Kat Boogaard

Not the Secretary: How Jessica Ong Found Success in a Male-Dominated Field

Blog Post created by Kat Boogaard on Nov 2, 2016

When she was young, Jessica Ong moved around a lot. Born in Malaysia, she moved to Oklahoma at the young age of three, before moving back to Malaysia for a period of time and then finally settling in Texas when she was in junior high.


Moving back and forth across the globe isn’t easy. But, it’s one of the many experiences that shaped Jessica into who she is today—a Petroleum Engineer who’s incredibly passionate about empowering, encouraging, and mentoring young women involved in the energy industry.


As we’re sure you can guess, Jessica’s story is an interesting one. So, we chatted with her about where she got started, how she stays positive in a male-dominated field (that’s currently in a downturn), and what’s next for her.


Where it All Began…

Born in Malaysia, Jessica knew from an early age that she’d likely end up with a career in the sciences. “When I was in grade school, I had expressed interest in math, science, and geology,” says Jessica.


She and her family moved to Oklahoma when she was just three years old so that her father—a Petroleum Engineer himself—could pursue his Master’s and PhD degrees.


They headed back to Malaysia when his schooling was finished, where Jessica attended elementary school and learned to speak and write fluently in both Mandarin Chinese and Malay. Finally, they settled in Texas and Jessica has been there ever since.


After obtaining her Petroleum Engineering degree from the University of Texas at Austin, Jessica was ready and raring to build a career for herself in the energy industry. “I am always fascinated by how these large, million year old geological rock formations go through the processes to form fossil fuels that have become an essential commodity in our world today,” she shares.

Building a Thriving Career

“I started my career at Baker Hughes as a Completions Engineer developing and executing global completion projects for multiple Exploration and Production (E&P) organizations,” Jessica explains. During her time in that position, she worked on projects for places all over the world—including Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates.


“After about four years in that role, I decided to move on to a more challenging role where I was able to gain more experience in a specific product line in completions,” she says. As an Applications Engineer with Baker Hughes in the Asia Pacific region, she was able to learn the in-depth technical and operational aspects of Intelligent Production Systems (IPS) and also had the opportunity to work in Brunei Darussalam for two months to learn the best operational practices.


Following the success of the IPS product line in the Asia Pacific region, Jessica took on another challenging role with Baker Hughes as a Project Manager working on deepwater completion projects in the Gulf of Mexico. “I really enjoyed this role, as the completion projects not only required problem-solving skills for a challenging technical project, but also a short cycle delivery and execution,” she adds.


Staying Strong in a Male-Dominated Field

When it comes to making a name and a career for herself in an industry that’s brimming with men, Jessica admits it’s been challenging at times. “My experience being a female in a male-dominated industry has not always been positive, but it has been rewarding,” she shares, “When I began my career at Baker Hughes, I was one of the only two female engineers in the entire department floor as well as the only female in my team of five.”


Jessica mentions that she quickly realized that her male counterparts had some trouble understanding the fact that a female engineer would be doing the very same job as them. “They would always scrutinize my knowledge and what I was doing on everything,” she explains, “They would also make comments as if I was to blame or even that I was ‘the secretary’ that should be taking notes during team meetings or helping them with their expense reports.”


Those comments were understandably infuriating, but Jessica was determined not to let them get under her skin—and instead decided to confront people directly when they said something that was inappropriate. “Once I had done that, I realized that the respect from my male counterparts was immediately gained and our work relationship improved. Now, I have developed many great working relationships with my male counterparts.”

Life in a Downturn

Despite her impressive history in a variety of positions with Baker Hughes, Jessica was not immune to the effects of the industry downturn. “Due to the downturn and company restructuring, my position was eliminated and I am currently in transition,” she shares.


But, Jessica is making the best of it by using this time to further improve and develop her professional skills and networks by participating and volunteering in different professional organizations that she’s passionate about.


Jessica is also a big believer in empowering and mentoring women in the energy industry, helping them to navigate the male-dominated field. “My future goals are to continue to empower women in the energy industry and to also land a position in the oil and gas industry where I can make a positive contribution by using my skills and experience as a Petroleum Engineer,” she adds.

Finding Pink Petro

Riding the waves of the industry downturn can be somewhat isolating. And, that’s one of the many reasons Jessica is glad to have found Pink Petro.


“I was introduced to Pink Petro by other fellow members that are also in the energy industry,” Jessica explains, “The experience I have had with the community has been very positive.’


When it comes to what she’d tell other women who are looking at getting involved in the energy industry, Jessica has some sage advice. “Have courage, be willing to take risks and adaptable to change, work hard, and do your job well,” she says. And, for any Pink Petro community members also trying to keep their chins up through the disheartening downturn, Jessica adds this: “Stay positive, as I know it’s a tough time. The industry will eventually pick back up!”


With women as impressive as Jessica waiting and at the ready, we can’t help but to think that the industry won’t only bounce back, but it’ll come back even better, stronger, and smarter than before.