The questions have been answered, the responses have been recorded and now the results of a long-awaited work force retention survey of women geoscientists will be presented in Denver at the AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition.
The AAPG-sponsored survey was undertaken to find out why so many women scientists leave the industry. It targeted women geoscientists of all ages and at every stage of their careers.
Preliminary results indicate that many women have left the energy industry and not returned to it because of inflexible and unfriendly family policies.
“There was concern among the respondents about work/family issues and work balance, and many of the respondents feel there could be improvement in the industry,” said Chandra Muller, one of two University of Texas professors who analyzed the survey data and will present the key findings at the conference.
Muller is a sociology professor who studies educational inequality – especially in the mathematics and science fields.
She will present the findings along with the other analyst, Christine Williams, a University of Texas professor who studies gender discrimination and workplace inequality.
The survey was designed to help improve the workplace climate for women geoscientists and retention of lost talent.
The survey’s early results have pointed to concern about work/family and work balance issues in the energy industry, Muller said.
“My sense from knowing other industries is that the energy business is worse than other industries,” she said. “It’s conceivable that it’s because it’s male-dominated – but the nature of the work doesn’t help any. What I perceived in the early findings is that the constraints of the industry – the travel and off hours – could be organized in ways that are more amenable to work flexibility.”
The lack of change and stagnation in the workplace also was a concern among the participants in the survey.
“Some respondents felt that things had changed,” Muller said, “but others felt they hadn’t changed enough to keep up with the times.”
Respondents felt that energy companies do a poor job in addressing women’s personal health issues and offering leave time to care for family members, job sharing policies and onsite childcare, she said.
Of the respondents who have left the industry, responses indicate that more than 30 percent do not anticipate returning to it. However, about 25 percent said they would return if part-time work was available, she said.
Muller said the industry is losing talent because of its work policies.
“If they loosened up some constraints they might find more people who were quite talented in science,” she said. “Currently, they’re selecting workers from among people who are willing to have a disruptive family life, so they may not be accessing the best talent.”
She pointed out that some businesses adopt more family-friendly policies for economic reasons.
“There’s a much lower work force turnover and lower training costs,” she said. “There’s high loyalty and they may even end up paying workers slightly less because they get more people who are loyal to the company. Many companies have found that recruitment costs are saved.
“When you become a worker friendly company, you basically advertise a job and have people clamoring at your door,” she said.
“What’s coming out loud and clear from this survey is that the vast majority of these energy companies have the opposite reputation so their costs of operating are probably even higher,” Muller said.
Only the Beginning
Over the past decade, even as women have increased their numbers in the geosciences, the reason why many left the profession has been rarely studied.
Edith Allison, co-chairman of AAPG’s Professional Women in Earth Sciences Committee, said the survey was the brainstorm of the committee and the survey began in mid-2006.
“This was prompted by a number of prior studies that were not specific to geology or petroleum but were looking at women in the STEM industries (science, technology, engineering and mathematics),” she said.
“The background information suggested that women were leaving the petroleum industry at a faster rate than men, but there was no detailed information to confirm it,” said Allison, exploration manager of the office of oil and natural gas for the U.S. Department of Energy.
The survey was completed at the end of September and included 2,048 respondents worldwide. It was a random survey of women who were former employees in the industry as well as those who returned to it and those with degrees in the field who never worked in it, she said. It was designed as a tool to improve the workplace climate.
The unbiased analysis by the UT professors will help point out any weaknesses in the data and also determine what can be officially concluded from the data as well as what would be inappropriate to conclude from it, Allison said.
The results of the study will be shared with AAPG leadership and the organization’s corporate advisory board.
“We definitely hope that there will be follow-up on this,” Allison said. “That will be determined by the results of the analysis.”
Along with capturing current workplace best practices that are supportive of working women and that contribute to employer satisfaction, the survey also points to issues that contribute to employee dissatisfaction and that need to be addressed to maintain employee diversity and retention.
When the results are presented at the AAPG conference, seminar attendees also will be able to take part in a real-time survey using text-messaging technology. These responses will be compiled and compared to the results of the earlier survey.