Kanika Bandanwal

Want to Be Heard? Speak Up!

I spent four years working as an engineer on oil rigs in Egypt, and there was never a dull moment. In addition to globetrotting and a multicultural, multilingual working atmosphere - it also made for interesting run-ins with some quite peculiar characters. Not every day you get a girl as an engineer on a rig, running the show, and not everyone is always happy about it.

Here is a piece on taking your power back, one baby step at a time. And it's perfectly ok to falter along the way. What matters is that you are headed in the right direction. As one of my fitness coaches puts it, we are all a masterpiece in the making!

So, I hope you enjoy my little peek down the memory lane.

My story about speaking up!

So here I was, on an oil rig, in the middle of a desert in Cairo. I was suddenly hyper-conscious of my 5ft 3in frame amongst the sea of 6ft+, 200lb men towering around me on the rig floor.

The company man was screaming instructions at MY crew in the middle of MY safety briefing. He was a middle-aged guy with a stern face, battle-hardened by years of exposure to the elements. Not a fan of female engineers, I could tell. I had developed a knack for these things in my two years on the job. And he also facepalmed himself, saying, "Ohh… they sent a girl engineer… I told them I didn't want a girl" when I entered his exclusive caravan to introduce myself. Have I not heard this before! I can probably forget about the accommodation - sleeping in the truck it is!

Back on the rig floor, it was dark, but I could clearly see him fuming, his eyes burning as if a girl on the rig floor had challenged his entire universal order, and he wasn't going to have any of it. I wasn't worthy of him looking at me, let alone talk to me about the job I was in charge of. It didn't help that I was a babyface, 20 something, midget.

My brain went in overdrive. There were many plans being actively forged while I gave him my best eye roll - in my head. Think Nancy Pelosi at Trump's SOTU. Just a small issue, there wasn't a single one that wouldn't have resulted in my crew and myself getting kicked off the rig.

And I hated confrontation. I just refused to do it. I still believed in common decency and wasn't going to swoop that low, or errr mainly my body wasn't going to. You see, every time a moment arose for me to step up and blow my top off, I could feel the surge of energy and emotions running through me, my eyes getting red, my heart thumping through my chest, and throbbing green - blue veins appearing on my forehead. But it wasn't exactly easy to project, against gravity might I add, on someone towering a foot, foot and a half above you and twice your age.

Want to be heard? Now is the time to speak up!

I had never appreciated people underestimating me. So this wasn't the moment to choke up. I was not only in charge of a multi-million dollar operation, but I was also solely responsible for the safety of the rig and the entire crew - including him. And I didn't travel halfway across the world to Africa for another 'know it all' misogynist to tell me how to run my job or "how could my boyfriend ALLOW me to do a job like this" or (my favorite), "why wasn't I married" - all from well-meaning strangers I would have usually met only minutes ago.

I took a deep breath and let him finish his tirade; no point swimming against the tide. I could feel my legs quiver and my stomach churn. I looked directly at him, pointed to my crew, and in my calmest, deepest voice, I said,

"they are going to do what I tell them to. And I know what I am doing, so let me get on with it".

He hadn't realized that I would speak up; his jaw fell to the floor.

Off the corner of my eye, I could see my crew chief and operators smiling with a hint of admiration in their eyes. I finished the safety briefing in my most authoritative voice. I puffed up my chest and triumphantly walked off the rig. My heart was still racing, but I was grinning ear to ear. I would need to fight extra hard for accommodation. Even resorting to begging might not lead to any results at this stage. I had my priorities all wrong, but god, I loved every bit of it!

What's your story of speaking up?

If you have a personal story and lessons learned to share about how you’re owning your career, write to us at richa@pinkcareers.com.

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Kanika was born and brought up in New Delhi, India. She is an engineer by education, and a management consultant by vocation. She holds an MBA from Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelors and Masters in Electronics Engineering from IIT, Delhi.
She started her career as a Field Engineer with Schlumberger Oilfield Services, a job that took her globe-trotting and gave her the travel bug while also giving her the opportunity to live in Libya and Egypt. Through her 15yr career, she has lived across four continents. She currently lives in the UK, helping clients shape and deliver digital transformation powered by Intelligent Automation and AI.

Outside of work, Kanika enjoys daydreaming and binge watching Korean dramas and comedies – thanks to Covid 19. During the ‘normal’ times, her interests include running, walking in the English countryside, mentoring, gardening and hunting for the next Michelin level stars in London and West Midlands.

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