Women in Energy – Breaking the Glass Ceiling
Women represent a minority of employees at all levels of American energy companies. Even as companies have put forth an effort to hire more women, they are challenged in retaining female employees. Amy Stutzman, Managing Director in Opportune LLP's Complex Financial Reporting practice, shares her perspectives on working in the industry.
Why should women pursue careers in energy?
Women who demonstrate they are experts in their field are in high demand in the energy industry right now. Whether your passion is engineering, geology, finance, accounting, information technology, law, or politics, the energy industry is dynamic and challenging and has something to offer. There is a lot of support from all stakeholders for women to take on leadership roles in the industry. At Opportune, we’ve had prospective clients ask what percentage of our leadership team is made up of women prior to engaging us for a project. Diversity and inclusion is a hot topic with boards and investors since recent studies show that diverse management teams are more successful. There are numerous professional groups that work to support women in the energy industry, such as Women’s Energy Network (WEN), Pink Petro and the Association of Women in Energy.
How can companies retain women who are pursuing careers in energy?
According to ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance, keeping women is a challenge for many energy companies, in particular as they go forward raising a family. Retaining women takes more than being progressive with benefits such as flexible work schedules and paid maternity leave, although such benefits should not be overlooked. Women need to be invited to the proverbial table and shown that their perspectives are valued. This is not easy since people naturally want to network with people who are like them and that’s why we have the industry stereotype of the “good ol’ boys network.” I am fortunate to have male mentors who break that mold and bring me along to traditionally male-dominated meetings and networking events. We need more men to provide support like this.
Women also must be proactive and challenge themselves to get out of their comfort zone and sit at the table. In my experience, this gets easier over time as you gain professional credibility, but it’s also helpful if we support each other. It’s not uncommon that I am the only woman in the room and this used to intimidate me. I have a great male mentor who once asked me if I had ever considered that the men feel just as intimidated by me. This question helped me change my perspective. We are all professionals with our own experience and knowledge to bring to the table. Let’s stop being intimidated by each other and leverage our strengths to add value to our industry. I encourage younger women to take risks and speak up at the table.
What is the importance of female education in STEM?
Interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is essential for young women on the path to careers in energy. There is a movement right now to break the gender bias in STEM education and actively recruit women to fields such as petroleum engineering, geology and computer science. It is encouraging to see more opportunities, such as scholarships and support groups, for young women pursuing STEM majors in college. At Opportune, we support the WEN, which is actively involved in supporting female education in STEM.
Success is based on performance and ability, not your gender. Women should be encouraged and supported to explore careers in the energy industry. As women, we must accept the challenge to step out, speak up and take risks in our careers.