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News & Field Trips

2 Posts authored by: Meg Fry

Dawn Lima cartoonDawn Lima — a mother of three boys — knows how important flexibility can be at work.

 

“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.

 

Allison Lami Sawyer cartoonAllison Lami Sawyer, co-founder and former CEO of Rebellion Photonics in Houston, started early. 

 

Named to both Forbes and Inc. Magazine’s “30 Under 30” lists in 2014 and 2012, Allison helped to manufacture and commercialize hyperspectral video technology and advanced detection algorithms for the real-time monitoring of gas leaks on oil rigs, refineries and pipelines.

 

“Our cameras see and quantify gas leaks before they explode,” Allison says.

 

Now, at the ripe age of 33, she is excited to try new ways to make a difference.

 

“I am running for office in the Texas House of Representatives,” Allison says.

 

Raised by a single mother in Alabama, Allison has been living in Houston for more than a decade after obtaining her bachelor of science in engineering physics from the University of Colorado-Boulder and her master of science in nanotechnology from the University of Leeds in the U.K.

 

Allison traveled to Houston with the intention of starting a company in nanoscale physics while earning her master of business administration in finance and entrepreneurship at Rice University.

 

That is when she met Dr. Robert Kester.

 

“We were both graduate students at Rice,” Allison says. “He had invented a camera using biofluorescence imaging to study chemical reactions inside the body. While that was handy for research, there was only a market for maybe 50 cameras or so a year. So I said there is a bigger market for this: Oil and gas companies could use this technology to help stop explosions from happening.”

 

Allison recognized that oil and gas companies had been using antiquated technology to detect and address gas leaks.

“But old timers who worked in the field knew there were leaks because they could smell them and see the fireballs,” she says. “Corporations went on stating that because there were no alarms, there were no leaks.”

 

Allison and Robert created Rebellion Photonics in 2009 to, as Allison puts it, “turn the lights on and see all the little monsters.”

 

“We essentially show companies what they don’t want to see,” she explains. “When we go into a facility with our cameras, it is not surprising to get 1,000 high alarms within a week.”

 

Still, some of the biggest oil and gas companies in the world — most notably in North America and Asia — hire Rebellion Photonics, now a more than $5 million company with nearly 40 employees, to bring leak rates down nearly 90 percent within one quarter.

 

Rebellion Photonics, #671 on the 2017 Inc. 5,000 list of fastest-growing companies, was also able to raise $10.4 million in private equity funding and more than $5.5. million in government grants in an industry where just 1.5 percent of funding goes to companies with female CEOs.

 

However, in November of last year, Allison passed the reins to Kester to serve as CEO so she could work full-time on her political campaign.

 

After having volunteered with Child Advocates, fighting for foster kids in the Houston system, Allison says it was just too shameful to see kids in Houston living in third-world conditions. 

 

“We also are the only top 10 economy in the bottom half for school funding,” she adds.

 

Allison says she would like to help modernize textbooks and curricula, especially in science and mathematics.

“I got to where I am purely based on education,” she says. “We, in Texas, expect people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But without an education, you don’t have bootstraps to begin with.”

 

If she wins the Democratic primary in March, she will be running against Sarah Davis, the Republican incumbent for District 134, in November’s general election.

 

“If you think about it, running for office is somewhat similar to being a CEO,” Allison says.

 

“A CEO’s job is to go and get the message out, especially for a startup, when you are essentially saying the status quo does not work and it is time to take a chance on something new,” she adds. “It’s no different running as a Democrat in Texas.”

 

The mother of a 3-month old son with her husband of 13 years still also makes the time to serve on the board of Rebellion Photonics.

 

“I find women especially have very small dreams, dreams that they could most definitely accomplish,” Allison says. “That means they are not dreaming big enough. Why not go and try something that you will probably fail at?”

 

“In Alabama, we were raised to be perfect little girls who were never sent to the corner. But it’s just not possible to be perfect and unsullied and do anything big,” she continues. “I think women will surprise themselves if we can just teach our girls to be courageous enough to dream big.”