Dr Elodie Zausa talks to Tank Storage Magazine about attitudes to women in the tank industry
Dr Elodie Zausa works for French petroleum storage company Géosel, in business development for storage. On a day-to-day basis, she works with existing and new customers, including traders and refiners, to sell storage and transport capacity for crude oil and refined products. Women in responsible positions in the tank storage industry are still a relative rarity, and in the first of a new series focussing on women in tanks, Tank Storage Magazine was keen to chat to Zausa to find out about her experiences.
Zausa had what she describes as a ‘classic’ route into the tank storage industry. She attended the École Centrale de Marseille, a French engineering college and went on to do a PhD in chemistry.
‘I didn’t start in the tank industry as a first job. I worked for Shell’s LPG branch, in France, named Butagaz. My first job as a project manager in the innovation department was linked with my PhD. I was responsible for the development of gas appliances to extend the range of applications available for the cylinder business. Afterwards, I worked as an LPG trader,’ she says.
In 2010, Zausa joined Geostock, an international company specialising in the engineering, design, construction management and operation of underground storage facilities, before moving to Géosel. After ten years in the industry, Zausa is still enjoying it and is happy with her career path. Even when she was doing her PhD, she already knew that she wanted to work in oil and gas. ‘I like the oil and gas industry. I don’t know why, that’s a complicated question to answer!’ Zausa says, adding: ‘I was more attracted by crude oil, refineries and tanks than clean rooms and pharmaceutical manufacturing industries.’
LOVING THE CHALLENGE
One of the biggest attractions of the tank industry for Zausa now is the sheer challenge it is facing with the looming energy transition. In a world that is increasingly looking to turn away from hydrocarbons, what happens to the tank storage industry?
‘We know that if we do not evolve and adapt our industry to these future energies, we won’t survive,’ she says. ‘In the near future, we’re talking about 2030, 2040, 2050, we will have to store other types of energies. We clearly need to start projects to produce, transport and store hydrogen or other low-carbon energies. That’s very inspiring because we have to find new technologies, new ways for this and we have to be creative.’
This opens up huge possibilities for research and development. Adapting won’t be easy but the transition from fossil energy to a mix of non-fossil and fossil energies will be gradual, which will help. Zausa believes that the tank storage industry, while already playing a huge role in keeping the world working and moving, will continue to play a key role in the energy sector.
FORCED BY THE LAW
Zausa has noticed that the number of women in the tanks industry in France is slowly increasing. Where once, she might have been the only woman in a meeting with a client or a competitor, now, there are others. However, this may not be as progressive as it might first appear.
In 2011, France passed a law requiring all companies with more than 500 employees to have 40% women on their executive boards, plus other criteria. This law was extended in 2019 to include companies with more than 250 employees, and now applies to companies with more than 50 employees. Those which do not comply have three years to improve and if not, will face financial penalties.
‘I personally think that the number of women is increasing because the industry has been forced to change. They have quotas and they need women to reach those. That’s a very pessimistic way to put it but the law has contributed at the beginning. Now the industry has realised that it’s not so bad having women! The richness of that mix and that diversity is very positive,’ Zausa says.
In the past, things have been very difficult for women, she thinks, but she herself is seeing a shift in the industry which can’t be put down solely to the quotas.
‘The interest of having diversity is having men and women with their personalities and their own ways to manage projects, to communicate, etc. I think women don’t need to change or adapt to the company to be able to get managerial positions, we have to stay as we are and what we are. It is important that men and women keep their own personalities as that is what contributes to the richness of diversity in the workplace,’ Zausa says.
Within her own career, she has not met challenges or barriers to progression as a woman, but she concedes that this is not the case for everybody.
‘Some of my colleagues say that just because you are a woman you don’t have the same career or responsibilities. I think that was definitely true in the past in this industry, but now we have a lot of opportunities,’ says Zausa.
START YOUNG BUT DON’T STOP THERE
‘A good way to change things is definitely to work with primary schools, to start early to change the mentality. You can explain to the little boys and girls that all these jobs, like a pilot, or a surgeon, or an engineer, can be done by any gender,’ says Zausa.
Even now, perceptions that certain jobs are for men and certain jobs are for women persist, and if these perceptions can be challenged even before they take root, so much the better. Zausa’s company encourages its staff to take time to go into schools and forums to speak about their jobs. Zausa says that it cannot stop at schools, however.
‘Yes, to start working with the primary schools is important but also what is essential is to explain the existing jobs to colleges and universities, to recruit the women at that level. If you don’t have women at the starting point in your company it will be very difficult to have 40% of women in the top management positions. It’s something that we have to develop. We have to start from the beginning if we want to be certain of having that number at the end,’ she says.
The key attraction for her – of playing a part in an industry which plays such a big role in the lives of pretty much everyone – should be promoted to women, alongside the important role the tank industry will play in the energy transition.
‘They will be part of playing a role for the planet, part of the process of changing our way of consumption for tomorrow. They can be proud of that. It’s a little optimistic, maybe!’ Zausa says. RETENTION It’s not just about attracting women to the industry in the first place, it’s vital to make them want to stay.
‘Maybe the past generation of women with a career had to work harder than men to get the same position. Maybe sometimes they sacrificed their private lives to get that job. Today, it’s something that we don’t want to see anymore,’ says Zausa. ‘Even the men in fact actually don’t want to sacrifice their private lives just to reach a job with great responsibilities. And women don’t want to have work harder than men to get that same position. I think it’s changing on both sides for men and women, and that will help women to get those jobs as well.’
Many initiatives are promoted as ways to convince women to stay in the workforce, but Zausa believes that the most important thing is to offer women the same positions, with the same responsibility and same salary that are offered to men. Too often, women will look at a company and see that all the management jobs and the jobs with major responsibilities are taken by men. Faced with the prospect of staying in the same job with the same responsibilities for the rest of her life while men are promoted above her, why would a woman choose to stay? Zausa says that companies need to show women that they have the same chance.
‘We don’t want to have more chances, just the same chance for responsibility as a man. If the message is clear throughout the company and if a woman sees that she has the same probability, the same chance to have the same career as a man, with the same skills and competencies, that is very motivating,’ she says.
Much progress has been made in encouraging women in industry, but there is still a way to go.
‘There might be 15, 20 or 30% of women present depending on the company, but if you look at the position of those women you realise that they still aren’t in the top management. We are here but we’re not there yet. We’ve made the first step, now we need to go further to occupy those managerial jobs,’ says Zausa.