Last year was my first time attending LAGCOE, a biannual event in Louisiana that includes speeches from oilfield industry leaders, prospective technology and lots of professional networking.
As I sauntered through the Cajundome and the neighboring Convention Center, I soaked in all that I could. I was thirsty to understand the ins and outs of the upstreams, midstreams and downstreams.
My position as a part-time industrial safety instructor had recently thrust me into the oil world for the first time in my career. And so — despite a master’s degree and certification as an associate safety professional — I felt uninformed.
LAGCOE was my crash course.
Before LAGCOE, I worked hard to orient myself in the industry. I talked with friends who had worked in the field for years, I listened to podcasts, and I read books related to the Deepwater Horizon incident. I watched offshore training videos, and I researched new technologies. I knew that this type of superficial knowledge would never be the same as working 14/14 hitches, so I was excited to get to LAGCOE to shake hands and talk with people about my budding career.
I had this fantasy that, despite the novelty of my gender and my lack of offshore experience, the professionals there would be impressed with my credentials and zest for the industry and snag me up as a protégée.
That was, in fact, a fantasy.
As I walked up and down the rows of tables that day, comments about my gender or hair or looks or smile kept creeping up. Admittedly, there were more polite hellos than patronizing sexist remarks, but the fact that there were any soured my mood.
But I pressed on. Professional development was more important to me that day than educating social dinosaurs on gender equality. The more I know about equipment, the better I can be at keeping workers from hurting themselves.
But it became clear that the equipment wasn’t meant for women like me.
When I walked up to a booth to learn more about a machine I’d never seen before, I was told that the shiny things on the table — pens, key rings and other marketing tchotchkes — must be working. They were meant to lure “pretty girls” to the booths. Apparently, “pretty girls” aren’t interested in state-of-the-art pieces of equipment. I could not believe a professional had just said that.
And so, there’s no surprise how I reacted. How else would I react? After the hours and months of research, leg work, planning, education, training and experience to become an expert in my field, I did what women around me do all the time.
I laughed it off politely.
As one of the few women there to learn and make professional contacts, how else could I react?
I'm conscientious enough to realize there would be repercussions for calling this older man out on his sexism, which is what I'd do in almost any other setting.
Among these good old boys, though, I’d likely be seen as an uppity woman who can’t keep her cool, who can’t take a joke, who needs to get laid.
It seems crass, but these are some of the actual assessments I’ve heard of women who stand up to men who are “teasing.”
Later, when I was talking with colleagues (again as the only woman), we were approached by beautiful (and scantily clad) women who were handing out fliers. A few of the men in my group were given passes to a party at a local strip club. It was then that they laughed about previous years, when LAGCOE had been more of a party than a trade show. They reminisced about how the rows of booths would be accompanied by exotic dancers, “Hooters” girls, lots of alcohol and lasciviousness all around.
Although I’m no stranger to revelry and debauchery, I was put off that this expo, which was so full of potential, had once been demoted to a giant bachelor party. This year’s event was smaller, they said, and much tamer than it used to be.
Maybe if you haven’t been in the position of being a woman in a male-dominated field, it’s hard to understand why an educated, skilled woman would care so much about how she was viewed by a bunch of sexist (or ignorant) men.