Conversations: Discover Who You Are
- Behrooz Fattahi (2010 SPE President)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- May 2010
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 12 - 13
- 2010. Copyright is retained by the author. This document is distributed by SPE with the permission of the author. Contact the author for permission to use material from this document.
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- 31 since 2007
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In the past decade, an increasing number of organizations have been creating networks, mentoring programs, and coaching and leadership training for women in the workplace. Today, women represent a significant portion of the educated talent pool in most of the developed and emerging world in a broad range of industries, lead countries and companies, and hold an unprecedented amount of power in their hands and minds. The oil industry is not an exception. From field technicians to engineers and geologists, and to vice presidents and presidents, women are making huge contributions to this historically male-dominated industry.
According to the US Labor Department, the women in the US workforce, for the first time surpassed the men by 800,000 in January 2010. Canada achieved this milestone in 2007. And as I am writing this column, four female astronauts are orbiting the earth on the space station, another historical milestone, and a giant step for womankind! While there have been remarkable gains, the number of women in the science and technology industries is less impressive. For example, the share of women employed in the US oil and gas industry stands at a mere 17.5% according to a recent report by Catalyst.
Another recent study conducted in the US, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Letitia Corum Memorial Fund, the Mooneen Lecce Giving Circle, and the Eleanor Roosevelt Fund, shows that while the number of women in science and engineering is growing, men continue to outnumber women, especially in the leadership roles. The study also reveals that fewer women than men major in science and technology fields. By graduation, men outnumber women in nearly every science and engineering field, earning only 20% of bachelor’s degrees awarded. The number of women declines further at the graduate level and even more in the transition to the workplace.
The same study points at evidence that social and environmental factors contribute to the underrepresentation of women in science and engineering. Many associate science and technology fields with “male” and humanities and arts fields with “female.” The striking disparity between the numbers of men and women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics has often been considered as evidence of biologically driven gender differences in abilities and interests! Such perceptions adversely affect women’s decisions to pursue interest in science and technology areas.
As I travel the world and speak to SPE members, I have been asked whether our industry provides opportunities for a woman to develop a meaningful professional career. The question is even more alarming when it is posed by female students who are already enrolled in petroleum engineering departments or female young professionals who have been employed and engaged in the industry for some time. We have a challenge to address, one that can seriously limit the industry’s access to a significant talent resource, adversely affect its image, and consequently threaten its ability to grow. I suggest that both women in the industry and the industry itself have important roles to play in resolving these issues.
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