Abstract

In December 1922, "Los Barrosos 2" gusher inserted Venezuela in the map of giant oil producers, joining an incipient industry that was to rule the world economy, but that still struggles in enabling the full participation of women, which precludes an appealing image of this industry for the female students of careers pertinent to oil and gas. The participation and roles of women in the oil industry experienced an evolution in the last two centuries, worth analyzing, as it provides key clues useful for the shaping of strategies related to diversity and inclusion programs in corporate frames. The applicability is evident for initiatives related to women, as the gender minority in the sector, but also for age, nationality, and different-ability minorities.

This paper analyzes the evolution of specific roles of women in the oil industry and what elements propel their self-empowerment, grounding conclusions on a study case of Venezuelan women working in the oil industry from the 19th to the 20th century, in their home country and as part of the Venezuelan diaspora worldwide.

The characteristics and main settings of the role of women in the oil industry have evolved substantially, and follow societal, legislation, cultural and unwritten rules or customary ways, that change in every region of the world. The Venezuelan case was selected, as the oil industry in their country underwent major changes, following social, political and legislation transformations that affected the sector. Three distinctive periods were established for the analysis:

  • Early times until 1976 (industry nationalization)

  • 1976 until 2000

  • After 2000

From the early years until the 70s, the role of women in the Venezuelan oil industry underwent major changes, from office-based and support roles to supervisory positions, in an era heavily driven by the presence of international oil companies in the country. The late 1970s through the early 2000s was an enlightening time, during which professional women in geosciences and engineering in Venezuela expanded the scope and outreach of their jobs, assuming and excelling in operational roles. As the 21st century progressed and the country's politics and economic stability deteriorated, many seasoned and young Venezuelan female geoscientists and engineers migrated abroad in search of new challenges and professional horizons. Additionally, the opening of societies everywhere inspired many of the new generations to seek jobs in other countries, in search of multicultural experiences. All these factors contributed to expanding the presence of Venezuelan women globally at an accelerated pace. How they adapted to new work settings along with the very different phases inside and outside their country of origin, continuing to succeed as an integral part of a diverse workforce worldwide, is not only remarkable but in many facets, unique.

This paper presents specific observations and analysis about gender parity and roles of women about the leadership and participation women had in their Venezuelan home country and later on, in the global Venezuelan diaspora. We highlight some elements that we consider were key for the self-empowerment of women in Venezuela's oil sector. We expected to find several of these elements, as they are specific to the Venezuelan framework and culture, but others were findings worth sharing.

Most relevant: education level, cultural admiration of the oil sector, societal perspectives on gender, respect for specialized knowledge, a cultural reverence of women who are breadwinners and sole heads of households, the "melting-pot" factor (integration of a varied, large and mixed migration as an integral part of society), Venezuelan legislation, and availability of multiple role models. The analysis of the role of Venezuelan women in academic and work sectors related to the oil industry is included, as applicable in Venezuela, showcasing the particularities in Engineering and Geosciences, in a period that spans more than a century, and that showcases gradual as well as step-changes in the participation of women in the oil and gas sector.

The progress of female Venezuelan professionals working for the oil industry of their own country and abroad shapes a series of best practices for the inclusiveness of women, which we share because we think that how they did it and continue to do it, is replicable by other minority groups.

Venezuelan women professionals have propelled and enhanced their organizations everywhere with quality and integrity, especially with their determination to conquer the future, high trust in their competencies, and a no-barriers attitude to overcome challenges.

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