Woman engineer excels in oil and gas industry


Joyee with her family.

(March 7) Having women in a male-dominated industry is an advantage to any organisations.

Senior Operations Support Engineer for Sabah Deepwater Operations (Gumusut Kakap and Malikai fields) of Shell Malaysia, Joyee Cheah said the nature of being a woman helps her contribute back to the largest natural gas producer in the country.

“I am leaning towards benefits of being a woman who tends to be a detailed person, a good listener, giving importance to your thoughts, able to provide a diverse perspective and contributions back to the team,” she said.

Joyee was born in Kota Kinabalu and grew up in Kepayan.

Her mother is a Dusun descendent from Kawang, Papar and her late father was originally from Perai, Penang.

The mother of two graduated from Universiti Tenaga Nasional with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering (Hons).

“Engineering was not in my vocabulary until I came across a career guidance talk during my senior year in secondary school. The talk covered a wide range of opportunities in terms of engineering disciplines at various industries, with the oil and gas being one of them. Interestingly, a fair view of benefits range was also shared across the industry and hence it was an eye opener for me.

“The government at that time was encouraging more engineering graduates and hence scholarships were offered. It was a perfect add-up for science stream students like myself and a timely opportunity to apply for an engineering scholarship,” she said.

Joyee has over 16 years of experience in oil and gas industry  in Brunei, US and Malaysia and joined Shell eight years ago as an experienced hire.

She joined Shell since 2014 and at that time was offered a Business Analyst role as a start.

With the given opportunities to perform in various tasks, she managed to hone different skills from roles such as Business Improvement Lead, Medium Term Activity Planning, Production Support Engineer and Operations Support Lead.

“Initially, I had the skeptical mindset to apply for those new roles as I thought I need to know the field 100 per cent before qualifying myself. But it was through the encouragement of the supervisors and managers in Shell that empowered me to brave myself to step forward.

“I have learnt that one must have faith and courage to take risks with a learner’s mindset to thrive and I had a trustworthy team, which was always there to support one another,” she said.

Joyee’s current role as a Senior Operations Support Engineer requires her to be at the operations focal point for both the Gumusut Kakap and Malikai fields, as a liaison to internal and external stakeholders in interfaces scopes, operations agreement, planning and strategising Shell Group’s and Shell Malaysia Upstream’s requirements.

“Every morning on weekdays, we will have the operational meeting incorporating onshore and offshore teams. This would allow us to identify areas that require short and medium term support or attention.

“Every week, we would have priorities lined up which enable the team to stay focused on the same goals. There is no routine per se, it is a dynamic environment, and the team braces up with solutions for any challenges that surface,” she added.

Joyee is also the Shell Women’s Action Network (SWAN) lead for the Kota Kinabalu Chapter.

The network advocates awareness and addresses issues such as parenting issues, investments, work life balance, mental health, harassment and much more through programmes such as open forums for discussion in alignment with SWAN’s mission to influence the creation of a diverse and inclusive environment where women are empowered to achieve their full potential.

According to her, SWAN’s vision is to champion the women agenda to enable Shell Malaysia to become the most competitive and innovative company and partner of choice.

“Our purpose is to strengthen the women talent pipeline in Shell Malaysia, embed an inclusive mindset across the organization at all levels and position Shell as a partner and employer of choice for women,” she further elaborated.

Almost a decade working with Shell Malaysia, Joyee has a rewarding career at Shell until today.

“With all the given opportunities, it does come with hard work but I am never alone as I am empowered to reach my potential. This is made possible with trust and continuous support provided by my superiors and teams, that keeps me going.

“As a working mother, there will always be attempts in balancing work demands as well as meeting family needs. It is through Shell’s flexible work arrangement and understanding from the supervisors that helps me to get through it while ensuring I am always able to perform at work,” she said.

After eight years with the company, Joyee described her experience working with various teams in the organization in achieving milestones as humbling and fulfilling, especially when Shell Malaysia received recognition for winning the Assets of the Year Award 2017, Safe Asset Award 2020-2021 and Reliable Asset Award 2021.

She remembered vividly as a Production Support Engineer, she tactfully planned with the onshore team and fine-tuned with the Offshore Production Supervisor to achieve the desired production target with the year counting down.

It was such a thrilling and victorious moment for them to meet the business target at the right time.

“In my current role, I work even closely with the Gumusut Kakap and Malikai platforms’ teams. They are like a big family out there, approachable and we always look out for one another.

“This gives me a sense of fulfilment and the desire to deliver above and beyond,” she said.

As workforce is moving in the right direction as many women are entering male-dominated fields, there are many studies showing that women are still facing challenges.

When asked about challenges, Joyee answered: “I would say challenges will always be there. What doesn’t challenge us doesn’t change us, for the good. At Shell, we encourage one another to trust the system with psychological safety.

“When we are facing issues or dilemma, we need to speak up and not be afraid to ask for help. That’s how we thrive as a team. At Shell, through various networks and mentorship programmes, we are provided this avenue to reach out and seek support when needed,” she pointed out.

Admitting that fewer women are employed in the oil and gas industry compared to men, Joyee believes that career guidance at school should be actively pursued to create awareness.

Women, she said, should expand their lens and not be afraid to seek opportunities in the oil and gas industry.

“For young girls out there, dare to dream, have faith and courage to pursue and do not be afraid of failures and giving up is a path to regret,” she said.

Joyee even shared tips, especially for women working in male-dominated industries.

“For women in the male-dominated industries continue to be yourself, be authentic.

“People don’t follow what you say, people follow what you model,” she said.

As a working mother of two, Joyee also shared on what can professional mothers do to manage their time better.

“One thing for sure, we are not superwomen. We need to first define what is an acceptable balance for us and our family.

“We do not have to do everything by ourselves, be prepared to arrange for help or support system so that the attention at home is being delegated accordingly,” she said.

While many professional mothers feel guilty when making sacrifices, especially ones that involve their families, she is thankful for the support system she has, especially her supportive spouse.

As they both work in the same company, they divide and concur to attend to family’s needs accordingly.
“We listened, learnt and improved along the way with our children’s needs.

“The most important piece of advice for mothers who are pursuing a career – be bold, do not undermine your capabilities and always take one step at a time. It’s ok to make mistakes, it’s how we bounce back that matters,” she said.

Meanwhile, the pandemic has highlighted many challenges for mothers especially on the effects of school closings and children care responsibilities.

As for Joyee, the global pandemic and the new norm are forcing changes to take place drastically. It was a swift action from schools in establishing online classes for the children and their time spent wisely albeit with follow-up supervisions from the parents are still required.

“Greater attention was also needed when oil and gas is an essential industry. Extra effort along with the team is much needed to ensure people movement and business continuity not disrupted.

“I work on blending in and staying focused on what is within my control at home as well as at workplace,” she said.

In the future, Joyee wishes to continue to align with her professional goals and treasure moments with family.