By Lydia DePillis, Economics Reporter, The Houston Chronicle. @lydiadepillis
The tech industry gets a lot of attention these days for being unfriendly to women, with sexual harassment seemingly rampant and the small share of women in computer science declining.
But the oil and gas industry also has a serious - and perhaps worse - gender gap. Women make up only 14.5 percent of the workforce in the industry, according to the Labor Department, compared with 25.5 percent of computer and mathematical occupations and 47 percent of the workforce overall.
The reasons those gender divides exist are different across the two industries. But the remedies, according to a comprehensive study by the consulting firm BCG, are similar: Upper management needs to be dead serious about the problem and convey it's a priority to people doing the hiring.
"It's not going to work its way out," said Andrea Ostby, the head of BCG's Houston office. "Just talking about it is not going to fix the problem. What I think we haven't seen across the board is that rigor and focus."
The study, which was conducted in conjunction with the World Petroleum Congress and included all of the major national and international oil companies, found that the already-small proportion of women in oil and gas worldwide are concentrated in non-technical, non-supervisory positions. That's important, because being promoted through the ranks usually requires field experience, ideally in engineering or operations, and many companies still consider separate facilities for women on well sites a "discretionary expense."
BCG's surveys and interviews also indicate that women and men see obstacles to advancement differently. For example, when asked why women didn't reach upper levels of management, women identified a lack of support and female candidates being overlooked. The top reasons for men: There aren't enough women to choose from, and women tend to be less flexible than men.
"It indicates that the workforce doesn't even really see that there's an issue," Ostby said.
But it's likely to become a bigger problem, as much of the industry's workforce approaches retirement. Even today, companies are scrambling to find workers for active drilling areas like the Permian Basin in West Texas and are still drawing on mostly men.
The Texas Oil and Gas Association, which represents many oil production and services companies in Texas, declined to comment.
Katie Mehnert who runs Pink Petro, an organization for women in oil and gas, said the way to move the needle is to convey that female representation is a priority, setting baselines for recruiting and evaluating them based on whether they meet their goals.
But, studies show, Americans tend to react negatively to anything seen as a quota. While Europeans respond well to gender ratios, according to forthcoming research from BCG, Americans see them undermining merit-based hiring.
Ostby said that can be dealt with by setting goals that are enforced on a case-by-case basis.
"You don't have to use them in a quota-esque way," she said. "But what you can say is, 'Hey, Mr. Male Manager, you haven't promoted any females in the last five years, why is that, and what are you going to do to address that?"
Rerun with permission. The original story can be found here or in the Sunday July 22 edition of the Chronicle. Photos by Jon Shapley and James Durbin, Staff