National President’s Message

April 2021

The first time I entered the KDKA Pittsburgh morning newsroom as a representative for Williams, the newscaster gave me a list of key points she wanted to cover in in the interview about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) development for young women. STEM topics that were thoroughly embedded in my personal experience as a member of the Women’s Energy Network. I remember telling the reporter that, “William’s’ biggest pipeline is its talent pipeline.”  I walked away from the interview feeling very proud of that statement.  I am sure I had heard it somewhere before, but I was happy to have repeated it live on TV.

As research has already proven, women are essential to companies that outperform their competitors. Successful businesses are committed to diversity in the workforce and a key component of their success is diverse leadership. However, research shows that the oil and gas industry struggles to attract, retain, and promote women along with all other sectors of the energy industry. 

When compared to the number of women employed in other industries, the oil and gas industry is lacking. The study below from McKinsey & Company shows that the oil and gas industry trails behind in the number of women employed in the workforce, and those working in leadership positions. 

One reason for this disparity stems from industry challenges. Location is high on the list of deterrents. Company positions are often located in remote areas, or even outside the country, which may give a woman pause to accept a promotion if she is raising a young family. Another reason could be unconscious bias which can cause women to be overlooked mistakenly. Unconscious bias is a difficult factor to assess but is known to occur with women that have high potential with similar performance to their male counterparts but have mistakenly been left off the promotion lists. These are just a couple of examples of why there is a decline in the percentage of women at every stage of career development across the industry.

Why am I focusing on the oil and gas industry you ask? At a recent presentation I gave for Women’s Energy Network, I paused to reflect on one graphic of our membership’s business sectors. I wanted to understand it and learn how to change it. You will find the graph I studied below. 

Women’s Energy Network membership is 65% oil and gas business sector, with only 5% from renewable and alternative energy sectors and 11% from the power sector. This made me want to know why that is and to learn how to change it. 

It is important that our organization acquire diversity in every aspect, including different business sectors.  We need to learn different skill sets so that as energy transitions, we are skilled and marketable. This objective was outlined in our strategic plan last year. This year, the WEN National Board has initiated that plan by creating a Power and Utilities task force to focus on broadening energy diversity in our organization. We will target companies through our network to help expand these numbers and start including education for those inside, and outside, the industry. Stephanie Warino, Membership Director on the National Board got the task force up and running and Adrienne Himmelberger with Deloitte has kindly offered to lead the task force. I have no doubt our numbers will change dramatically over the course of the year, powered by the enthusiasm of these two women. 

The next question that came to mind is whether there is a gender gap in other energy sectors, like oil and gas. One thing we know for sure is that opportunities are abundant across all the different energy sectors and skill sets and talents are required which will demand contributions from women. Studies of women in the workforce shows that status and trends in these sectors remains sparse and should be improved. 

The limited information found paints an encouraging picture but upon closer inspection a less comforting situation emerged. One survey conducted in 2018 by Solar Foundation showed that white males employed in the solar sector are more likely to earn hourly wages in the highest wage bracket. In terms of career advancement, the report indicates that women experience significant barriers in moving up the career ladder. 

The energy industry has traditionally been under-represented by women and not just in the oil and gas industry. It is the Women’s Energy Network’s goal to change that across all sectors of the energy industry. We can start by providing the “pipeline of talent” through our mentoring program and continue to expand our diversity in energy sectors by providing a large and diverse network of opportunity. 

Tara Meek
WEN National President