There’s an article over in Upstream Online which I feel misses the point, that point being the one which Tim Worstall bangs on about with regularity: gender inequality in the workplace is actually a motherhood issue.
A new survey claims the majority of women feel welcome in the oil and gas industry but nearly half believe the do not get the same recognition as their male counterparts.
The survey by NES Global Talent examined the gender talent gap in the oil and gas industry and ways of attracting and retaining women in the industry.
The survey claimed that 75% of women who participated felt welcome in the industry and 89% would encourage other females to join, however 45% said they believed men get more recognition in the industry.
While the survey found that some respondents found oil and gas a welcoming industry with equal opportunity policies in place, others said women were restricted to supporting roles and did not enjoy the same salaries and career opportunities as men.
From what I’ve seen, there are several women with high-flying careers who occupy senior and (presumably) well-paid roles in the oil business. But in most cases they are childless, and often unmarried. The problem is that to grow in the international oil business you have to have expatriate experience, and for a fast-tracked career you need to have done your expatriations in a hardship location. For single women this isn’t much of a problem, but for those with young children it is extremely difficult to dovetail the requirement to live in a hardship location with the responsibilities a woman has towards her family. This is pretty much admitted:
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.
And the answer is right there: the reason there are few women in field positions is because field positions are the absolute worst positions for anyone to also manage a family life. Unless a woman is childless or has a stay-at-home husband, it is going to be exceptionally difficult to hold down a field position, especially as more and more facilities are to be found in hardship locations or the deep offshore.
When asked how their company could be more welcoming and encouraging to female employees, respondents gave a variety of answers including providing equal opportunities, female role models, flexible working hours and more support to women with children.
Which is great, but how can somebody in a field position be offered flexible working hours? Most people are offshore on a 28/28 rotation or in the middle of nowhere on an 8/2 or 6/3.
A majority of respondents said they planned to remain in the industry for the next two-to-five years, but 18% said they intended to leave the industry.
When questioned for the reasoning behind their decision a range of answers were given, with family commitments, a better work / life balance and a lack of equality being among the main reasons.
Well, yes. My advice to anyone who wants to put family before work and have a good work/life balance is to give the oil industry a wide berth. I’ve quite deliberately remained childless partly for this reason, and I’ve not seen my wife since 2nd December and not lived with her since August 2009. Such is the price you pay when you want to command a decent salary in an industry which unfortunately has most of its opportunities in places nobody wants to live.
What women are up against is people like me, who have forgone the family life in order to get the better positions. The industry is full of men like me, and full of others who do the same but fail to keep the marriage or family together. If women want to compete with this, they need to make much the same sacrifices, and the successful women you see in the industry have done this, at least for a period.
It is my firm belief that women are offered exactly the same opportunities as the men, but are also expected to make the same sacrifices with regards their family and personal life. Unfortunately, in general, this hits women much harder than it does men. I think oil companies have done a great deal to make it easier for women to occupy senior positions whilst minimizing the impact on their family life, but it’s hard to see what else they can do.
One thing I’ve noticed is that there is no shortage of female engineers in the oil industry, but they do tend to cluster around certain disciplines. Far more women do chemical engineering at university than the other disciplines, which means that a lot of process engineers in the oil industry are female (and damned good, most of them). The trouble is the natural career path for a process engineer is into operations, which means at some point you need to spend time on site. To reach the upper echelons of management you will have to become an Offshore Installation Manager (OIM), which will be offered to you when you have about 15-20 years of experience (i.e. aged between 35 and 40). Most women of this age will have kids and a husband who cannot manage if the mother just disappears for 28 days at a time, which is what an OIM’s job entails. I have seen women offered this role but have turned it down for precisely these reasons. The women who take these roles generally don’t have kids. It’s really hard to know what to do about this.
One thing I am glad about was that the survey said most women felt welcome in the oil industry. I have felt, in the oil companies at least, that woman enjoy far more equality and acceptance than they would perhaps find in other industries (law, for example). I have yet to think of a time when my thoughts or attitude have changed in the slightest on discovering a particular engineer is a woman, and nor have I heard even the slightest suggestion from anyone – in over 12 years – that a woman doing a certain job is for whatever reason a bad thing. The current head of my department is a woman, and I discovered this when I interviewed for the position: it didn’t make a blind bit of difference to me, never even occurred to me that it should. The department itself is full of female engineers, most of them married with kids, and I probably interface more with women than men: again, it makes no difference to me. At the risk of making a crude stereotype, I actually find female engineers to be pretty good as they pay considerable attention to detail. And one of the most impressive engineers I have encountered in the industry, and by far and away the best risk and safety engineer I ever met, was an Australian girl.
I have seen the huge efforts oil companies have gone to in trying to accommodate more women in their career programmes, and the complete ease with which female engineers are accepted into what was once a male-dominated environment. But for the reasons I have outlined I don’t think things are going to improve much from here, at least for those women who want a family life and a career in the oil industry.