Women’s contributions to the development of the oil and gas industry have greatly increased over the last decade. As the industry faces the challenges of low oil prices and the looming Great Crew Change, increased diversity is going to play a key role in ensuring that companies stay competitive and thrive through shifting scenarios.
Today, we are seeing more and more women matriculating into the industry, more women in C-suite positions, and more women engineers working on the field. I agree with Egle Metsaev, of the Women in Oil and Gas Association of Colorado, who attributes the increasing number of women in our industry to early targeting of women in college. Because technology is one of the keys to thriving in the new era of oil and gas, companies must recruit the best talent, regardless of sex or ethnicity.
The time of the “good old boys” club is coming to an end. We need fresh perspectives and different skills, and oil and gas companies need to appear as attractive workplaces for millennials. If we fail to attract female talent, because of the assumption that only men can rise in our industry, we will lag behind countries and other industries that are creating equal opportunity environments in corporate offices and oil platforms alike.
In 2011, only 11% of the people employed in mining in America, including oil and gas, were women. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2015, only 18.8% of the Americans employed in oil and gas extraction were female.
And stereotypes still loom large. A 2015 analysis showed that only 26.7% of oil and gas industry professionals with LinkedIn profiles were women. The numbers dwindle dramatically when we look at board level membership. An Ernst and Young report found that the top American companies in our industry have only 5% of women on their boards.
A report released during the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos earlier this year made special emphasis on the absence of women CEOs in oil companies worldwide. It also highlighted the fact that only 11% of all senior executives in the industry are female, and there is a 32% gender pay gap across all positions. That simply must change, and fast.
To date that change has been slow, but steady. As research shows that more diverse companies, and companies with more women in higher positions, are more profitable, and the Great Crew Change forces recruiters to find new talent, the industry is integrating more and more women into positions traditionally held by men.
Paulina Svodoba, an engineer who has worked for several top companies and currently runs her own consulting firm, has commented that she was met with prejudice, on more than one occasion, while working on oil platforms.
“My funniest memory is an Egyptian contractor that came on my platform for a chemical cleaning of a well. He asked me if I had been sent offshore “free-willingly,” which made me laugh a lot (as I had been trying to get a role offshore for three years at that time),” Svodoba has commented.
Svodoba, whose track record includes being Deputy Production Supervisor on the Bravo platform (in the massive Al-Shaheen field), acknowledges that some companies are still reluctant to send women offshore. In those cases, her recommendation is simple, “Change companies!”
There are other notable initiatives targeted towards helping women succeed in oil and gas, and achieve their career goals, without having to pay heed to Svodoba’s advice. The brainchild of Katie Mehnert, a self-professed “people engineer,” PinkPetro is a pro-gender equality platform that connects professionals and companies with each other and with knowledge.
One of PinkPetro’s main objectives is to “unite, connect, develop, and grow women.” By connecting professionals with resources and companies with talent within a global online community, PinkPetro and other similar initiatives are helping to make the industry more diverse and more competitive.
While women like Svodoba and Mehnert may still be considered pioneers, as companies keep targeting outstanding female engineering graduates and organizational cultures keep evolving, I believe our industry will become more and more diverse. Decision-makers are beginning to understand the advantages of having women at the helm, and female CEOs may soon steer the destinies of some of the world’s top oil and gas companies. This will be a key attribute in navigating the Great Crew Change into our energy future.