Petronas fuels women empowerment through leadership roles


KUALA LUMPUR – Achievement attained by sheer perseverance is more tangible and meaningful for three senior women employees of Petronas who broke through the glass ceiling to succeed in a male-dominated industry.

For Hasliza Othman, 53, Hajejah Ali, 52, and Nurunnajwa Mohd Aras, 46, their journeys with the national oil company as asset and country heads in Malaysia, Vietnam and Azerbaijan respectively have been remarkable.

Hasliza, who was appointed head of Peninsular Malaysia Assets in 2018, was one of the first few female front-end engineers when she joined Petronas in 2005 and is currently based in Kerteh, Terengganu.

“I frequently visited offshore platform in the first few months of 1992 and I remember there were not many female engineers around back then… it was something that I already expected,” the mother-of-four told Bernama.

The chemical engineering graduate from Texas A&M University in the United States is currently leading the overall production of Petronas Carigali Sdn Bhd-operated assets, including offshore and onshore operations, on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia.

She manages 15 producing fields, 38 offshore platforms and four terminals – namely Terengganu Crude Oil Terminal, Onshore Gas Terminal, Onshore Slug Catcher and Terengganu Gas Terminal – as well as more than 2,000 kilometres of offshore pipelines.

All in, Hasliza has 1,400 employees under her, with 86 percent of them being male.


Although she was one of the few women who worked offshore, Hasliza said she had never felt unsupported.

“I really don’t think it is more challenging for a woman to work offshore,” she said, adding that women bring a different perspective to the job because they approach problems differently and bring a different set of strengths.

“For me, this path excites me and gives me the adrenaline rush to push myself to do better. Each area of my work has its own challenges and I enjoy the day-to-day work because of the challenges.”

She said she has come across many young women who almost did not pursue a career in engineering because of the perception that the work is meant for men.

“Although it is a male-dominated industry, it is not a disadvantage. Women must be themselves and capitalise on their own strength to do the job better,” she added.

Pointing out that good communication is the key to teamwork, Hasliza said the three things she always emphasises are safety, changing the way we work by leveraging the latest technology and optimising our spending in operations.


Meanwhile, Hajejah, who has been working for Petronas since 1992, said having worked in various departments and fields over the years, she has learned to multitask and be more efficient.

Her career started to go places in 2019 when she was sent to North Central Africa to lead the Chad joint-venture operations before her appointment as country head in Vietnam last year.

Working abroad involves much more than just a “short stay in a foreign land” as it also includes adjusting and adapting at many levels such as culturally, socially and financially.

“My biggest challenge in managing the Vietnam office is overcoming the communication barrier. In order to break the barrier, I must first know at least the basic language of the country, understand their geopolitical and governance as well as their culture,” she said.

Hajejah said her proudest professional moment was when she was given the opportunity to lead Petronas’s five-year industry-wide programme involving the Coral Reduction Alliance 2.0 in 2015.

She started her career as a finance executive in Petronas Sarawak before being transferred to Petroleum Management Unit, now known as Malaysia Petroleum Management.

Leaving her comfort levels paved the way for Hajejah to take advantage of opportunities that never would have arisen otherwise.

“Despite my key background in Finance and audit, I continue to learn more about operations and governance in order to serve better… I try to grab as many opportunities as I can,” she added.

“Don’t miss out on opportunities that come your way, put yourself in a position to have those opportunities, know when one (opportunity) is facing you and take it,” she said.


Nurunnajwa, who was a Petronas scholar, took the initiative to learn Russian and the Azerbaijani languages to break the communication barrier when she was transferred to Baku, Azerbaijan, in 2019 as country head.

“I attended a cultural class, learned the dos and don’ts and the proper manner to communicate with the locals,” she said, adding that she has no problems communicating with her staff as most of them speak English.

Nurunnajwa, who has a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, urged women to be role models for other women to follow.

“My role model is the late Benazir Bhutto, the ex-prime minister of Pakistan, as well as my parents,” she said.

She said these days more and more women in leadership positions are pushing the boundaries of gender equality by utilising their strengths and leadership qualities in terms of skills, knowledge and experience.

She also said that as country head, health, safety and environment (HSE) is always the number one priority when it comes to staff management.

“I gained a lot more experience during the pandemic. By anchoring on Petronas’ HSE culture, it helped me to make quick decisions on managing our staff movements,” she added.