“I am supportive of adjustable work hours, job sharing and telecommuting opportunities, and am proud that by being where I am in my career, I am able to help facilitate that kind of culture,” she says.
Dawn, director of subsurface and development for Bonanza Creek Energy in Denver, Colorado, helped to develop part-time opportunities for her team within the $1.2 billion energy exploration and production company to promote the adoption of better work-life balance.
As a chemical and materials engineer with more than 20 years’ experience in oil and gas, Dawn, a speaker at HERWorld Energy Forum in Denver on March 8, leads an integrated team of petroleum engineers and geologists in enhancing the results of wells and solving issues concerning the recovery of the subsurface for Bonanza Creek.
For Dawn, working in the male-dominated field of oil and gas has never felt unusual.
“I attended the Royal Military College of Canada,” she says. “While I was studying to become a chemicals and materials engineer, I also was training to become a commissioned Air Force officer.”
Her work took her to many countries in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, she says.
“These were places where gender roles and the attitudes toward women were very different than in North America,” Dawn says. “I certainly faced adversity but always handled it by maintaining a high level of professionalism and competency in my role.”
By doing its job well, however, Dawn says the industry now faces a challenging economic environment.
“Our horizontal wells and other technologies are so efficient that we have been able to produce a lot more oil and gas,” she said. “That becomes a problem when there is a lot of product on the market and the demand for said product has not kept up with the pace of supply.”
There has also been a lot of negative press surrounding oil and gas, which makes it more difficult to attract college graduates into traditional energy companies, she says.
“We now are not only competing for talent with other companies in the industry, but also outside of oil and gas,” she says.
Dawn says that while alternative energies continue to be developed, fossil fuel will still need to be utilized as a low-cost and reliable energy option.
Additionally, the oil and gas industry continues to lag behind other industries when it comes to facilitating and promoting healthy work-life balances, Dawn says.
“Many times, men in senior-level positions will ask, ‘What happened to the women?’ because women have somewhat disappeared from sight at the senior-level,” Dawn says. “That’s because if a mother, for example, wants to work part-time to raise her children, we don’t have a lot of options for her to do so without completely leaving the profession. And if women must choose between working full-time and spending time with their families, they often simply choose to quit and figure it out later, burdened by those gaps in their resumes and experience.”
Dawn herself said she was faced with this dilemma when a few effective and successful team members — both women and men — went through life changes that required them to work part-time.
“I worked hard to help establish part-time programs within the company to be able to continue supporting these top-performing employees,” she says. “Our industry needs to transition and overcome the stigma that part-time employees lack ambition or do not want to continue to grow in their careers.”
For Dawn, balance and flexibility have meant traveling to more than 40 countries — 30 before her 30th birthday — and serving on the advisory board at her children’s school and the board for the Women in Oil and Gas Association.
“I want be a positive force for change, making sure that young women understand that engineering also is for them,” she says. “There will always be challenges to overcome; therefore, it is imperative that women find and operate with a professional community of like-minded individuals to further develop their careers.”
It’s also important to understand that the path to success doesn’t have to end at the C-suite, Dawn says.
“Sometimes, I think that because I have as much experience as I do, women with less experience don’t feel that I face the same challenges or have the same needs as they do. We are more alike than they think, and there are so many different paths for us to follow,” she says.