Women, oil, development

TEHRAN, March 15 (Shana) – What’s the women’s role in the family, society and the country? Can one overlook them in the process of development? Whenever these questions are raised the significant and influential role of women in such issues as social and economic participation is pushed into bold relief.

Many social science and economic experts are of the view that growth and development in every society are achieved through attention to women who constitute half of active population. A bit farther, the process of development of countries even starts from women. Mothers teach their children the principles and rules of development. Before mothers and women in a society have not achieved their necessary capabilities the process of development will fail.

Growth and maturity of petroleum industry, as one of key industries in the country and the driving force behind Iran’s economy, are no exception to this rule. Like in other developed and developing countries, serious attention to women employed in this sector is a must. Such a process is taking shape in Iran’s oil and gas industries.

Iran’s petroleum industry has been employing women since the early years of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and they have been active in all sectors of this industry including special zones, sites, laboratories and refineries. They have now achieved valuable experiences and they have acquired necessary merits for management jobs.

Meantime, young educated women who have been employed in recent years following graduation from technical disciplines like petroleum and chemical engineering have injected fresh blood into the vessels of this industry. That heralds growth and blossoming in coming years.

After the administration of President Hassan Rouhani took office under the motto of “foresight and hope”, it followed a line of moderation. The administration is paying serious attention to the economic and social activities of women as well as their growth and capabilities. As a result, women are more hopeful of being supported in life and profession.

No later had Bijan Zangeneh taken office as the minister of petroleum than the sister of Mohammad Javad Tondguyan, the former minister of petroleum, was named advisor to minister of petroleum for women and family affairs. This important appointment indicates the veteran minister’s attention to issues and challenges of women in this industry.

From the very beginning, Zangeneh spared no efforts in promoting women. He initially named Marzieh Shah-Daei, a top manager in the petrochemical industry, as a member of the Board of Directors of National Petrochemical Company (NPC) before naming her as the CEO of NPC. This unprecedented and influential decision resulted in the recognition of the status of women in petroleum industry management posts which are claimed to be dominated by men.

Women Network of Advisors

Fatemeh Tondgouyan, the newly appointed advisor to the minister for women and family affairs, says: “Although in Iran’s petroleum industry we are facing a 17,000-strong population of employed women managerial posts in the petroleum industry have so far been granted to men. Since men have been at the helm of affairs, any change has given back posts to men.”

“That is under conditions that the level of education of women is on average higher than men,” she said, adding that some women have not got any promotion in their jobs.

Tondgouyan said a list of women who have required qualifications to get management posts has been compiled and registered at the databank of Iran’s petroleum ministry to be reviewed by upstream sector managers. “Upon the insistence of the Iranian petroleum minister, the network of women oil advisors has been formed and they can create good opportunities should they enjoy support by managers,” she said.

Statistics on Women Employment

A statistical review of women employed in the petroleum industry shows that more than 8% of Iranian petroleum industry employees are women. They are shouldering important responsibilities in the farthest operational zones and that is separate from employees who are working directly under contract. Moreover, according to statistics, the majority of employees in this industry are women aged 30 to 34 years old. Around 31.5% of women employed in this industry have at least 15 years of service background.

Of more than 6,000 women directly employed by the Ministry of Petroleum, 48% hold bachelor’s degree or higher university degrees. According to official data, of all educated women employed in the petroleum industry, around 7% are in management posts. This is a very low share when Iran is compared with developed countries where women and men enjoy equal shares in management posts, hopes are soaring for women to achieve the posts they deserve after President Hassan Rouhani took office.

Supporting Qualified Women

Since its very establishment, the Department for Women and Family Affairs of the Ministry of Petroleum has been making precise and scientific planning in order to improve women’s impression of their own potentialities and clear the ground by tackling challenges on the way for women to acquire their real status and achieve management posts.

This department has also launched specialized working groups for regulation, environment, health, education, research, sport and family in a bid to bring expert women together in these sectors and carry out necessary planning for changes in these fields. During their short period of activity, these working groups have managed to stir women in this industry and create the necessary self-confidence in them to prove themselves.

No Gender Attitude

Marzieh Shah-Daei is the first women to have been appointed as the CEO of an entity in Iran’s petroleum industry. She is now heading NPC.
“Fortunately, an attitude of hope and moderation is dominant now and most petroleum industry managers think moderately and they believe in meritocracy. As a result, many positions have been created for qualified women at the National Petrochemical Company,” she said.

Shah-Daei said giving room to women to maneuver will definitely affect their future. “If a superior manager does not believe in giving room to women, women will be frozen and they have no chance of growth.”
She said that women need support in order to reach higher posts, adding that male managers should reach the understanding to hold now gender attitude.


Marzieh Riahi is the director general for Asia and Pacific affairs at the Ministry’s International Affairs and Commerce division.

Referring to women’s employment in the petroleum industry, she says: “There are two groups of women at Iran’s petroleum industry. They include expert and management levels. The women in the second category are far less in number. Among the reasons for this difference is women’s engagement with family-related issues and looking after children. That prevents women from serving as managers and when their children grow up they are near retirement age and therefore they have rarely chances to compete with men despite all their merits.”
“Despite the existence of such conditions, women can prove their capabilities through further work and efforts and male managers are also expected to provide better facilities for women under equal conditions,” said Riahi.

Marjaneh Shemshaki, deputy head of NIOC finance affairs, is another qualified woman in the petroleum industry.
“There is no visible obstacle barring women from getting management posts in the petroleum industry and women can take management posts by acquiring knowledge, professional characters and other professional requirements,” she said.

However, she added, women are keeping low-profile in financial and international management posts.
“It is necessary for women to keep a higher profile in these domains,” said Shemshaki.

“Women must be more self-confident and upgrade their scientific levels and seriously rival men to get management posts. They should by no means back down for just being women and stymie their own progress with the attitude of being woman,” she said.

What Do Men Say?

Heydar Bahmani, managing director of National Iranian Drilling Company (NIDC), says: “Although the bulk of petroleum industry jobs are related to operations and women’s mental conditions do not match working under such conditions, there is no discrimination between male and female staff of Iran’s petroleum industry in terms of granting facilities and services and merits at this company.”

“Even if one single woman at NIDC is willing to become driller we will provide the ground notwithstanding oppositions,” said Bahmani.

Bijan Alipour, managing director of National Iranian South Oil Company (NISOC), said: “Women enjoy a very influential position in pushing ahead with the objectives set for the petroleum industry and fortunately their drive forward for getting key posts has picked up speed in recent decades.”

“However, we cannot deny certain shortcomings in the organizational structure. Although in the petroleum industry and its technical sectors which were once considered as male-dominated we are now witnessing the presence of specialized and experienced women I believe that we need to revamp some structures in order to guarantee massive and equal presence of men and women in senior management posts. But that needs time,” he said.

In conclusion, one can say that equal presence of men and women in the petroleum industry, as one of the most industrial chokepoints for women’s contribution to the country’s industry, requires efforts, patience, self-confidence and introducing the merits of this sector of industry.
Organizational culture often resists promotion of women. But all plans will reach conclusion when managers acknowledge the capabilities of women and then courageously support their professional promotion.

After women are appointed to policymaking and management posts, their capabilities will become known for others and the women’s management merits will be recognized.

The path of growth, development and blossoming of a society cuts through the growth and blossoming of women in that society and creating equal opportunities for women and men in the society requires implementation of regulations for growth and development in this industry as one of the most important sectors of the economy.

This important event is taking place following the appointment of a qualified woman as the CEO of one of the most important companies in Iran and heralds the effective presence of more women in management positions.