How Women in Oil and Gas are Shaking Things Up

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While the boardrooms of major oil and gas companies were once dominated by men, businesses are tossing this trend and opting to employ women in high-power positions. These changes are more than just efforts to increase gender equality, but rather bolster the innovative work done within the industry.

“Almost every country in the world has less than five percent of its top companies run by women, including the United States and every country in Europe,” Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg asserted to a World Economic Forum panel earlier this year. “That means we are not using the full talents of the population when it comes to making the decisions that are impacting our world.”

Despite initiatives to incorporate more women into the oil and gas industry, numbers are still low. “A recent LinkedIn analysis found that women make up just 26.7{335c974e2d9974e4ac278ecec6a6684801c17d5ab958c4405bc55dcadc20c6a8} of all oil and gas industry profiles on the professional networking site,” Susan Price from Fortune reported last year. “That’s the lowest percentage of any of the dozen industries examined; Healthcare had the largest percentage, at about 59.8{335c974e2d9974e4ac278ecec6a6684801c17d5ab958c4405bc55dcadc20c6a8}, and tech came in at the middle of the pack, at 30.6{335c974e2d9974e4ac278ecec6a6684801c17d5ab958c4405bc55dcadc20c6a8}. Numbers from the American Petroleum Institute are dated, but suggest an even bleaker picture: The group put the percentage of women in the industry at about 19{335c974e2d9974e4ac278ecec6a6684801c17d5ab958c4405bc55dcadc20c6a8} in 2010.”

But this trend can’t be blamed solely on the lack of female hires. In fact, this vertical struggles with attracting young talent, regardless of sex, as the old guard slowly but surely ages out of the working world. “Facing one of its worst crises in a generation, the oil industry is trying to open up – to women,” Dmitry Zhdannikov with Reuters noted earlier this year. “Even when oil was selling at above $100 a barrel, most of the industry’s top executives said they struggled to find and retain young talent. Year after year, it was cited as one of the biggest problems for the industry – one of the best paying in the world. Among oil companies, there are no women at the CEO level and only 7-11 percent are women at the board and senior executive levels.”

Despite the oil and gas industry’s long history, it wasn’t until 2014 that a woman was named CEO of a major U.S. oil company. Vicki Hollub spent 33 years working her way up the corporate ladder at Occidental Petroleum. In a statement from Occidental about Hollub’s promotion, the decision to place the mineral engineer in the CEO position was based on “her strong track record of successfully growing our domestic oil and gas business profitably and efficiently.”

Somewhat surprisingly, Africa’s largest producer of oil, Nigeria, has been on the forefront of employing women in high-level industry positions. For instance, the Nigerian Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke is working to increase the number of female employees in her nation’s oil and gas industry. Additionally, after obtaining her law degree and working for many years with Texaco, Catherine Uju Ifejika founded Brittania-U Limited, where she serves as the chairman and chief executive.

While Hollub, Alison-Madueke, and Uju Ifejika are shifting the dominant paradigms in the oil and gas industry, the gender gap is still substantial. Just this month at the ADIPEC 2016 Women in Energy conference hosted in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, female industry leaders took to the podium to discuss the value of gender diversity.

“The truth is, in order to meet these demands on our shared energy future we don’t just need all types of energy, we need diversity of thought,” asserted Eileen Wilkinson, Vice President for Exploration in MENA at Shell. “In my career, I have seen diversity feed innovation across Asia-Pacific, Europe and in the Middle East, and I believe it is the key to sustained longevity of great companies. I want to inspire young women to come into the industry. Women have technical excellence, the ability to multitask and to think through complex problems.”

While the support to increase the number of women in oil and gas industry resonates from the upper echelons, the changes need to start at lower levels as well. It’s wonderful to see women stepping into CEO and other high-level roles in the oil and gas industry but there are still plenty of jobs outside of the boardroom that can be filled by motivated, intelligent, and talented females. In an effort to see this happen, attempts to attract potential employees, male and female, are starting even earlier in the game with the push of STEM events and programs for students still looking to shape their future careers.

While women are shaking up the industry, it’s only the beginning. Just imagine the innovative solutions waiting to be discovered with the joint efforts of male and female oil and gas employees. The sky’s the limit, but everyone has to be included on the ground floor before the oil and gas industry will truly benefit. To learn more about the oil and gas industry, BWAB is ready to answer your questions.