Accenture: You have been in the industry for over 20 years. Tell us about the things that have changed from the time you started to now.
Sanchita Banerjee: Changes can be observed at two levels—external and internal. Talking about the external changes first, there are more girl students who are taking technical subjects for their education as compared to the time when I joined this industry in 1985. You see more support from parents also. But truly speaking, not much has changed when you look at the internal changes.
Only three female candidates appeared for the national level interview for Oil India in 1985 after clearing the written competitive exam along with more than 40 male candidates. Finally, 15 boys and two girls cleared the selection process. The other lady who joined with me in the same department, left the organization during the probation period only. I continued as the first lady engineer of the organization, and today I am also proud to be leading the same department.
A: Tell us more about your journey and the profiles that you have handled.
SB: I have taken on many challenging roles over the past 35 years. Some of my assignments included spearheading the LPG Bottling plant for 12 years, leading mechanical maintenance and operation sections, installation manager for 18 years and safety officer. I am currently the first and only Petroleum & Explosives Safety Organization certified person in the LPG plant.
A: The oil and gas sector is typically perceived as a male-dominated sector, what made you choose this career? As a woman, what were the challenges that you faced?
SB: Since the oil and natural gas industry is one of the oldest industries, it is natural for it to be a male-dominated one due to the societal construction of earlier times. When I decided to opt for a career in this industry, I took it as a challenge to make myself a self-made individual. In the beginning, I never realized that the path would be so hard.
I thought recognition and promotions came late to me even though I always prioritize my work over my family. Even when my mother passed away, I did not miss office for more than a day since I understood the criticality of the ISO audit that was underway for my department. Having said this, my leader was also not supportive and commanded me to come to work even during this time. I often felt that recognition for technical work was granted easily to my male colleagues while I had to work twice as hard to get myself noticed.
Such challenges continued throughout my career. I realized that stakeholders play a significant role in your success, so I used interpersonal relationships with people of other departments to help me perform my job well. I also kept my focus intact on knowledge and wisdom and kept updating myself on technological improvements in my sector and successful projects done by others.
As far as leading a team is concerned, I often felt that many male managers were not comfortable taking advice from a woman leader. I thought my gender was considered over my achievements here, but I kept proving myself in being a technically sound leader, and the respect automatically followed. So yes, it has been a tough ride but an enjoyable one!
A: What was the role that your family played in this success?
SB: I got tremendous support from my family in the initial stage as my mother came along with me to the place of my posting and supported me. Later, when I got married, my husband and in-laws were also very supportive of my career. It is as though we have almost all raised my son together. I was given complete freedom to focus on my career and to overcome the challenges. I kept on moving in life but never repented. Both my parents passed away while staying with me, and I am glad I could look after them till their last day.
A: What are the two highlights of your career that you are proud of? And what kept you going in difficult times?
SB: One of my big achievements was to bring my department under the ISO standardization. We were also the first among the 53 departments to accomplish this feat. Secondly, I carried out specific major LPG pipeline modification jobs that were not taken up by earlier leaders due to the fear of uncertainty and safety. As the installation manager of the bottling plant, I made a detailed project map and completed the job with sole ownership, which resulted not only in better production and dispatch rate but avoided a huge safety risk.
A: According to the Hindu, only 29 percent of women are part of the ONGC sector. What, according to you, may be the reasons for women not entering this field?
SB: Yes, the industry is trying to attract women, but the question remains: will they be able to retain them and show them a career here? Most often, women recruits are given administrative jobs. The infrastructure and environment are also more conducive to men. So, while recruitments might improve, the real number to check is retention and women in managerial positions in this sector.
A: A career advice…
SB: Understand your strengths and weaknesses and continuously do a self-assessment if you really believe that this is the career for you. Be outspoken and assertive at all stages and shine through your knowledge. Be a good listener and never go for shorter, easier ways. Instead persevere and carve your own success path. Whatever you do, you should do your best.