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The Great Divide – Place of Women in Oil and Gas industry

‘Have women really broken the glass ceiling yet?’ This question resurfaces every time and probes further into the challenges faced by the fairer sex and also makes us reflect upon the battles they have won so far. The question is as relevant for the oil and gas industry as it is for other industries. We have surely entered an era where there is no doubt that women are occupying the top places in the decision-making committees of various companies in the oil and gas industry. They are making a name for themselves where previously they were under-represented. However, there remains an immense scope for progress.

Facts and Figures

It is observed that the participation of women in the higher positions and also in the industry is increasing but still, the industry remains a male-dominated one. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that it still displays trends of male chauvinism. The fact that the percentage of women in Oil and Gas is around 22% (one of the lowest among major industries) is a clear indication of it. College-educated women hold half of entry-level office and business-support positions, but the share is only 15% when it comes to entry-level technical and field positions.

Since the turn of the millennium, the ratio has been improving gradually as around 18% of ExxonMobil executives are women according to 2017 statistics, compared to 9% in 2000. In GE Oil and Gas, women constitute 17% of the total employee strength. At ConocoPhillips, the share of women in total workforce goes up to 28%.

In order to help increase the participation of women in the engineering related industry, US devised various initiatives to attract female candidates for the requisite course. It has also led to the increase in the number of female engineers from below 1% in 1970s to about 19% now. Also it was observed that in the academic year 2015, more than half of engineering bachelor’s degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were awarded to women. This reflects that things are changing, but there’s a lot of scope for further increase in ratio.

What’s driving these changes?

Lately, the change has been marked by a progressive attitude towards diversifying the workforce and creating a more inclusive workplace environment, particularly in European countries. A law in Norway requires 40% of board members of Norwegian listed companies – which includes around 40 energy companies – to be women. Another major reason arises from the layoffs in the aftermath of the crude oil prices downturn in 1980s and 90s. Also, a major chunk of the oil and gas industry’s workforce is ageing – and a remarkable number of older employees are expected to retire within the next decade. Since companies are looking for bright and talented employees to fill these shoes, they’re casting a much broader net, not limited by gender. There is a rising consensus that when a team or workforce consists of a broader set of people, you get better solutions to problems.

Women are found in the field positions in the petroleum industry. But it’s often observed and corroborated with statistics that women occupy top positions in Human Resource, Communications, Finance or Law where their share is more than double as compared to the technical field job-role which requires them to be sound with mathematical and engineering skills, a conventional and demeaning practice. According to BCG, women hold between only one-third and one-tenth of technical and on-field jobs in the oil and gas industry. A lot of factors contribute to this, namely:

  1. Societal conditioning;
  2. Family care responsibilities;
  3. Family planning;
  4. Strong networks among men; and
  5. Lack of women/female enrolment in engineering courses

At the senior and executive level, women’s representation in the workforce is around 17%, highlighting the lack of female leaders and high officials. Since they are underrepresented in technical and field jobs, this lack of experience can hamper their career path in advanced levels in the industry. However, the presence of women leaders and their success stories continues to inspire others all over the world. Some of them include – Karen Windsor, who’s the COO of Atlantic XL Inc. and Nayrim Buchan, a Wells Engineering Manager at Shell and Eileen Woodford, the Director of Business Development, Worley Parsons.

New Age Policies: A ray of hope

While challenges of all sorts remain, over the years, the stereotypes against women working in refineries, oil fields, gas stations, etc. have reduced. More women have joined such [O&G] plants and refineries in the last decade. A large number of women all over the world are graduating from college and looking for high paying jobs, which can be found in the oil and gas industry.  Flexible work schedules and child care provisions are helping women balance work and family needs. We need more of such inclusive policies which can help women participate more in the industry. There is also greater realization that women can work in the same capacity as men and that diversity in workplace, no matter what the type of job or role is, will lead to greater efficiency of the team. There is no doubt that the industry isn’t too far from busting the glass ceiling.

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