What Women Really Want on the Job? Ask Big Oil's Only Female CEO

What Women Really Want on the Job? Ask Big Oil's Only Female CEO
Flexible working hours and maternity leave are all well and good, but what women really want is...

(Bloomberg) -- Flexible working hours and maternity leave are all well and good, but what women really want is a fair chance to climb the corporate ladder.

So says Vicki Hollub, and she would know: In her 35-year career she moved up the ranks at Occidental Petroleum Corp. to become big oil’s top woman, and has since led and won the battle for dominance in America’s hottest shale play.

“Women I work with and talk with in the industry really feel it’s the assurance they’re going to be given the opportunities and the chance to perform,” Hollub said in an interview in Houston. “The industry has to prove that that’s a reality everywhere.”

The University of Alabama-trained mineral engineer worked in Russia, Venezuela and the U.S. for Occidental before becoming chief executive officer in 2016.

Under Hollub, Occidental has come up against majors like Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. to defend its leadership as the No. 1 producer in the Permian Basin, one of the world’s biggest and most profitable oil fields. Last year, the company was among the 10 best performers on the S&P 500 Energy Index.

A path like hers is still rare in the industry, and she’s the only one who’s risen this high among the 18 oil producers worth more than $50 billion.

Only about 20 percent of the industry’s workforce are female, a smaller share than all other sectors except construction, according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group and World Petroleum Council. The upshot is not only that women lose out on a promising career, but that companies don’t hire the best talent and suffer from having a smaller diversity of perspectives, the study said.

Once companies hire women, flexible working is important to retain them, said Hollub, who took two years off in the early 1990s for family reasons.

“People do need to go and have their families,” she said. “They need to fulfill that part of their life. You need a way to integrate them back into the workforce while still understanding that they have to take care of their family.”

Historically, the oil industry’s need for engineers and geologists to work in remote locations may have stymied women’s opportunities but this is no longer an excuse, Hollub said.

As other companies laid off employees after the 2014 oil-price crash, Occidental experimented with sending younger workers out to rigs to gain experience on site so that later on in their careers they could work remotely or from home.

“They can sit in the office or at home and do a better job because of the exposure we put them through early,” she said. “We now have a formal program for people when they come on board of getting them out into the field before they’ve settled into a position.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Kevin Crowley in Houston at kcrowley1@bloomberg.net. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net Carlos Caminada, Dan Reichl.


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Maitri E  |  May 01, 2018
Promotions should be based on quality and ability to do the work, and not time/years on the job. We lose many high-quality women from the industry because "they left for two years and didn't put the time in," and currently have no HR avenues to re-absorb this talent. Ms. Hollub is a fine example of having left for family reasons, and coming back to succeed at the top. She is a CEO because she can do the job and the Oxy board is progressive enough to recognize this, and not because of quotas. Why is our profession overwhelmingly dominated by men all the way from university to the top of the corporate ladder? This is because of unconscious bias of teaching, studying with, hiring and promoting people who look like you and talk like you. Once we get over this bias, more women will be attracted to our profession and this is how we attract and secure talent.
bob rock  |  March 22, 2018
The article fails to mention that the graduating classes of engineers and geolgists that typically end up being CEO's of big oil companies is overwhemingly dominated by men. So assuming a normal distribution of talent in both sexes the hiring practices of big oil straight out of school recruits should essentially reflect the graduating class numbers, whether they be 70/30 men to women or 80/20. I know first hand that big oil companies do not recruit this way. They frequently target 50/50 or 60/40 women to men to meet diversity quota. So if they artificially increase one distribution and decrease the other what do you think happens to the talent? Fast forward 5-10 years and the 50/50 ratio is gone and returns closer to what the graduating class ratios are. This alone can explain a large portion of the disparity.
Marlin Deacon  |  February 27, 2018
Flexible work hours and maternity leave is great for women, a fair chance to climb the corporate ladder, i agree! Women want equal opportunities.What should be the reward, the benefits to the men who stayed on the job while a women takes off for a year or in her case two years, What is the fair and equal treatment for the men who stayed on the job? Should they get in line for advancement behind the women who take off for family reasons?? Should women get the office jobs (less physically demanding , less dangerous, able to be protected from the harsh reality of this type of job, while men generally have to work up the ranks to get to her level of position. I am asking the questions, I don't know the answer. Yes it is important to get as many perceptions as possible but is it reasonable to do so at the expense of the labor of the men that got you to the position, Please give me a reason to take away the opportunities from one group to give it to another group because the feel they have been slighted in the past. How is this fair and justice ??? Just asking ?? Marlin Deacon
Martha Sandia  |  February 24, 2018
This is a great and very true report. I am a female from the oil industry and now in construction. As a women we still need to prove ourselves three times before we can be take seriously. The Oil industry is still a very male driven, yet I have had great coaching and support from several male bosses that I strongly believe we never recognize them and they should. Thanks Martha Sandía BD Director at Stork - Fluor