Author : Education and Workshop Division
The presence of women in petroleum industry surely cannot be ignored. Many women work and thrive in the oil and gas industry. Women work in all kinds of positions, and their work may be in the office or out in the field, in specialized professions or labor jobs. The options are limitless! There are plenty of programs available to encourage women to succeed in any profession, including the trades and technical careers in oil and gas.
To better understand what drives women to quit the industry or encourages them to stay, Eve Sprunt, 2006 SPE President, conducted an informal survey. Sprunt asked several questions, with the first one being “Are you thinking about leaving your company in the next 2 years?” Participants were given a choice of 12 responses or “other”. They could pick multiple reasons and rank them.
These are several considerations that encourage women to quit or to stay in this industry:
Reason #1: Children
In their 30s, women often have children or are listening to their biological clocks ticking. For women under 40 and women working for service companies (for which most of the responses came from women under 35), the most frequently cited reason for thinking about changing jobs was children. Many women volunteered comments on balancing raising children with climbing the corporate ladder. Some opinions were “Women in other industries do not feel that having kids stops their careers. Sometimes it feels like women in the oil industry have to choose between family and career.”, “The company I work for has been very flexible with my career and providing growth opportunities. I was able to take 11 to 12 months leave of absence for each of my two babies and have worked part time since returning to work after my first child. I am currently in an entry-level management position, continuing to work part time as my employer supports my career and family goals. This is the main reason that I am not planning to leave my company.”
A key way to retain these women in the industry would be to provide maternity leave, flexible work arrangements with the option of working part time, and assistance with childcare. Access to quality childcare is of great concern to parents and can be a major retention tool for both women and men. If employees must be available on short notice to stay late or travel, access to childcare and support for the expense can make a huge difference.
Mothers learn many transferable prioritization, time, and people management skills. Companies that are flexible and accommodate working mothers with flex time, part-time work, telecommuting, and family-friendly benefits will have loyal employees with superb multitasking capability for the many years left in their careers. Many women will either want or need to continue working full time and just need some flexibility.
Reason #2: Lack of Advancement
Lack of advancement is a major sore point, particularly for older women. This could be due to several different reasons: 1) More positions that represent advancement are available at the beginning of a career. 2) Companies often have posting systems that allow women to self-nominate, but these posting systems usually terminate short of executive management and top technical roles. 3) Childcare responsibilities earlier in their career may have resulted in them falling off the fast track.
Frequently, women, even those of very high potential, have less energy during pregnancy and when their children are young. To truly leverage the talents of their employees, companies must recognize that many people, especially women, will not be able to maintain the same level of performance throughout their careers. Employers must change their paradigm of the monotonic upward career trajectory to learn to recognize and promote those who are able and willing to be highly productive later in their career. At an age at which many men are burned out on their careers and starting to “retire in place,” many women are less burdened by childcare and eager to focus on career advancement. Companies should make better use of these experienced women and develop programs to nurture and manage their careers. In filling senior roles above the level at which positions are posted, companies often don’t consider any women. One technique to increase the population of women in the executive ranks is to require that any time a position is filled that at least one or two women be seriously considered. This will force companies to reevaluate the female talent they have buried in their ranks.
Reason #3: Hostile Workplace
It is distressing that a hostile, lonely workplace ranked high in the survey for those working for independent and major oil companies. While men still dominate the industry, some women reported inexcusable things. “Some men in the industry seem to believe women should not be here and thus make it more difficult for us. Also, sometimes I felt like I was being left out when a manager would take the male engineers fishing, golfing, etc. and I never received an invitation to go.”
In conclusion, work/life balance is a huge issue for everyone. Flexible working arrangements including part-time work and telecommuting will help retain people of all ages. While childcare benefits are of interest to only a fraction of the workforce, for that fraction, they can be the deciding factor. The same types of flexible work policies and on-site daycare or childcare support that will help to retain young women will also help to retain young men. Often women are the primary breadwinners and/or healthcare benefits providers for their families and do not have the luxury of working less than full time. The key is flexibility to create a win–win situation for worker and employer.
Writer : Nayesha Shafira Elthaf.