PROWESS has a message to share

Female Progress in Industry Work Force Noted

The Professional Women in Earth Sciences, popularly known as PROWESS, has a message for women geoscientists:

Women geologists have done great things in the past, great opportunities are waiting in the future, and the paths to future success are available to them today.

That will be the basis for “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby – Evolution of the Work Environment in the Oil and Gas Industry,” a PROWESS panel discussion set for 1:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 12, at the AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition.

The panel will feature six women geoscientists – ranging in industry experience from 10 to 30-plus years – who will talk about challenges, advances and expectations that women have and will continue to face as geoscientists.

The panel includes:

  • Susan Longacre, Chevron Fellow Emeritus, retired, and a past elected Editor of AAPG.
  • Gillian Apps, sedimentologist-stratigrapher in global technology R&D team, unconventional gas resources, BP.
  • Joyce Thomas, vice president of operations, U.S. land, Baker Hughes.
  • Thuy Rocque, chief petrophysicist, Anadarko Petroleum.
  • Andrea Reynolds, staff geologist, Shell.
  • Michelle Warner, senior geologist, ENI U.S. Operating Co.

Moderators of the seminar, AAPG members Evelyn Medvin and Sunday Shepherd, are excited about what this year’s discussion has to offer.

“It (the panel) highlights the careers of successful women in our industry,” Medvin said, “helping younger women see that they too have a place within what had traditionally been a man’s world.

“We were a minority, often excluded from opportunities, because there weren’t ‘woman friendly’ facilities,” she added.

“Yes, the top ranks are still predominantly male and it’s tough to balance a career and raise a family, too,” Shepherd added. “But, our industry has come a long way.”

Shepherd referenced a few women who contributed to breaking into this traditionally male-dominated field.

“Women like (AAPG members) Susan Longacre, Robbie Gries and Martha Lou Broussard faced discrimination and adversity head-on by demonstrating technical excellence and professionalism,” Shepherd said. “These ladies had it tough, but stuck it out because they were passionate about earth science.”

Medvin hopes that “the work force of the future will be a global conglomeration, with gender and ethnic differences adding value to the challenges of fueling a growing population in an environmentally respectable manner.”

Finding the Balance

Gillian Apps will open the panel discussion this year, with a talk titled “Reservoirs and Sand Castles: One Woman’s Perspective on Managing Complexity,” which will center on the benefits of being flexible in one’s life in order to achieve balance between family and career.

“Provisions for working mothers were non-existent 30 years ago,” Apps said.

With two high school daughters to take care of and a husband in a demanding career as well, Apps experiences everyday the struggle to balance her life – and that a lot of women geoscientists over the years were unsatisfied with having just career success.

“Many of us who had spent a long time building qualifications and experience realized we needed to acknowledge our human side and raise a family,” she said, “so we fought for parental rights – not just women’s rights – in these family-related matters.”

Time also has seemed to encourage positive progression for women in the areas of career advancement and working partnerships. Now, Apps believes “all the major companies have a good range of career path opportunities for women,” and “many companies also have husband and wife pairs who are both highly successful.”

Such companies have HR policies that allow flexible working hours, leaves of absences and other important amenities for family women and men.

Apps explained that although larger companies like BP have tried to create a culture of diversion and inclusion for minorities, there are many others who still have not.

“In other companies the Dark Ages seem alive and well,” she said.

In the 2008 AAPG PROWESS work force retention survey, 49 percent of the nearly 1,700 respondents said the biggest challenges they faced were work climate issues. Those issues included:

  • A lack of advancement opportunity.
  • Female mentors.
  • Professional networks.

Forty-three percent said their biggest challenge was achieving a work family balance.

“Dark Age” companies are not the only ones to blame for unequal gender success in the science field. Apps says all companies deal with the issue of retention.

Although, the numbers of women in the industry seems to have increased, these numbers fluctuate constantly. This deters progression for women in the field.

“From my own perspective,” Apps said, “I still see women faced with old guard behaviors. In times of economic recession, these behaviors and attitudes have a tendency to resurface.”

Apps said she hopes her talk ultimately will inspire longtime geologists to share their experiences; women need to share what they have learned, she said, so that women can continue to make an increasingly larger impact in the industry.

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