15 percent were ‘Leavers’

Women Weigh-In on Workplace

(73%) Stayers – Geoscientists currently employed in industry, academia or government
(15%) Leavers – Former employees who left the industry. 
(12%) Returners – Industry employees who left, then returned after a time.
(73%) Stayers – Geoscientists currently employed in industry, academia or government (15%) Leavers – Former employees who left the industry. (12%) Returners – Industry employees who left, then returned after a time.
PROWESS Survey results gave a picture of perceived challenges in work climate.

Main challenges: 43 percent of selected responses are “work-life balance” issues; 49 percent selected “work climate” issues.
PROWESS Survey results gave a picture of perceived challenges in work climate. Main challenges: 43 percent of selected responses are “work-life balance” issues; 49 percent selected “work climate” issues.

The results of AAPG’s PROWESS Work Force Retention Survey analysis have been announced, providing a clearer and more complete picture of the industry’s demographics, its workplace climate and its support of women and general employee satisfaction.

The survey goals were:

  • Assess the industry workplace climate for women.
  • Identify industry practices that support working women and contribute to employee satisfaction.
  • Provide recommendations for future action.

The survey identified the big climate issues in industry, with an emphasis on workplace conditions, retention and reclaiming of lost talent.

The survey, designed by the PROWESS (AAPG Professional Women in Earth Sciences) committee, offered quantitative multiple-choice questions with opportunities for qualitative comments. The target audience was degreed women geoscientists of all ages and stages of a career in the energy industry, regardless of their current employment status.

Findings focused on respondents’ perceptions of:

  • The rewards and challenges of working as a geoscientist in the petroleum industry.
  • The factors that would help to retain women in the field.
  • The work climate for women in the industry.
  • Whether the work climate for women has improved, declined or not changed since the respondent first entered the industry.

Surveys were e-mailed to all AAPG members and posted on the AAPG Web site, with members asked to forward the survey to other women geoscientists including co-workers, friends, university alumni, etc.

Ultimately the survey was administered to approximately 1,850 women geoscientists who are currently working or have previously worked as geoscientists in the petroleum industry. Of those who started the survey, 1,700 (about 90 percent) completed the survey.

The age range of the respondents was fairly equally balanced among the decades: 21-30 (27.1 percent); 31-40 (27.5 percent); 41-50 (20.6 percent); 51-60 (22.5 percent); 61-plus (2.4 percent).

As a point of reference, as of July 1, 2009, total AAPG membership was 33,174, with female membership totaling 5,180.

Full reports are available from the AAPG Web site (www.aapg.org; click on Membership, then Professional Women to access links to all AAPG PROWESS survey documents and presentations); or, for the next 30 days, look for the link to survey under “Today’s News.”

Survey Analysis

Are you a Stayer, Leaver or Returner?

Survey respondents can be divided into three main groups on the basis of their employment status within the industry at the time of survey:

  • Stayers are geoscientists currently working in the industry, academia or government who have never left (73 percent of respondents).
  • Leavers are former employees who subsequently left the industry (15 percent of respondents).
  • Returners are those who returned to work in the industry after having been out for a time (12 percent of respondents).

By comparing the decade of entry into the industry work force with their employment status, the data showed that Stayers tend to be younger (21 to 39) and more likely to have entered the industry in the last decade, since 2001.

Overall, the majority (63 percent) of survey respondents entered the field in the last two decades, since 1991. The leavers and returners predominantly entered the industry prior to 1980.

Perceived Rewards.

Respondents were asked: What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of working as a geoscientist in the energy industry?

Overall, the scope of work, opportunities for making an intellectual contribution and monetary compensation were seen as the most rewarding aspects of a geoscience career in the energy industry. In other words, they valued rewarding work for rewarding pay, regardless of when they entered the industry.

However, those who entered the industry more recently tended to identify monetary compensation as important; those with more experience found the opportunity for intellectual contribution to be more important, but also need to be perceived as having intrinsic value to the company.

Perceived Challenges and Reasons to Leave.

What are the biggest challenges women face in the workplace?

From a “select all that apply” list, respondents’ selections can be broken into work-family balance issues (43 percent of respondents) and work climate issues (49 percent of respondents).

Under the category of work-family balance, 47 percent of respondents identify the greatest concern with balancing career and family, and 31 percent selected dual career households.

Work climate issues selected by respondents include lack of opportunity for advancement (38 percent), lack of female mentors (30 percent) and lack of a professional network (22 percent).

Compensation was the least selected (16 percent of respondents).

Why do women geoscientists leave the petroleum industry?

The respondents’ perceptions were weighted more toward work-life balance issues, with 78 percent selecting balancing family and career, and 13 percent citing lack of support for a male spouse.

Work climate issues were raised, with 21 percent citing lack of advancement and 15 percent citing lack of industry recognition.

Other responses on this “select all that apply” question included 8 percent who changed careers, 2 percent with health issues and 6 percent noting “other.”

Changes and Improvements in the Workplace.

When asked, “How do you think the industry has changed since you entered it?” predictably those who entered longer ago perceived the most change. Flex time, working remotely, monetary compensation and advancement opportunities were seen as having changed the most for those with the longest time in industry.

To those who entered the industry in the last two decades, recognition of females and career advancement commensurate with years of service have changed little.

For all respondents, money and advancement opportunities are perceived to have greatly improved BUT not in proportion to years of service. Perceived industry recognition of women is alarmingly low for newer hires.

When “leavers” were asked what would motivate them to return to industry, job flexibility was at the top of the list of incentives. Similarly, 75 percent of all survey respondents said that improvements in flexible work options such as part-time work, job sharing or working remotely and a work culture that truly supports these choices would help retain women geoscientists in the energy industry.

Not to be ignored are the more than 40 percent of women who identified better career opportunities as a motivating factor to return to the petroleum industry.


Full reports of the PROWESS Work Force Survey are available on the AAPG Web site – click Membership, then Professional Women to access links to all documents and presentations.

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PROWESS At Work

Denise Cox and Edie Allison, co-chairs of the Professional Women in Earth Sciences Committee, and AAPG staff liaison Carol McGowen reported the PROWESS Work Force Retention Survey findings at the recent AAPG annual convention in Denver. 

The survey results were first presented to the AAPG Executive Committee during its June 6 meeting and again the following day to the AAPG Corporate Advisory Board. 

The results were then presented to the membership at large at the PROWESS luncheon in Denver, to its record audience of 170. 

Chandra Muller, Christine Williams and Jessica Dunning-Lozano, Department of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin, led the audience through their analysis of the survey data.

– CAROL McGOWEN

Today’s Lesson: Be Prepared to Change

Julie A. Kupecz opened her keynote address for the AAPG PROWESS luncheon in Denver with a hypothetical question: 

“Why do I love my job?” 

Kupecz, Shell E&P’s senior technology adviser for carbon capture sequestration, was speaking on “Career Ownership and Personal Opportunity in Today’s Industry: Redefining Success.” 

She illustrated her point with a map of the world, punctuated with dots on every continent where she had lived, worked or traveled – and reflected on her career path choices. 

Kupecz grew up in Grand Junction, Colo., and spent summer days climbing around on the rock outcrops as a child. Her love of the outdoors and aptitude for math, science and art motivated her to look at geology as a career path. 

“Geology is perfect for me,” she said, “as it incorporates technical, observational and creative skills.” 

But picking geology as the right career path was not the end of Kupecz’ story. The reality of a career choice in the energy industry is change – often without warning. And with change comes the opportunity to redefine oneself. 

From Arco Alaska, Kupecz transferred to a research lab in Plano, Texas. Then after many rounds of layoffs, she took a package and set herself up asa consultant, spending five years in Venezuela. From there, her family returned to the United States and Kupecz was hired on with Anadarko, and then with Shell. 

After a time as Grosmont subsurface venture manager, she moved to the CO2 group as senior technical adviser for the Americas. 

Her advice: “Don’t be afraid to move, but be smart about it.” 

And to demonstrate this life lesson Kupecz quoted a statement from Charles Darwin: 

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” 

She would know.

– CAROL McGOWEN