Meet the first Thai female process manager at Thailand’s Sriracha refinery in its 55 of operation, Chiratana Sombatboriboon, whose career path was paved, by her determination and, in part, by ExxonMobil and an inclusive culture that allowed her to rise to the top.
Chiratana began her career as a project , stating she was attracted to the energy industry as it allowed her to get hands on with technology, demonstrating her skills and capabilities, and make a difference.
However, as a young woman working in a male-dominated environment she faced several hurdles, not just in her job but also the mindsets of the people she worked with.
She said she put her skills in action, and changed mindsets, when her and her team helped the refinery narrowly avoid a shutdown following an electrical issue, an unexpected and atypical event.
“Refineries can’t operate without electrical systems, and one day there was an issue caused by an unplanned shutdown of the main electrical supply to refinery,” Chiratana explained.
“If we couldn’t quickly return electricity it meant the whole refinery would shut down and wouldn’t be able to run. We only had 10 to 15 minutes to restore electricity or the refinery would be down for a week.
“We had to troubleshoot equipment issues and had to bring the unit back as soon as possible.”
Chiratana said despite the high pressure, the team managed to get the power back and ensured the refinery avoided shut down.
She demonstrated a woman was more than capable of handling and solving major issues, with her analytical approach to the problem while remaining calm under intense time pressures, as well as utilizing teamwork and strengthening trust her fellow workers had in her by working with them from the problem’s start to its solution, she not only cemented her capabilities but was also able to change perceptions of what women could achieve.
As her career progressed, she was able to work in Singapore, building her team capabilities, and eventually made a move into management, before becoming the first Thai female process manager at the Sriracha refinery, which required a whole new skills set.
She said she never expected her career to shift so much, and was worried that she wasn’t ready for the change, adding, “It was a big step change for me, from an electrical, technical professional, to manage business and people”.
“The transition from electrical, technical engineer who was always hands on, doing everything myself, to become part of management team who leads the business and manage the workforce has been hard.
“Along my journey I had to learn and improve myself several times, managing critical situations; it wasn’t easy but I’ve enjoyed every moment in my journey,” she said.
But Chiratana said the real secret to her success in the role is to be curious and always ready to ask the right questions, and having a workplace that supports people to achieve.
Working her way up from the floor to become the first Thai female process manager at Sriracha has been a long road, but it is one Chiratana is proud to have travel” and believes the path she has blazed provides opportunities for all young Thai engineers.
“In my early career, I couldn’t imagine how a female electrical engineer could become a refinery process manager, yet today, I am here. I did make it. I tackled all the barriers; I removed unconscious bias about my capability and the mindset that woman can’t take these important roles.
“That’s why I want to show them how you tackle the hurdles as a junior female engineer and let them know that you can progress up to this level. Anything is possible.”