Meet Sarah Smith, born and raised in Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia. Sarah is a graduate of Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Maritime Safety and Environmental Protection. Sarah has worked offshore for the past 5 years and is currently a Safety Training Coordinator for a drilling contractor in the offshore oilfields of the US Gulf of Mexico.
As a Safety Training Coordinator, Sarah oversees the safety of her rig’s operations by maintaining compliance with all applicable health, safety, and environmental rules and regulations. On a daily basis, Sarah’s mission is to improve safety standards and practices on board. She leads discussions and inspections to maintain safe operations.
Women Offshore interviewed Sarah to find out more about her career and passion for working on the water. From her inspirations to her challenges, here’s what Sarah shared with us:
Sarah, what inspired you to work on the water?
“My father is my biggest mentor and hero in my life. He just recently retired from the oil & gas industry after 35 years, and throughout his career he accomplished more than most I know. He is ‘my person’ and I do my best every day to make him proud. I remember the very day my parents sat me down to ask me what I wanted to do in life. I was 18 years old and, honestly, had no idea! My father made me write down three jobs on a piece of paper, that I could see myself doing as an adult. I wrote down down ‘chef’, ‘nurse’ and ‘maritime engineer.’
When my father scanned through the list, he began with the first career choice by stating, “Sarah, you are a good cook, but I think its best that you do that for enjoyment.” He continued down the list, looked at option two and said, “Let’s be honest, Sarah, you are not really the ‘caring type.’ So, please let me be honest by saying that I think you would make a terrible nurse!” And when he got down to the last profession on the list, he said, “I didn’t know you wanted to be like me,” and simply just smiled. It was at that moment, I knew my career path for maritime life had been chosen.”
What motivates you to continue working on the water if it’s a long-term career for you?
“Well, the time off you get when you work a rotation, of course! I always knew the office life of working a 9-5 was never in the cards for me. But ultimately, besides the cool perks, my motivators are the people I surround myself with. My crew is one of those motivators. The thought of not seeing them, believe it or not, makes me teary-eyed. I have been very blessed and fortunate to work with such a great group of guys, who treat me more often ‘like one of the boys,’ rather than that of the ONLY girl in their crew. Often times, I don’t even see them as coworkers, but as a second family. The camaraderie found in an offshore family is one that is often unexplainable to others.
However, my biggest motivators in life would have to be my parents. (I will say, the siblings and my significant other, aren’t far behind them!) My parents have always supported me, been there to cheer me on, and when necessary, brought me in for a reality check when I have wanted to throw in the towel and quit. Plus, the motivation of seeing that smile on my dad’s face when he tells his maritime buddies that his ‘daughter works on an oil rig’ is pretty damn rewarding all on its own!”
What challenges have you faced in your career?
“I’ve always looked at my challenges as opportunities to grow and move ahead in life. When I look back on how I got to where I am today, two particular events comes to mind. The first was during one of my initial job interviews for this career. Upon completion of the meeting, the interviewer felt the need to give me what they coined, ‘the advice you didn’t ask for, but needed anyways.’ This advice was not sugar-coated in any sort of way and was along the lines of, “Today’s women are too busy trying to be a man’s equal, that they forget what their main role in life is – to be housewife.” This unsolicited advice at the time truly offended me. Looking back on it now, has actually played one of the biggest roles in my ‘forever driving force’ to succeed in this industry. (If only that individual could see me now!)
And the second (and most obvious challenge mentioned by the majority of females in this industry), are the looks you get when you tell people that you work offshore on an oil rig. This is only because most of them cannot picture any woman working in dirty coveralls, wearing steel-toed boots and rocking a hard hat everyday. As unfortunate as it is we still live in a world full of stereotypes. Therefore, what continues to propel me forward, every single day, is the challenge to change that stereotypical mold that society has carved out for ‘the typical offshore oilfield worker’. PLUS – Little do they know, it’s a pretty refreshing gig to spend my 21-day hitches in a world that isn’t shallow and based on appearance.”
What do you think can be done in your industry to encourage more women to pursue similar careers?
“I think by having social media sites like this is a great resource to connect all of our females in the offshore industries! This is an awesome way to give others a good understanding of what we do, as well as giving us the opportunity to share our personal stories, hardships and successes.”
Do you have any advice for women emerging into this industry?
“Of course! Here are three basic fundamentals that I have learned in my career thus far, that I believe any gal must have to make it in this industry:
1 – Always have that ability to swear like a dirty sailor.
2 – Remember, you need to have a sense of humor.
3 – Cry, but never ever let them see you.
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. This mock-Latin phrase supposedly translates into, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” This quote is one that I live my life by every day. Gender aside, we are always going to meet those jerks in life that are going to try and stop us from reaching our goals and dreams. Don’t you ever let them.”
Thank you, Sarah! It was a pleasure connecting with you. We admire your experience working on the water and look forward to following your career as you reach your goals and dreams.