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Earlier this week, Pink Petro founder & CEO, Katie Mehnert, took the stage in Bakersfield, Calif., to talk women in energy at the Women in Energy forum, presented by Berry Petroleum, Aera Energy and the California Resources Corporation

 

The theme of her remarks? Resilience

 

"When we embrace adversity we can emerge stronger and more resilient. Resilience is a key skill to the game of work and life," Mehnert told the crowd. 

 

CEO of Aera Energy, Christina Sistrunk believed it was important to bring women together, so the first ever conference was put together.  "We had 200 women we had to turn away.  Next year will be bigger than ever,’ said Sistrunk. 

 

Christina became CEO two and a half years ago after a successful career at Amoco and Shell.  Sistrunk believes women are key to the business and current and future workforce. 

 

Other speakers at the event included Major Lisa Jaster, (pictured at center) one of only three women to graduate from the U.S. Army Ranger School, and the CEO of Aera, Christina Sistrunk (pictured at left).

 

It was an inspirational day, and we were thrilled to be part of it. 2017 has been a hard year, but the good news: There is light at the end of the tunnel, and we can see it. 

 

"Why waste a good crisis?" Katie said during the event. "Our experiences shape our ability to bounce back stronger than ever."

 

To read up the press on the event, click here

From Bloomberg

 

Ryu Bokyoung is confident she can do anything a man does in the sprawling Ulsan refinery in South Korea, be it scaling 100-meter steel towers or working through the night when repairing the plant. The challenges that come with being a woman in the traditionally male-dominated oil industry have never stopped her.

But she worries a baby might.

Newly wed, the 28-year-old engineer is now considering her options for when she has children. Taking a break would be inevitable given the safety concerns of an expectant mother climbing towers or the difficulty of staying away from her baby all night.

“If I were a man, these are things I wouldn’t have to worry about,” said Ryu, who joined SK Innovation Co., the nation’s top refiner, in 2012.

Ryu Bokyoung

Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg

Women like Ryu are pioneers in a business where about 80 percent of the global workforce is male, women’s bathrooms at some refineries are a relatively new addition, and the term ‘oilman’ has its own dictionary entry. But in the aftermath of the crash in crude prices that began three years ago, Big Oil is redefining its business model and realizing that hiring and retaining more women would boost profitability.

Asian firms, which lag behind other regions in gender diversity, are now catching up, with SK and Japan’s Showa Shell Sekiyu K.K. focusing more on female workers.

“Women are underrepresented in the oil and gas industry in general and Asia is no exception,” said Katharina Rick, a partner at Boston Consulting Group, who co-authored a report on promoting gender balance in oil and gas. “The industry has made several attempts since the late 1980s to become a more inclusive work environment but the numbers have not increased as fast as in other industries.”

Women accounted for only 22 percent of the workforce in oil and gas, one of the smallest ratios among major industries, according to the BCG report. Only construction ranked lower, with an 11 percent female representation. Finance had 39 percent, and health and social work 60 percent.

Though the share of female workers in office-based roles has increased, it is nowhere near parity in technical and field roles outside of the office, BCG’s Rick said. When refiners first started hiring more women, there was a scarcity of bathrooms for them at some plants as the facilities only employed men.

While women account for about 30 percent of the workforce at global oil majors such as Exxon Mobil Corp. in the U.S. and BP Plc in the U.K., the proportion sinks to below 10 percent at many large Asian refiners like India’s Reliance Industries Ltd., South Korea’s S-Oil Corp. and Japan’s Idemitsu Kosan Co., according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Graduate Hiring

One of the relatively better ratios in the region can be found at Showa Shell, where about 24 percent of employees are women. With roots in The Hague-based Royal Dutch Shell Plc, the firm has been trying to increase female workers for the last 20 years at the urging of its former European parent company. Some numbers show success: It hired more female graduates than males for the first time ever this year. Yet it only has one woman on its eight-member board.

Ayumi Takahashi recalls that when she joined Showa Shell more than 20 years ago, the few women who were sent to gas stations would have their abilities questioned by the men who owned the service stands. They would ask “what could you possibly offer?” Women still face gender discrimination in the industry, she says.

“Every woman definitely experiences it at one time or another,” said Takahashi, now a manager in the oil business research and development division at Showa Shell. “We repeatedly face hardships but keep going.”

Takahashi and colleague Yuri Inoue, head of the company’s legal division, are pushing to break down gender barriers at Showa Shell as they hold workshops and seminars to educate men on the importance of diversity. Their firm plans to boost women in leadership positions from 13 out of 211 to at least 26 by March 2020.

 

“It’s difficult for companies to differentiate themselves in the oil industry,” said Inoue. “It’s vital to have diversity for survival.”

Crude’s price crash, geopolitical instability and changes to environmental regulations are driving a fundamental shift in the oil and gas industry, according to an Ernst & Young Global Ltd. survey last year. Diversity is key to navigating the disruption, and more needs to be done to attract, retain and promote women, according to the survey, where 61 percent of respondents recognized that gender diversity impacts financial performance.

Brent crude, the benchmark for more than half the world’s oil, was trading near $63 a barrel at 10:29 a.m. in London. Prices were at more than $115 a barrel in mid-2014.

“Given the challenges within the oil and gas industry, it’s hard to understand why companies wouldn’t want the financial benefits diversity can bring,” the report said.

The South Korean and Japanese firms may have an added incentive to hire more women as both countries have a rapidly aging population. The top three Korean refiners, SK, GS Caltex Corp. and S-Oil, have all created daycare facilities at their headquarters.

Still, they have a long way to go. The proportion of female employees at SK has only marginally increased to 10.9 percent in the last 10 years, even as it provides longer maternity leave and flexible hours to working mothers.

Byun Hyejin, 27, joined SK five years ago as an engineer. Her predecessors told her stories of how they would drive far to find women’s bathrooms, a sentiment independently echoed by Takahashi.

While facilities for women have now improved, challenges remain. Like Ryu, Byun worries having children could affect her career, and refinery maintenance periods would be hard given she’d have to stay overnight. But even though initial dreams of ascending to head of a plant seem tough, she hasn’t lost hope.

“We don’t have any female engineers who have taken executive positions yet but I’m sure it will happen,” Byun said. “And I’d like to be one of them one day.”

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

A little over three years ago, I decided to make the leap.  After sitting in a comfortable chair, I decided enough was enough.  

 

I looked around me and while I am always surrounded by the most amazingly brilliant people -- engineers, scientists, accountants, lawyers, rig hands, and just about anyone you can think of, I was struck by the numbers and stereotypes that still plague our workforce. 

 

For years we've talked about it and it was time to do something about it.

 

When I leaped out of Big Oil, I decided to start a company focused on changing the way we see the energy industry and women and minorities and the roles they play in it.  I didn't set out to form another boys or girls club. I wanted to bring women and men together to talk about (and) take action on how we can drive change--- real change.   And I wanted that community to be public so it engages all walks of life to be engaged around energy.  Because we really need EVERYONE at this table.  Not just industry.

 

SEEING IS BELIEVINGNO MORE US AND THEM.

 

Pink Petro exists because we have to change the conversation.  We need social media to create a place to share those stories and discussions.  And we need a place to "see" that having a more equitable and inclusive workforce and supply chain is possible.  That means we have to go beyond feel-good events and work this new way of working and thinking into everything we see and do.  We have to embrace our stories -- the good, bad, and the ugly.  That's what Pink Petro does.  We encourage this discussion and are hopeful we're changing the way women and underrepresented people see our industry and how men play a role in that.  We NEED men at the table.  This isn't about US and THEM...it's about WE.

 

And Pink Petro is evolving too.  "Pink" "Petro" you say?  Sure, I get it.  But we have to start somewhere.  Since launching, we formed Experience Energy, a destination careers site to attract women and minorities into the field.  Seeing IS believing.

 

BIG OIL ISN'T ALL BAD.

 

Big Oil is a bad dirty word.  This isn't new though.  We've been talking about it for years, the energy transition is here BECAUSE of oil.  And Big Oil has been investing in the energy transition for years, while meeting today's current demands and the pressures of shareholders. It's a tall order.  But Big Oil powered us into the modern age and it will power us into the alternative age.  We cannot get there without it so let's stop making it BAD.  Yes there are better forms of energy ....more cleaner burning sources.  But that transition to a new value chain that's sustainable and affordable is taking time. 

 

The energy transition and building a more inclusive (and) diverse workforce aren't new topics.  But they have been buried topics....stories not sexy enough to make the news.  Until now.  And the past three years Pink Petro has played a significant role in getting this conversation and action moving forward.  Go google and see all of the press we've kicked up around women in energy and oil and gas . It's now a topic that's getting attention but it took time to get the conversation elevated.  And will take time to make change happen.

 

This is why I left.  I left to help change it.  Big oil won't be the same.  It can't. We're in a transition and we have been for a while.  It has been a slow moving one.  But now with a generation leaving and the next in line to step up and stepping up, we have a great opportunity to shape the new energy story.  It will have oil, gas, wind, solar, nuclear and other forms of energy.  It will have women, minorities, and yes, white men in it.    The opportunity is so great and I'm optimistic for our future.  But it will take more conversations, more socialization, more action to create the new culture for energy.

 

To hear more on what I and others think about diversity in big oil, read and listen in here to the recent NPR report.

 

Image Credit:  

Workers pull pipes from an oil well in 2016 near Crescent, Okla. The oil industry wants to attract a new, more diverse generation of workers, but a history of racism and sexism makes that difficult.

J Pat Carter/Getty Images