HOUSTON—Surrounded by Pink Petro members, friends, family, and even neighbors, Pink Petro Founder Katie Mehnert looked into the crowd gathered in the lobby of Republic Square on Thursday evening and said, “I am so happy to have a home.”
Since launching her online community for energy professionals in March 2015, Mehnert has gone from a few desks tucked away in another company’s office to establishing Pink Petro’s Global Headquarters in Republic Square, a wooded 35-acre campus in the heart of Houston’s Energy Corridor that was previously home to Exxon Mobil.
According to the property’s website, Republic Square is “poised to serve as a new community gathering place and hub for flexible work space. Current amenities include a central lake, 11-acre festival field, 20,000-square-foot meeting and event center and Republic Square I, a 320,000-square-foot office building with commissary kitchen. Future plans call for hotel, office, multi-family and retail development.”
Mehnert referred to her company’s new location as “a startup within a startup” and mentioned other exciting work neighbors, like Houston Technology Center, a technology incubator that is now a short stroll down the hall.
Rolling out a new website complete with global career board
As the ever-busy businesswoman Mehnert is known for being, the event wasn’t just an open house to check out her new office space. She announced that Pink Petro would launch a simpler, more user-friendly site that would include a jobs board on March 8, International Women’s Day and the second anniversary of Pink Petro’s founding.
“We don’t officially have jobs yet, but our women are finding jobs through the relationships they’ve made on Pink Petro,” she said excitedly, adding that the addition of the careers platform is the result of listening to members and industry companies through a site-wide survey conducted earlier this year.
This came as good news for Pink Petro member May Yong: “I’ve been in Houston 15 years, and this is probably the worst downturn I’ve seen.”
Her expertise is in downstream process controls, and the oil price has affected her personally. She is now “in transition.”
Taking action to close the gender gap
And, as always, Mehnert is hammering away at the gender gap. Prior to the 6 o’clock event, Pink Petro hosted an afternoon workshop with the World Economic Forum (WEF) to deliver and discuss Pink Petro’s Response to the WEF’s Call to Action to end the gender gap in the oil and gas industry. The detailed plan was the result of several meetings spearheaded by Mehnert and sets forth a framework of policies for tackling this disparity.
“I believe in her cause—her manifesto—and I want to be part of what she’s doing,” said Karina Izaguirre, a global human resources leader for EthosEnergy, Pink Petro member, and HERWorld Energy Forum advisory board member. “For me, it’s more about the longer term—the mission. I’ve got two daughters. I’ve experienced the [gender gap], I’ve just had male sponsors and male mentors along the way. I want to make sure others have different opportunities.”
Mehnert also plugged the HERWorld Energy Forum, which is coming up on March 8. The event will be hosted by Rice University and already boasts a list of "dynamic" speakers.
“We want to partner with the people with domain expertise, and we are so excited to do that,” said George Andrews, Associate Dean of Degree Programs at Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business, to the audience, referring to the graduate school’s relationship with Pink Petro.
Rice University, Andrews told the crowd, is also working to increase minority and female enrollment in in his department through a six-point plan created by colleague Lina Bell, Executive Director for MBA for Executives. And on January 20, Rice University is holding a diversity conference to create a dialogue about diversity and to give all students the skills to discuss these challenging topics.
Andrews said he hopes these efforts are at least part of the answer to the question, “How can we transform students to be more inclusive when they go to the workforce?”
Shell, one of Pink Petro’s founding partners, plays a large role in putting on HERWorld.
“When I look out and see the people in this room, I see what is likely the future of this industry,” said Johnna Van Keuren, VP Shell Wind Energy Inc., who will be speaking at HERWorld. “I am really looking forward to March and talking about the energy transformation we are in.”
Connecting energy professionals to higher education opportunities
In her speech, Mehnert said, “If you’re not staying relevant, you’ve got no opportunities.” According to Mehnert, training is one of the top four areas of concern for the energy industry: 1) bad reputation, 2) the demographic cliff of “Great Crew Change”, 3) accessibility and cost of training, and 4) the gender gap.
Not coincidentally, Mehnert has formed a relationship with University of Colorado Denver’s Global Energy Management (GEM) Program, hybrid-online Master of Science degree program, which was designed to develop future leaders in the energy industry. This year, Mehnert also formed a partnership with Rice University and their Energy and Environment Initiative, giving Pink Petro community members access to education online that connects them to policy making, the issues, and energy education.
“We’ve got a lot of synergies with what Pink Petro is trying to do,” said GEM’s Director of External Affairs Catherine Steffek said. “1) We have a passion for the energy industry and the energy industry’s biggest asset: its people, and 2) we utilize technology to bring education to a worldwide audience.”
Tackling the “Great Crew Change” with research
Prior to the main event, the lobby’s hallway was lined with vendor booths manned by supporters and other affiliates of Pink Petro, such as the Houston Business Journal, which first reported on Mehnert’s aspirations to start Pink Petro.
At another booth, consulting firm KCA and gleXnet, the creator of the Expert Alumni platform, distributed the Energy 2021 Report they spearheaded along with Pink Petro. The original work of research shows the long-expected “Great Crew Change” has already happened and puts forth ideas for tackling the issues related to this significant and sudden loss of experience.
The eventful evening was complete with a tour of Pink Petro’s Global Headquarters, drinks, catering, and cake.