According to a report by Boston Consulting Group and the World Petroleum Council, women in energy represent only 22% of the workforce in oil and gas. Considerably under-represented.
What is holding them back? Do they fear the challenges in this harsh industrial landscape?
Women in the industry are confident that they can do anything as a man does- be it scaling 100-meter towers or working through the night at the oilfield. However, there are limitations imposed by nature.
Here’s an instance.
Ryu Bokyoung, a newlywed 28-year-old engineer at Ulsan Refinery in South Korea, is expecting a child and thus, considering her options. Here, a break is inevitable owing to the safety concerns of a pregnant woman climbing towers or the problems in leaving her baby back home all night.
In the words of Ryu who joined South Korea’s top refiner in 2012, “If I were a man, these are things I wouldn’t have to worry about”.
These words ring a bell. Nature has its own designs and society has its own. Strong patriarchal notions go back in history and continue to overshadow the present.
The oil and gas industry has traditionally been a male-dominated one with men forming about 80% of the global workforce. There is no denying the fact that women like Ryu are pioneers here. The term ‘oilman’ has its place in the dictionary and takes strong roots in ‘masculine notions’ attached to this industry.
(Click here for a critical perspective on women in the oil and gas industry, one that goes back in time to understand the present.)
A fundamental shift began when oil majors across the globe began to redefine their business model owing to the collapse of oil prices in 2014. According to an Ernst & Young survey, oil price crash, geopolitical instability and changes to environmental regulations are driving a fundamental shift in the oil and gas industry. The survey highlights the importance of diversity in the industry and the fact that more needs to be done to attract, retain and promote women.
Highlights of some major reports have been presented here to support our understanding of the present context.
A report by API– Minority and Female Employment in the Oil & Natural Gas and Petrochemical Industries, 2015-35, projects the growth of female employment in the US oil and gas industry (2015-35) and here’s what it indicates:
- “Women will share in the growth of more skilled white collar jobs in the industry. We project that women will account for a rising share of job opportunities in management and professional occupations such as petroleum engineers, environmental scientists, accountants, and technicians.
- The already-low shares of women in the semi-skilled and unskilled blue-collar occupational groups are projected to decline further, which will hold down the overall increase in female employment in the industry. However, there is significant potential for female blue-collar employment due to a large number of job opportunities projected in blue-collar positions.
- The share of women in the traditionally female-dominated ‘Office and Administrative Support’ (OAS) category will fall slightly over the forecast period, although this category remains a large source of potential job opportunities for women.”
Total Projected Female Job Opportunities in the Oil & Natural Gas and Petrochemical Industries, 2015-2035 by Broad Occupational Category
Management, Business and Financial 91,183
Professional and Related 62,376
Sales and Related 6,937
Office & Administrative Support 91,855
Skilled Blue Collar 14,214
Semi-skilled Blue Collar 13,306
Unskilled Blue Collar 5,003
(Source: Minority and Female Employment in the Oil & Natural Gas and Petrochemical Industries, 2015-35)
Taking the US female workforce in oil and gas under consideration, these numbers indicate that a significant rise in opportunities will continue to be in the white collar jobs and OAS. Though the share of female workers in office-based roles has increased, it is nowhere near parity in technical and field roles outside of the office.
What are the possible reasons? One of them could be the predominant perception across the industry that women are not fit for field jobs.
Concerns regarding gender disparity in the oil and gas industry have been further supported by Boston Consulting Group when they published a report in 2017 titled ‘Untapped Reserves: Promoting Gender Balance in Oil and Gas’. This report is significantly global in scope and talks about the myriad aspects of the Great Divide with respect to gender in the oil and gas industry.
Women in Energy: What are the key findings of the BCG Report?
- The percentage of women across the oil and gas industry’s workforce drops over time and falls drastically, from 25% to 17%, in the middle-management and senior-leadership career stages. Unless the CEOs make gender diversity a higher strategic priority, this trend won’t change.
- Women rarely reach the top of the organization even though men and women start their career around the same time.
- With respect to gender-related challenges that women face, huge gaps in perception between men and women exist.
- A meaningful progress towards gender balance in the industry cannot occur unless companies offer diverse opportunities for women across all roles.
The report further highlights that across the global oil and gas industry, women account for a significantly smaller share of the workforce, representing roughly a fifth of employees in the entire industry. They work disproportionately in office jobs and they have a limited presence in technical roles and higher management. A significant experience in the technical capacity is often considered essential for career advancement in this industry.
Or They work disproportionately in office jobs and due to a limited presence in technical roles and higher management, a major prerequisite within the industry for career advancement, are unable to climb the corporate ladder.
Effect: The oil and gas industrial landscape is missing out on a potentially sizeable and critical pool of talent.
Here, the industry is at major disadvantages. To put in perspective a few:
- Owing to the fact that many talented women either never enter the industry or back out prematurely, the oil and gas companies do not have a greater number of highly qualified candidates before them while selection.
- Missing out on qualities that women bring on the table- creativity, diversity of perspectives, high quality of organization and teamwork.
- Women don’t see this field as a potential career choice due to the high imbalance in gender diversity in the industry, specifically in the senior ranks.
What are the problem areas?
- The number of girls and women pursuing technical educations is not very high.
- Women find it difficult to progress and maintain a work-life balance due to the structural barriers within the oil and gas industry.
- Predominantly a male-centric culture throughout much of the industry.
How can the industry work toward solutions?
- Expanding the range and career choices available for women and enhancing the flexibility of the career paths.
- Ensuring equal career opportunities with well-structured work-life balance policies.
- Enabling women to acquire senior leadership roles through the necessary support and ensuring equal standards for promotion for both men and women.
Numbers are not the complete truth
Women in the oil and gas industry should not feel discouraged by what the numbers say. The discussed reports have highlighted some of the major problems and most of the solutions lie in the identification of the problems. Now, the companies can effectively work towards striking a gender balance across the industry. Change is a process and with time and effort, underrepresentation of women in the industry will be a thing of the past.
(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Energy Dais.)