It’s well-known that women represent a minority of employees at all levels of American energy companies. While women are nearly half the workforce, they make up only 15% of the oil and gas industry—a number that drops further among higher-paying technical jobs. Even as companies have put forth an effort to hire more women, they’re still challenged in retaining female employees. But women who demonstrate their expertise in their field are in high demand in the energy industry right now. Why? Because I’ve seen it firsthand.
I grew up in an oil and gas family. My dad worked on offshore rigs and later became a leader in wellhead safety/blowout certification. After the 1980s, I was aware of the inherent cyclical nature of oil and gas. I chose to pursue a STEM major (mechanical engineering) to give myself as many options as possible. Beginning in college, I was conscious of the small percentage of women in my major.
I have, however, been relatively surprised that post-college—working for both an oil and gas software company and now an energy business advisory firm— leadership roles held by women (particularly middle to senior management) far exceed the percentage I would’ve guessed based on my college experience.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the U.S., the world seemingly went virtual overnight. Our work life and home life became intertwined. Candidly, at the outset of the pandemic, things were a mess. Everyone had distractions—kids, dogs, deliveries, you name it. What I thought would frustrate people working remotely really became a bonding experience as everyone was in a similarly stressful situation.
“I chose to pursue a STEM major (mechanical engineering) to give myself as many options as possible. Beginning in college, I was conscious of the small percentage of women in my major.”
I was fortunate to be staffed on a long-term software implementation project during the entire pandemic. Luckily, we kicked the project off in person and had already forged relationships with the client. We all knew it would be a challenge when we went virtual, but we had a pretty strong foundation for the project team already developed. I think the industry missed out during the pandemic was the in-person interaction and mentoring that comes with industry events. The option to attend conferences remotely was welcome, but it didn’t fill the void and value that in-person networking brings.
Because my children are teenagers and relatively self-sufficient, I counted myself lucky when I commiserated with my female colleagues. I witnessed that a lot of the daytime childcare, meals, and crisis school responsibilities naturally gravitated towards working moms. Conversely, I serve several clients whose wives gave birth during the pandemic and, because they were working from home, were able to be a little flexible with schedules and give their partner some time to rest and recuperate.
Beyond the historical networking events, there have been many networking opportunities within the women’s community. Diversity and inclusion are hot topics with boards and investors since recent studies show that diverse management teams are more successful. Whether it’s Kayo, Women’s Energy Network (WEN), fishbowl communities, or others, there are far more opportunities for mentorship than there were when I first entered the industry 20 years ago. I firmly believe more women have risen into leadership during that time and have grown the population of mentors for others. 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.
My advice to women joining the industry would be to be humble and build a personal group of career coaches—a good mix of peers, supervisors, and executives. Bottom line: regardless of gender (though that can help when discussing gender-relevant topics), make sure it’s people you respect, trust, and value as part of your circle of influence.
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