Women facing fresh set of challenges

INDUSTRY group Women In Oil & Gas successfully piloted a mentoring program last year and expects to double it in 2016 while also planning to roll out a Beyond Blue-style helpline to connect retrenched workers with others who have gone through similar experiences in what is now widely tipped to be a protracted low oil price environment.
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Chevron procurement specialist Veena Mendez, who set up the organisation in 2013, told Energy News that, while it has received international attention from workers seeking networking opportunities and professional help, her focus is on getting the Western Australia-centred model right before expanding.

She said that while many organisations had already established similar mentoring programs, an industry-wide version like hers has the ability to reach a broader range of skill sets.

Under the Women in Oil & Gas program, both mentor and mentee applicants were interviewed and assessed to match them up appropriately based on both professional and personal interests, and given specific parameters to guide the several formal sessions over the course of the year.

Others within Women in Oil & Gas then seek feedback on mentors independently, then relay it back to them discreetly, guiding them on how they can deliver their message.

The pilot had 16 mentors, and up to 30 are expected when the next intake comes around in May.

Applications will open soon.

Consultant and founding board member Susan Fleming told Energy News that the mentoring program sprang from an obvious gap that existed "… because there are simply not enough women in the industry to have a natural mentoring that you might normally find in an organisation if you were a man looking for a hand up".

"It's easier to go for a beer with the guys from work if you're a guy; or a game of golf; it's not so easy for a girl to join in those kind of environments," Fleming said.

"So we found that this way - by setting up something that was a professional relationship for a finite amount of time - it actually has evolved that most of the mentor-mentee relationships have gone on past the program."

They weren't only female mentors either - some men also stepped forward as mentors.

Fleming said men were perfectly capable of understanding the issues women face in the industry as they are fathers, brothers and husbands.

"The more men we have engaged with what the issues are that women are finding challenge in the oil and gas industry the better," Fleming said.

"Women in Oil & Gas plays a good role in being an independent organisation, so the support we enjoy from the industry, for example from Shell, Woodside, Deloitte all sponsor us with speakers and venues for events, and this helps to get industry input.

"But being independent means we can hear all the challenges and not have any kind of filter that a sponsorship arrangement might have.

"There are many organisations who are really paying attention because they are so dire."

She cited a ‘Filling the Pool' research program released by the Committee for Perth at the end of last year which revealed WA was by far the worst in terms of the presence of women in senior leadership roles - and it had nothing to do with the fact that the state's economy is resource sector-heavy.

"If it was any different in local government or utilities, then maybe, but it's not," Fleming said.

"I do think it plays a part, but it's more cultural in WA. We're still stuck in the 1950s where the woman stays at home."

While Mendez initially started the group having understood the shared experiences of women in the industry having been passed over repeatedly initially despite having come from the prolific Middle East oil producing region, the sector now faces a fresh set of challenges that aren't expected to go away soon, and Women in Oil & Gas is responding.

"We're thinking of rolling out very soon a helpline, like Beyond Blue, where a network of people can be called upon for advice so if something has happened they can help you overcome the situation by putting you in touch with others who have been in similar circumstances, and help in defining a better role or the next best path forward," Mendez said.

"We also have podcasts by women in different roles on the website to give our members an understanding of the different roles that are available, because often women find there aren't many others in their specific skill set to talk to in the oil and gas industry.

"There are still much lower numbers of women than men in the industry, so there are a lot of things men in senior leadership roles need to think about to embed in their company culture, so they can get better managers to start thinking like that," she said.

Girl Day

Coincidentally, US supermajor ExxonMobil last week announced a "Girl to Engineering" program inspiring students to become an engineer, where existing employees lead interactive experiments and engage with more than 2000 students at its facilities around the US.

The initiative is associated with "Girl Day", designed to show the collaborative and "life-changing" work of engineers.

"Many girls may not realise that engineering is an exciting and rewarding career option," ExxonMobil's general manager of public and government affairs Ben Soraci said.

"ExxonMobil's Introduce a Girl to Engineering program is designed to showcase the breadth and diversity of engineering careers and inspire girls to be innovators of the future."

Over the course of the next several months, students at 11 ExxonMobil and XTO Energy sites around the US will participate in a variety of hands-on activities designed to ignite curiosity in science, technology, engineering and math careers.

These include demonstrating the energy industry's use of 3D imaging technology to search for oil and natural gas, water purification experiments, and exploring the science and chemistry behind everyday consumer products.

Since the program's inception more than a decade ago, 11,000 students have participated in activities conducted at company facilities or as part of classroom demonstrations.

ExxonMobil launched its "Be an Engineer" program in 2014 to highlight real-life engineers behind some of the world's greatest technical achievements and to encourage students to choose related careers.

The campaign has won several awards, including the 2014 Ragan PR Daily CSR award for cause marketing, and has generated more than 17 million online engagements.

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