Shell’s female engineer thrives in male-dominated industry

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Abigail (right) with the team during an offshore rotation.

KUCHING (March 8): Thriving in a male-dominated industry is no easy feat, especially for women in a labour-intensive field such as the energy sector.

However, this did not deter Shell rotating equipment engineer, Abigail Lemon from pursuing her dreams.

Born and raised in Bintulu, Abigail received her primary and secondary education at Sekolah Kebangsaan Kidurong 2 and Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Kidurong.

She graduated from Universiti Sains Malaysia with a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2016. Her professional career journey began in Micron Semiconductor, where she worked as an Equipment Engineer for 2.5 years.

In September 2019, she made the pivotal move to enter the challenging energy industry as a rotating equipment engineer at Shell through the Shell Graduate Programme.

Abigail (seated, right) with colleagues during a training at The Hague.

Abigail started her career in Shell as the rotating equipment engineer in charge of E11 gas hub based in Sarawak waters.

In 2021, she moved on to working on F23 gas hub (also in Sarawak) for a year before moving on to Malikai in Sabah’s deepwater in 2022, where she is supporting the asset till date.

“Apart from my role in supporting day-to-day operations and maintenance of the rotating equipment on-site, my time in E11 was particularly challenging as I spent relentless days offshore where I clocked in more than 100 days offshore in 2020, in ensuring a smooth and successful handover of the asset,” she said in an interview for International Women’s Day.

Abigail’s job scope requires her to support day-to-day operations related to rotating equipment, in addition to overseeing equipment maintenance, which involves planning, scheduling, preparation of equipment and materials, and ensuring the safe completion of site execution of the maintenance scope.

“My role offshore mainly involves on-site supervision to coordinate various contractors to deliver specific maintenance scopes. The period I spend offshore varies depending on the schedule of the specific maintenance scope, but typically it’s within 2 to 4 weeks each time.”

Abigail (third from right) with her team during an indoor archery session.

Rotating equipment is often referred to as the “heart of an oil and gas facility,” and due to its criticality, Abigail would mobilise offshore every other month to manage various maintenance scopes.

“As a team, we foster collaborative work with other engineering disciplines to support various improvements for better asset efficiency, including cost-saving initiatives. I am involved in contract management and responsible for several contracts.

Additionally, when I am on-site, I manage a group of contractors, typically more than 10 people at a time, representing various companies, and ensure everyone is aligned with their individual tasks to ensure safe and smooth execution.”

Overcoming bias and prejudice

When asked how she handles the perception that her role is very male-centric, Abigail said navigating perceptions in the workplace is essential, especially for roles that have historically been male-dominated like engineering, particularly those under the mechanical engineering skill pool.

“Personally, I admit that I do not have the physical strength like that of my male counterparts, however, I strongly believe in my abilities – skills, expertise, and experience are not limited by gender. Unfortunately, at times, I still face age-old gender bias, and it hurts when your opinions are downplayed simply because ‘you’re just a lady’.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve received feedback like ‘you’re too aggressive’.

This reflects the double bind phenomenon, whereby an assertive woman can be seen as abrasive, whereas a woman who falls into stereotypical feminine traits such as being ‘nice’ can be seen as too soft and not taken seriously. It is tough to navigate around these biases.

Thanks to my upbringing, I don’t get discouraged by such words. However, they fuel me to prove otherwise and to focus on my abilities. More often than not, I would take the ‘one of the boys’ approach to navigate the male-dominated environment.

Thankfully, Shell as an organisation is pushing through gender bias by promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion to create a workplace where everyone feels valued, respected, and has a strong sense of belonging.”

“My family is my pillar of strength, and nothing matters more to me than making them proud of myself and assuring them that I am safe and sound wherever in the world I may be.”

Abigail (seated) with her family.

Touching on her most memorable moments or best lessons in her career, Abigail said they always centered around challenges at work. A specific example she recalled was during this one time when she was offshore for a gas turbine changeout scope.

“One evening after concluding a day’s work, one of our team members reported hearing a noise coming from one of the gas compressors,” she explained. “Upon verifying on-site and immediately with no hesitation, I instructed the operators to shut down the unit for further inspection.

This decision was strongly guided by my instincts. True enough, upon further inspection and investigation, we found the root cause of the noise. After getting help from the team, I quickly split the existing team I had on-site to prioritise the remediation of the gas compressor while not forgetting the original scope of the gas turbine changeout.

This was a true test of my critical thinking skills, and with impressive collaborative work within the team, we managed to resolve the issue well. This event exemplifies adaptability, resilience, critical thinking, and collaboration.”

Abigail’s skills shone as she fostered collaborative work and resilience while managing contractors during site executions and delivering multiple major maintenance scopes, including gas turbine engine changeout, compressor dry gas seal changeouts, and various corrective maintenance scopes, ensuring the reliability and availability of the asset.

What keeps her going?

Abigail lauds her role model, Dr. Mae Jemison as her motivation. Dr. Jemison is the first African American woman to travel into space, serving as Mission Specialist on the space shuttle Endeavor in 1992. Despite facing discrimination, Dr. Jemison pursued her education relentlessly, earning herself a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and a B.A. in African and African-American studies from Stanford University. Later, she obtained her Doctorate in Medicine from Cornell Medical School.

Abigail at the Caucasus Mountains in Azerbaijan.

“Beyond her astronaut status, Dr. Jemison is a doctor, teacher, and founder of two technology companies. She embodies the idea that STEM professionals can have diverse interests and contribute to various domains simultaneously,” Abigail enthused.

” Dr. Jemison’s journey exemplifies resilience, determination, and the pursuit of dreams. She embodies courage, intellect, and a commitment to advancing scientific research while empowering others.”

As for what motivates her in life, Abigail’s desires are simple: The good life. To be happy, healthy, and fulfilled in this journey through life.

“I find fulfillment being around my loved ones and traveling the world, chasing the next Formula One race. My work may be challenging and at times, may wear me down, but it does bring fulfillment knowing that my hard work and contribution are being recognised and appreciated.”

Abigail on the Malikai platform

On advice for young women venturing into the technical field, like she did, Abigail had this to say:

“Just do it. Believe in yourself, cultivate knowledge, and build your support system – loved ones, friends, and family members.

Prioritise building your network – connect with others in the field and learn from them, networking opens doors for future opportunities. Focus on your abilities, not perceived barriers. Your potential is limitless regardless of gender. Stay curious, continuously learn, and be adaptable.

Embrace the challenges, persist, learn, and grow.”