Just as is the case with so many other industrial sectors, the oil and gas industry faces a need for engineering expertise that outstrips the supply. So efforts to attract more women to the field are not only important for diversity’s sake; it’s vital to draw from the other half of the talent pool if the industry is going to find the workforce it needs.
Women have long been underrepresented in the oil and gas engineering sector, and that situation continues. So the folks at UK-based NES Global Talent took a closer look at just what could be done about it, surveying women already working as engineers in oil and gas to better understand their perspectives. “The industry needs to find creative ways to attract women, not just at the primary and secondary school level, but at an undergraduate and graduate level,” notes Neil Tregarthen, CEO at NES Global Talent, in a summary of the survey findings. “It must also continue to work to attract women working in other industries to oil and gas engineering, shining a spotlight on what a welcoming and rewarding career it can be and highlighting the opportunities.”
But is it, in fact, a welcoming and rewarding career for women? Welcoming, perhaps, but not as rewarding as it might be if they were male. Three-quarters (75 percent) of the women responding to the survey said they felt welcome working in the oil and gas industry. But almost half of them (45 percent) said they do not get the same recognition as their male counterparts.
“This is without a doubt a male-dominated environment, but the industry perception on gender diversity is changing for the better,” one respondent says. “The percentage of women in the market has increased. Unfortunately, the number of women in technical roles and field positions are still scarce. The general mentality that this is not a female-oriented environment still exists. You may not feel welcome at first, but it is all a matter of conquering your space while presenting your talents and skills.”
Still, a large majority of the women (89 percent) said they would encourage other females to pursue a career in oil and gas now; and almost as many of them (82 percent) would recommend a career in the industry to somebody who would finish their studies 10 years from now.
Maybe given this perspective, some of them might consider mentoring their peers who are new to the industry. Almost all of the respondents (95 percent) said mentors were important for career advancement, but less than half (42 percent) are either mentors or mentees.
Respondents did have some advice to share with other women who might be considering careers in oil and gas: “As females, we need to be aware that women in the oil and gas industry occupy less senior positions and are more likely to experience career barriers in a male-dominated work environment,” warned one respondent who nonetheless called oil and gas one of the most promising industries, offering a range of opportunities. “Equal gender representation in the oil and gas industry is an important factor in determining career development for women. Holding a management position, I intend to lead by example, encouraging women to seek similar opportunities.”
To attract more women into the oil and gas sector, the industry needs to improve its image, NES Global Talent concluded from its survey results. Based on feedback from respondents, the consultants recommended that oil and gas companies look at offering reduced hours (to enable raising a family), recognition and support, and mentoring and networking opportunities for women.
Oil and gas companies should not hesitate to put these recommendations into practice, according to Averil Macdonald, a professor of science engagement in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Reading in the UK. She also sits on the board of WISE, which is focused on improving the gender balance in the UK’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce.
“Engaging with young women both at school and at university, providing role models and an opportunity to see for themselves what the sector has to offer through visits and paid internships, will ensure that oil and gas companies lead the way amongst engineering employers in benefiting from the untapped talent of those female engineers whose skills will, otherwise, be recognized and rewarded elsewhere,” she says.