In the Male-Dominated Oil Industry, Efforts to Build Stronger Networks Among Women

Of the 132,000 American oil and gas workers in 2013, 33,000 of them were women. That’s only 25 %, and the situation is even more skewed in executive offices. With those numbers in mind, we take a look at women leaders in the energy sector.

By Lana StraubJune 17, 2015 8:38 am| ,

This story originally appeared on West Texas Public Radio

Kimberly Smith is a female “landman” in West Texas. Landmen are the oil industry reps that spend their time in offices, looking for signatures and operating agreements.

Smith’s friends call her a “Land Ma’am.” It’s a West Texas term of endearment, but it also distinguishes her as a woman in a male-dominated profession – a profession that often deals Smith some gender backlash.

She says when she tries to network for jobs, people often don’t see her as a breadwinner. It’s more like she’s working for spending money.

“I have had where if my husband, who is an owner in the company, had said ‘I’m looking for a project,’ people would be more intentional in helping him network,” Smith says. “Whereas they perceive that I’m just buying the kids fun stuff and accessories.”

That attitude hurts women trying to find work in this business.

“There’s a lot of women that are contributing and are maybe the sole provider for their families, and they wouldn’t be seen as that,” she says.

There aren’t exactly more women entering the profession.

The percentage of women per capita in the oil and gas industry actually dropped in recent years, falling from 30% in 2009 to 25% in 2013, even as the industry as a whole grew its workforce by 61%.

“I had partners that also gave me a hard time, and they weren’t willing to work with me” says Patricia MacDonald, a Hydraulic Fracturing Engineer for Halliburton. She oversees all the technical and engineering of a frac job.

MacDonald first felt gender bias in college while working with an all-male study group.

“I had to do some things like keep the project so they couldn’t finish it without me, and force them to meet with me instead of like, telling me ‘oh we’re going to meet at this time,’ and then they actually meet at a different time,” she says.

That’s the kind of thing the Women’s Energy Network is working to change.

The women-only group started in Houston in 1994. Now, it has 3,000 members across the country, with new chapters forming monthly.

A new chapter of the network recently formed in Midland, Texas.

Mary Baker had the original idea.

“We’re talking about how hard it is sometimes to network with other women who are in the energy network, and the need for it,” she says.

Like male co-workers who may watch sports or golf together, the Midland women also wanted to bond and talk shop. Baker says sometimes that takes the form of sitting down for a glass of wine and talking about each others’ kids.

Other women leaders are bridging the gender gap with technology and social networking tools.

Smith is trying to bring an online industry networking group calledPink Petro to midland.

“Essentially what differentiates Pink Petro is we include the men in the conversation,” says Houston entrepreneur Katie Mehnert, Pink Petro’s founder.

She’s been in the energy sector for 18 years, and formed Pink Petro with backing from industry leaders Shell and Halliburton, along with the California-based tech firm Jive.

She added international chapters in May and now has more than 1,000 members across 17 countries.

“This has always been continuing the conversation, and broadening the reach and giving access to these events and resources, wider than just local,” she says. “Taking local and going global.”

Menhert wants men and women to talk with each other about mending the gender gap.

She points to a January 2015 survey from the American Petroleum Institute – the leading trade association in the industry – that concludes that many women who want to work in oil-and-gas don’t always know how to get into the profession.

Organizations like the Women’s Energy Network and Pink Petro hope to help those women find their way.

Pink Petro launches in the Permian Basin on June 18th and Womens Energy Network hopes to start holding meetings in the Basin in January 2016.