Pioneering Women: O&G Industry's Frontline Females

The oil and gas industry has long been stereotyped as a male profession. However, women have increasingly become key players.

# Pioneering Women: Diane Austin Pioneering Women: Mark Shrimpton Pioneering Women: Carolyn Emerson Pioneering Women: Angela Ebbesen #



Pioneering Women: Diane Austin

Diane Austin, associate research anthropologist at the University of Arizona, addressed this topic in a paper titled, Women's Work and Lives in Offshore Oil. Austin noted the similarities between the oil and gas industry and the military. After World War II many of the war veterans went to work offshore. The tool pusher handpicked his all-male crew. Rarely did a crewmember leave. In fact, it was not uncommon for a crew to stay together for 10 or more years. Comparable to the front-lines of the military, no women were part of the oil and gas front-line, the offshore teams.

Pioneering Women: Mark Shrimpton

Mark Shrimpton, senior associate, Stantec, and initiator and organizer of the original "Women & Oil" international conference held in St. John's, Newfoundland in 1985, adds that "the petroleum industry developed out of the Southern US and then the Middle East. Operating and contracting companies have been noted for a culture that is unsupportive of women in male-dominated occupations. In the case of offshore activity, this may have been reinforced by the strong involvement of personnel from the merchant marine and military, and by the high levels of occupational mobility of senior personnel, which have reinforced an independent male breadwinner and female homemaker model of gender roles."

Nevertheless, the first women in the US oil and gas industry started appearing after WWII. During the war, many women became skilled factory workers and enjoyed collecting a paycheck. When the men returned from war, they replaced women in the workforce. Across the oil and gas industry, even office jobs were filled by men. In the 1970s when oil and gas companies were forced by federal civil rights laws (the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) to hire more women to work offshore, those women who ventured offshore likely did it for the great pay.

"Of all the jobs associated with the offshore oil and gas industry, those typically defined as offshore – on the drilling rigs and production platforms – have been both the highest paying and the most difficult for women to get," Austin wrote.

Many of the first women offshore were from offshore oil and gas families; thus they were familiar with the various jobs and rotating schedules of one to two or more weeks "on" and a week or more "off" on most jobs. On the platform, shifts are typically in 8 to 12 hour "tours".

Sea Dragon 1

The first offshore jobs for women were in the galley under male supervisors. Women typically prepared food, washed dishes and changed beds. When they wanted to advance their offshore careers, a few went into drilling, but a majority of those who wanted to advance went into production roustabout positions. Still, women are most prevalent in catering jobs.

With women working offshore, changes needed to be made to the accommodations as well as to the culture. Bathrooms and living quarters were easily reworked, but the disruption to the way the men interacted with each other was a serious intrusion for some. Common derogatory teasing on the job as well as sex talk and pornography had to be curtailed.

Today's Offshore Woman

It is no secret the oil and gas industry is facing a labor shortage. Recruiting and retaining women in the industry is critical.

Though the progress we've made as an industry is notable, we are running out of people, men or women, to work offshore, Shrimpton noted.

"The numbers out of universities continues to decline. Employers are looking for competent, efficient educated people. They don't care if employees are female or male. The industry can no longer afford to be picky," Shrimpton said.

Pioneering Women: Carolyn Emerson

Carolyn Emerson, project coordinator at the Canadian Center for Women in Science, Trades and Technology, works closely with women in the oil and gas industry. She cannot stress enough the skill shortage crisis the industry is facing. By recruiting women, companies can pull from a broader pool of talent. Likewise, the return on investment is just as important.

Emerson also pointed out that there is a shift in engineering and the trades. "Companies are much more aware of the importance of harassment policies and accommodations for women. Lots of organizations have changed to improve workplace environments, but challenges still exist," Emerson said.

"The more women oil and gas companies can attract and retain, the easier it will be to attract more women," Emerson said.

Shrimpton believes that girls and women have preconceptions of the oil and gas industry, which is the biggest hurdle the industry must overcome, not policies and practices.

"When women think about the oil industry, they think about helicopters, FPSOs, and isolation on a rig for two or three weeks at a time. On that basis they count themselves out of the industry," Shrimpton explains. "The industry needs to make it clear that there are various job opportunities related to the offshore oil and gas industry for women. Some jobs require a short time offshore, some require no time offshore, and others offer the chance at international travel."

Pioneering Women: Angela Ebbesen

Angela Ebbesen -- technical secretary for the tripartite arena Safety Forum, mangaged by Petroleum Safety Authority Norway -- noted in her paper, Norwegian women's oil history – in a 25-year perspective presented at the Fueling the Future Conference in Newfoundland in March 2011, "today's international oil disasters … affect the whole sector's reputation and the perception people (including women) have of offshore work as associated with great risk. It must be recognized that the increased focus being given to major accidents … helps to underpin its "macho" image and draw attention away from the fantastic opportunities it offers."

Emerson pointed out the efforts of oil and gas companies to change the public's preconceptions through advertisements.

"As Mark (Shrimpton) said, many women don't envision themselves on a platform, but we are now seeing women with men in advertisements. Those are the people who design and operate the technology. Women may not know that there are opportunities to work as part of a team, possibly in an office, and the work can be creative."

A number of companies require specific skills to operate a rig. Find an area where your skills will match the position, they advise.

Emerson, Shrimpton and Ebbesen noted that Norway employs the greatest number of women offshore (albeit clustered in certain job types), largely because of the country's many family related benefits such as daycare system and other family and parental benefit systems which makes it easier for parents to share family responsibilities and hereby make it easier for women to chose untraditional jobs.

Regardless, Norway is still a long way to gaining equality, Ebbesen wrote. "While the female proportion of offshore personnel in 1985 was 3.5 percent, the PSA's data show that it had risen to 9 percent by 2000. Developments do not appear to be moving in the right direction, however, since that figure was unchanged in 2010," Ebbesen noted.

Ebbesen agreed that some progress had been made for female participation in male dominated jobs, especially when it comes to management positions, but the picture remains fairly traditional with women accounting for 45 percent of catering personnel offshore in 2000 and grew to 54 percent in 2010.

"But Norway employs more women than Canada and the US," Shrimpton said.

However, Shrimpton pointed out that Canada has made strides in the last 10 years. In 2003, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador started requiring employment and business opportunities in all large natural resource projects to be open not only to residents of Newfoundland and Labrador and other Canadians, but also to women, aboriginal peoples, visible minorities and persons with disabilities.

In the case of Husky Energy's White Rose oilfield project in Newfoundland and Labrador, Husky was required to provide specific initiatives to promote training, recruitment, retention and promotion of women. Shrimpton said the project was "challenging because it involved the cultures of the petroleum and construction industries. While both … have made progress respecting employment equity, both have histories of excluding and marginalizing women."

Husky was successful in boosting its number of women involved in the project. According to Husky Energy diversity reporting, in 2009 the White Rose management was made up of 17 percent women, administration and clerical had 81 percent women, engineers had 13 percent, technicians and technologists was at 11 percent, professionals (accounting, geology, IT, HR) was made up of 40 percent women, skill trades had 3 percent, marine crew was at 4 percent and other field services came in at 7 percent. In addition, 38 percent of students involved were women.

As for the US, there is no single effort to increase the numbers of women in the offshore petroleum industry. Austin said, "various trade groups and training organizations have developed programs and advertising campaigns to reach out to women, but these have not been coordinated."

"In the US, because of the size and distribution of the industry, it is difficult to obtain reliable numbers of people who work in the industry; therefore we do not have numbers on the percent of women either. Some sectors, such as engineering, have had greater success attracting women than craft trades like welding," Austin said.


Click on the button below to add a comment.
Post a Comment
Generated by readers, the comments included herein do not reflect the views and opinions of Rigzone. All comments are subject to editorial review. Off-topic, inappropriate or insulting comments will be removed.
Melissa Phillip-Sealy | Nov. 8, 2011
As a female engineer for a major Well Testing service company, entry and adaptation to the offshore industry wasn't as hard as I had envisioned it to be. Being a go getter and a toughy aided me in the physical aspects of the job and having been marinated in the culture and obstacles from early, training at a local land based petroleum refinery, where most of the men were of the picket and axe era....I would say I was seasoned - mentally - to a point. I say to a point, as the major difference within my time at the refinery to offshore was that I came home to my family every night and was able to regain moral support from parents and friends. I don't think anyone whether male or female could fully overcome the emotional aspect - excessive time away from home, especially when family comes into consideration. I have done 28/28 rotations (out of country), unfixed durations of stay (work) at various parts of the globe on varying installations and vessels. Shared accommodation with male counterparts, been lost at sea on a supply vessel. Sometimes being the only female onboard with a POB of approximately 108 persons. Missed special occasions in loved ones lives....... And all in all, I cannot say that I regret any of it. I have been away from the field for a while when I gave birth to my daughter and some may consider me insane but I do miss it...... Apart from the industry and experience, strengthening and moulding you to develop into one of the best professionals that you can aspire to be, there is a special relation that forms between every individual that shares accomodation and work together on an offshore installation. I believe the relation is bonded by the fact that each individual is responsible for himself/herself as well as the other person(s) on that installation......and the respect and trust that everyone has for each other knowing the factors each individual face and role each individual plays all in all to come together to achieve set goals....... :)

Jennifer W. | Nov. 7, 2011
I am a female engineer who worked 5 years on offshore pipe lay projects and went offshore with them. No set schedule and when offshore worked the job until it was done. It was hard work and I had to prove my salt. I have had to share rooms with guys and have been the only female on a 75 man vessel. I have since moved to a sales engineer but miss my offshore days and the bonds and friendships I made with those guys. I do feel like a dying breed though with the few female engineers I know giving up their career to have kids or just stay home. Its good to know there are a few of us still out there!

Gwen Blair | Nov. 7, 2011
Very Stateside biased. . .Should have considered Oil & Gas Industry on Global Scale. For example London HQs, Edinburgh HQs, Aberdeen HQs, Holland, Denmark, Paris, Milan, Monaco, KL, Singapore, Perth, Lagos, as well as Norway. Onshore HQ for Operators and Sub Contractors well populated by women. First Amercian OIM was Texan lass but offshore Aberdeen. First Offshore Well Site Petroleum Engineer was Dutch. Nigg Yard Lady Welders numerous in 1970s. For women wishing to work in the O&G Industry and not wanting to "get her hands dirty" there are numerous employment opportunities NOT limited to Administration.

Lina M | Nov. 7, 2011
Great article. You forgot Ann Pickard, she is the Country Chair for Shell in Australia and Executive Vice President-Upstream Australia. She is leading Prelude FLNG Project. Hope you include her next time.

Cristiane S | Nov. 6, 2011
I have worked in the oil and gas industry and I make 21x21 rotations (21 days at vessel and 21 days at home) 3 years in pipeline installation vessel (PLSV). I can not say that at the beginning was easy to be the first woman in my company to work as Lay engineer. At first there was prejudice but then showing my work, the same prejudice no longer existed. I agree when the text says that no matter whether you are male or female, the industry want a good professional in the area. But for the woman to start this work is much more difficult.

Christel Frantz | Nov. 5, 2011
Women to be important for changing the management thinking from purely task orientation to personalizing the goals of the organization, finding positive approaches and obtaining emotional buy in. Women tend to be more sensitive to the needs of people encompassing families, personalities and the benefits to humanity. Predominately male culture is not as desirable as balance. People tend to be more cooperative from an emotional point of view when women are involved especially involving safety and concern for the whole person. It is a woman's nature to want to preserve, defend and protect the value of each person as well as foster team work. I think this is especially true of women who have become mothers because we see the need to nurture and defend and protect humanity as the precious life that it is. We run families and encourage the best to come from our families; why not apply that to the workforce as well?

Donna A | Nov. 4, 2011
Women do represent a small percentage overall in the Oil & Gas industry workforce. As president of a engineering and construction company of offshore and onshore drilling rigs, I think the Oil & Gas industry offers a great opportunity for women. Because there are so few women in leadership and top level management positions of companies in this industry, it is not considered as an industry where women can excel and be promoted into higher level positions. Many young women entering the job market may not even consider a career in a male predominant field. The percentage of women engineers and technical professionals in this industry is also quite small. It is not unusual for me to be the only female in a business meeting or technical meeting on any given day in this field, and even more rare to be the top decision maker. I always encourage women, especially young women, to at least consider the Oil & Gas Industry because from where I sit I see wide open opportunity for ambitious women who take their career seriously.

Wes L | Nov. 4, 2011
Things are slowly changing onshore. Our company has about 25% females working in the field as Field Geologists. This translates into about 40-50 women getting the operational field experience needed to eventually land the "office" jobs. I'm encouraged to see this trend growing; the more diversity we can bring to the field side of things, the better. I've even heard comments from the "old-school" company men that like the fact that more women are on location; it adds a different dynamic to the site. Still have a ways to go, but its good to see things changing and attention brought to it.

TigerFan | Nov. 4, 2011
Interesting, but not at all surprising. As a female geologist with 10+ years of experience, I think about that a lot when I'm still one of one or two women in a meeting. I bet the number of women who work onshore is higher, but it is still very rare to see women on rigs. On all the rig visits I've done in Pennsylvania for work in the last three years, I think I can count all the women I've seen/met on one hand. The labor is hard so it doesn't surprise me at all about ratio of women to men in the field. What still shocks me is that there aren't more female technical professionals.

Ivan G | Nov. 4, 2011
Very interesting, I think you should have included Sara Akbar from Kuwait Energy


Our Privacy Pledge

Most Popular Articles

From the Career Center
Jobs that may interest you
Senior Accountant
Expertise: Accounting
Location: Houston, TX
Project Manager
Expertise: Mechanical Engineering|Project Management
Location: La Porte, TX
Accounting Supervisor
Expertise: Accounting
Location: Florence, KY
search for more jobs

Brent Crude Oil : $56.2/BBL 1.92%
Light Crude Oil : $50.41/BBL 1.87%
Natural Gas : $3.12/MMBtu 0.00%
Updated in last 24 hours