost,” Gharbi says.
Early in her career, when she was struggling with starting a family and accommodating a demanding schedule of long working hours and frequent travel, Gharbi recalls that she was given the best piece of advice, for her, by a senior human resources official. He said: “Don’t over plan. There are too many parameters, and it is too complex. Just have your kids and deal with things as they come.”
Gharbi says she found that very liberating. “You can’t figure out everything ahead of time. You discover along the way what works for you and your family and how to achieve your own work/life balance.”
In her 24-year career in the oil and gas industry, Gharbi has held various technical and management positions in operations, product development and human resources in France, Thailand, Malaysia, the U.K. and the U.S. She currently serves as the executive vice president of reservoir and infrastructure, a position she assumed in February 2019. Prior to her current role, she was vice president of human resources for Schlumberger, president of the reservoir characterization group, president of Wireline, president of Schlumberger Asia and vice president of health, safety and environment.
Despite a successful career in the industry, Gharbi says she has promised herself to never stop learning. “I have been very fortunate to have had multiple opportunities to learn, acquire new skills and knowledge and to improve on my development areas. Career progression came as result of that.”
Gharbi believes it is a defining time for women in the oil and gas industry. She is impressed to see that women who are joining the industry possess a clarity of purpose, quest for learning and strong determination to progress. “As I travel around the world and meet our customers, our people in the field and other industry players, I see so many women in key roles. It used to be rare to meet women in leadership roles at senior levels. This is no longer the case,” she says.
However, she believes there’s still much to do. “For those of us who have spent a number of years in the industry and are in senior leadership positions, we must facilitate the path of these women and become their best champions,” she says.
Teaching from her own experience, Gharbi always advises young professionals to take risks. “If you are up to it, take on that proposed role even if it’s not fully aligned with your strength areas. Jump on that expatriate opportunity or the remote geographical assignment. Try something that could be challenging— there’s no guarantee of success, but certainly you will gain insight that could be life changing,” she says.
The industry’s incredible technological innovation as well its global nature and amazing diversity of the people and cultures have helped Gharbi remain passionate about her profession. “I’ve been continuously learning new things about people, places, history, culture and technology. That is extremely stimulating and has helped me evolve as a person and gain understanding of our world beyond my expectations,” she says.
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