Although women make up a large percentage of Vietnam’s workforce (70% in the agricultural sector) many females still face career barriers. Given GE’s commitment to developing local talent, and expanding opportunities in Vietnam, this series pays tribute to GE Vietnam’s female employees who have made their mark in variety of sectors. For part three of our Chasing Dreams series, we present the story of Phan Kim Nen, a design engineer working for GE’s Oil and Gas business.
While Nen has embraced career opportunities offered by GE to become a key member of the Oil and Gas team, she said challenges remain for many working females in Vietnam. As one of only a few women to study for a chemical engineering degree at Hoh Chi Minh City (HCMC) University of Technology, she has developed skills and strengths, over time, to bypass gender-related barriers.
In this interview, Nen shares more about these – in particular, how positive thinking, team work, and applying skills she has gained at GE so far, have accelerated her career development.
Nen, from your experience what is the biggest barrier to women progressing in the workplace today in Vietnam?
This isn’t an issue at GE Vietnam because everyone is treated equally, which is very good. I’ve found that if you try your best and work hard, opportunities will come.
However, after recent changes to oil and gas industry laws in Vietnam, if men and women are requested to travel and work overseas, preference is usually given to males. Although women can still travel internationally for work, there are restrictions about places we can visit including factories, and other industrial facilities. Despite this, I stay positive and I often catch up with male colleagues, who have visited various work sites, to learn about what they saw.
Did you want to be an engineer when you were at school? What was your background?
As I grew up in Tien Giang, a small farming community 80 kilometers from HCMC, I didn’t have specific career ambitions then – I just studied hard. I did consider teaching, but it was only in my last year at high school that I thought about future plans to study at university.
After talking with teachers, I applied to study at HCMC University of Technology. I was accepted, and took up chemical engineering. With the right support system from my family and friends, I graduated in 2010 and the knowledge attained at university has helped me throughout my career.
How has working at GE helped you to advance your career?
My GE journey began three years ago in October 2013 when I was employed as a Subsea Design Engineer. Since then, I have gained new skills covering leadership, presentations, and motivating and inspiring team mates. I’ve also worked with the latest Subsea-related innovations - used in the oil and gas sector - which are very new to Vietnam.
Outside of work, what are your other priorities and how do you manage these?
Like many people, managing work-life balance is tough at times. Taking good care of my family, while giving my best at work is challenging. I am lucky to have a supportive husband – he works in the same field so understands the demands – he encourages me to go as far as I can.
As I am pregnant now however, things may change when we welcome our baby to the world. Today, we rise early and I leave home at 6 am. I’m often up earlier to prepare food for us. I usually finish work at 6 pm and go home to buy, or cook food for dinner. After a tiring day I sleep at 9 or 10 pm. Time is precious to us so we try to use it well.
Finally, what is your proudest work achievement to date? And what advice would you give to other young women chasing the career dreams?
My highlight so far was participating in a major Subsea project in Australia where I worked with the life cycle engineering team. To prepare for this, I attended training programs in Norway and Poland which I enjoyed very much. I learned a lot during the Australian initiative and we’ve also received very positive feedback from customers.
And advice? Balancing work and family is crucial – but not easy. And women working in Vietnam have to be extra-proactive and sharp – if you can prove yourself, opportunities will definitely come your way.