Having worked in an industry where women are the minority for over 10 years now, I have identified a few challenges that women face in these working environments. I also looked into the subject of gender equality in the Oil & Gas industry while carrying out my PhD research. However, for this post, I did not want to base the findings on my own experiences but on views from other women working in leadership positions, particularly in the Oil and Gas industry.
The feedback I received produced a lot of interesting insights which I have decided to share in this blog post. The gender issue or discussion has been constantly covered in many discussion and it is easy for someone who is not in the situation to say that women get treated the same way as men but this is far from true. The reality is actually a bit worrying.
- Lack of female mentors: This may not matter in a company or country where there is a lot of support for women. However, if you work in a company where you constantly find yourself in a room full of 10 or more people with you being the only female in a leading role then you probably do not have a lot of women to look up to. According to one of the ladies I spoke to, “I have no female mentors in the company. I work in a company where the higher you go, the fewer women there are at each level and it does not inspire me to see a route for progress here. I mean, there’s always the argument that you can be a pace setter and set the example to expand the thinking of the company in this direction but I truly believe that women in this company don’t really look inward when they think of the next career step upwards”. This is the sentiment echoed by a lot of women in the corporate world. However, people who do not support this thinking argue that women in the industry are not challenging themselves enough to progress to these managerial or leadership positions. This is highly debatable as what is a motivation to one individual can be a deterrent to another. Also, when it comes to issue of mentorship in the workplace, you may want to read my blog post on company mentorship here to help you determine whether or not you need a mentor.
- Work/Life balance: This follows on from the first point and I am sure most of us have heard this subject talked about more than once. The problem is that, with the shortage of women in leadership positions in the Oil & Gas industry, women tend to work under their male counterparts, some of whom do not completely understand what it takes or the energy that a woman needs to put into combining the management of the home front, children and work affairs. One of these does not necessarily need to suffer. If a woman is qualified and has the necessary experience to carry out the job then they should be supported and encouraged to have a life/work balance. One of the female leaders I spoke to had this to say “I find quite a few male managers (not my own, though, who is very understanding of these things) haven’t evolved into the awareness that women balance both career as well as families in the 21st century. Specifically when it comes to working around maternity absences and it definitely factors into why some women, as they go higher, start to push back their decision to have a baby because they realize what the (often) year-long absence will do to their careers”. Finding the balance between starting a family, taking time out during school closures as well as a career is challenging enough without the opposition of the company or individual you work for.
- Balance between being assertive or non-assertive: As a woman, it is sometimes a challenge to know what level of assertiveness to maintain at meetings and in dialogue with other colleagues without being accused of being too assertive or not being assertive enough. There is a fine balance between being assertive and being seen as rude or annoying when it comes to business meetings. One of the female leaders who provided feedback to this regard said “I have to always battle the label of “aggressiveness” when I’m trying to assert myself and my authority, which can be a fine line to balance. You need to show the same charisma and drive that a man would show in the same role but nobody thinks to label him with the statement that he is “aggressive”. What is acceptable for men when it comes to communication unfortunately does not necessarily apply to their female counterparts.
- Not being able to demonstrate femininity: Most women are comfortable in their femininity and do not necessarily want to be pushed to behave like their male counterparts in order to get recognised or promoted. A woman’s natural instinct is to be caring and to show compassion but this can be misconstrued in the business world. A woman leader I spoke to had this to say, “It has mainly to do with the issue of not being able to show any weakness or femininity in male dominated environments (lest they ask you to prepare coffee when you all go into a meeting together). A woman should be allowed to be one and this should not be a reason not to progress or be spoken to in a condescending manner”.
These are some of the comments that I have received from women in the Oil & Gas industry. I am interested in knowing what women leaders see as a challenge in other industries so please feel free to leave your comments below. If you are in the Oil & Gas industry and have experience other challenges not mentioned here, please feel free to add this below. Thanks for stopping by.