UK Encourages More Women to Join Oil, Gas Industry

UK Encourages More Women to Join Oil, Gas Industry

Role models and education are critical to inspire young women in their pursuit of oil and gas careers, but the industry must do its part in this effort. This was a key message during various sessions at the 2013 Offshore Europe Conference in Aberdeen this week, and the point was directly addressed during its Women in Energy luncheon. Speakers highlighted engineering and the oil and gas industry in general as very appropriate and attractive areas for women to work, though doing so is not without challenges.     

“This is not a simple industry, and there are areas of it that certainly have risk involved, but that’s part of what the industry is about,” said The Princess Royal, Royal Patron of Women Into Science and Engineering (WISE).

WISE a strategic initiative working from the classroom to the boardroom.

“Its mission is to increase the number of women in the UK in the science, mathematics, and technology workforces … there is a need to raise the profile of these areas in general, and if you’re doing it for women you’re doing it for everybody.”

Currently the UK oil and gas industry provides exciting, challenging and very rewarding places for men and women to work, but there is a lack of skilled people to fill technology and engineering roles. It takes the best and brightest of both genders to deliver the industry’s ambitions, she said.

“As an industry, we have to start improving girls’ belief in their abilities at an early stage, which can affect their career choices. Female role models must also be visible.”

The key for companies in the sector is that girls must be given genuine opportunities to develop their potential in any field they choose rather than steering them toward occupations more traditionally seen as appropriate for women.

“It’s equally important that parents and teachers raise their eyes from the old pages of the perception that mathematics and sciences are subjects for boys,” she added.

In education, the landscape is slowly changing. One-third of bachelors, masters and PhD degrees in geoscience and petroleum engineering are going to women, said Stephanie Cox, vice president of HR at Schlumberger Ltd.

In business, more companies are becoming more gender balanced and this can be is good, as some studies show that companies that are more gender balanced at the leadership level outperform their competition.

“Schlumberger has been focused on gender balance for the past 20 years, and we have several initiatives under way to maintain it within the company,” Cox said.

“It starts with recruiting. More than 25 percent of our newly recruited engineers are female. In the UK each year we are recruiting about 20 women for our engineering roles – or more than 25 percent. ”

At Schlumberger, careful consideration is given to working conditions for employees in remote locations; flexibility for parents needing maternity, paternity or adoption leave, or telecommuting work arrangements; and mobility allowances to be used to travel to home countries or to bring extended family members to them, Cox said.

Another focus area for retention is leadership, she added.

“The 21st century leadership model is less authoritative and more collaborative, and this is a part of the training we offer.”

The company also works with a dual careers concept that appeals to one of the fastest growing groups of workers – couples in which both people are employed, either at the same company or at different companies.

“As more women are graduating, it’s inevitable that there will be more dual careers within companies. We have more than 10,000 employees at Schlumberger that are in a dual career. Our HR team has a dual career champion, and our HR staff is trained in how to manage dual careers effectively – this will allow more women to progress upward within the company. We think initiatives such as these are critical to helping women get interested in joining – and staying in – our business.”

Oil & Gas UK is an organization composed of 62 percent women. However, when team members gather with groups representing technical or exploration sectors the number of women present from these disciplines isn’t very large.

“Positions in these areas are not that difficult if you’ve had the right training and development, and we should be putting more women into technical sessions and leadership positions to represent the industry going forward,” said Oonagh Werngren, operations director of Oil & Gas UK.

Oil and gas companies also need more women on their boards and interview promotion panels, as this will start to influence organizations as a whole, Werngren said.

The luncheon panel offered some words of advice for new industry entrants, educators and oil and gas businesses for improving the outlook for more women in industry more rapidly.

New industry entrants, regardless of gender, need to get offshore experience early, go for challenging roles, have a strong support network, be prepared to speak out, support other women, and not miss important events at home, as that’s what life is truly all about, Werngren advised.

As for the business leaders and board members, the business case is clear, stated The Princess Royal.

“Improving your performance in promoting women will improve your profitability,” she said.

She went on to say those teaching must consider steps they can take to increase the number of girls studying mathematics and sciences; they must also make greater efforts to understand the types of careers that will be available to them, because it’s critical in the ability to support females in these pursuits.

“This session offers us the opportunity to say that this is a sea change, and it happened after this conference,” Fergus Ewing, MSP Scottish Government for Energy Enterprise and Tourism, said at the conclusion of the event. “The solution to the skills shortage is within our own hands.”


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