I Work In A Career Field Dominated By Men (And That’s OK)

I’m not your average worker in the petrochemical industry. I’m a 24 year old woman with a rather predictable soft spot for pretty dresses and shiny shoes. How is it that I afford my endless supply of adorableness? I’m a Project Administrator in an oil refinery. I wear overalls and a hard hat by day and sparkly bows by night. Truthfully, I know nothing about the oil refining process. I can however, let you in on the many wonders of my workplace.

There’s quite a few females onsite but in comparison to males, we’re certainly outnumbered. Obviously, there are a few negatives. A prime example would be getting treated with disdain by an ignorant man with an attitude of patronizing superiority who has no idea of anything that happened after 1945. It’s also quite a challenge to decide what to wear to the Christmas party. You know, something flattering but not too flattering.

I’m happy to report that throughout my time onsite, I’ve never actually experienced any form of offensive behavior that I haven’t been able to handle. The guys in my company are rather respectful most of the time. They’ve let the odd C Bomb slip in my presence but all it takes is a quick threat of messing up their pay to ensure they never do it again. Other companies onsite have a rule that enforces washing up duty on anyone who uses such language in front of their female employees. This rule is genius.

Regardless of your sex or the foul stenches that seem to linger, the refinery is a great environment in which to work. There’s an area onsite known as ‘The Unit’. This is made up of several different processing units that turn crude oil into fuel (or so I’ve been told). Many people stroll through The Unit as if they’re browsing through the home wares section of a department store. However, when I walk through it, I find myself in survival mode. I can’t help but wonder about the millions of dollars in crude coursing through the burning hot pipes that surround you. It’s certainly an interesting experience.

My favorite things about the refinery are the flares. They’re massive chimney-type, smoke stack looking things that ascend dramatically into the sky. They’re used to release the fumes created by burning off. The product needs to be burned off if something goes wrong such as a power failure or when The Unit is being restarted after a fault is fixed. Depending on what product they’re burning, the flames can be huge and rather beautiful. The only downside to the glorious flames is the refinery loses the profit from the substance they’re burning. The purpose of the flares is to literally burn millions of dollars – not ideal for business but much prettier to witness than you’d expect.

Working in such an environment poses a considerable safety risk. There’s a chance the refinery could explode and kill everyone in the surrounding area. The risks involved mean that safety is high up on management’s agenda so there’s rarely an issue. Although, it does make your day a little more interesting when you’re locked in a blast resistant module with sirens going off and the flares shooting massive flames into the sky… especially when you need to go to the bathroom.

Despite the safety concerns and limited female population, I would have to say the refinery is the best place I’ve ever worked. Due to the size of the site, a regular day involves encountering at least 100 people so it’s always good for gossip. Myriad themes can be found in the stories that float around site with diverse and boundless content. My personal favorite was when a married man and his mistress were caught bumping uglies in the library.

Sadly, we’re now faced with the closure of our refinery. Due to it’s small size and inability to generate profit, we have to accept the fact that our workplace will be demolished in the near future. The emotional effects this has had on my co-workers have been rather surprising. At first, there was the predictable anger and sadness but then sentimentality began to emerge from people who had claimed to hate the site, day after day for years.

Personally, I’m just as sad as everyone else. Despite the grumbles I hear from my colleagues, I genuinely love my refinery. I find a secret joy in loving an environment that others have grown to loath. It’s certainly not perfect. There are annoyances like every workplace but there are so many things to love that the negatives don’t seem to matter. So, it is with tearful eyes and a heavy heart that I bid farewell to my lovely little refinery. I’m grateful to have known a place so foul, yet so lovely that it shall stay with me forever.

Kirra Jarman spends her days masquerading as a functional member of society. She lives in Brisbane, Australia but does not claim to throw crustaceans onto outdoor cooking facilities. Check out her Instagram @_prettylife_or her blog to see more.