It was like they saved the best for last.
On the last day of the recent AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition in New Orleans nearly 150 people attended the third Professional Women in Earth Sciences Diversity Seminar, this year focusing on “The Economics of Diversity – Competing For and Leveraging Employee Diversity in a Global Petroleum Industry.”
The seminar featured six panelists, themselves from very diverse backgrounds – the three women and three men represented U.S.-based mid-to large-sized independents, an upstream major oil company, academia, government and a national oil company from the Middle East.
The bottom line: It was clear that the work forces of successful organizations are diverse by design. And that diversity – in age or generation, gender, technical experience and cultural background – provides the creativity of thought and approach to problem solving necessary to solve today’s complex E&P challenges.
The Diversity Advantage
All panelists commented on their organization’s approach to diversity and how diversity is leveraged to benefit the organization’s bottom line.
For large companies like ExxonMobil with a global operations presence, the company must be focused on global work force development.
“ExxonMobil’s strategy is to bring in people from different backgrounds and train them to the same standards,” said AAPG member Kim Bates, vice president of geoscience for ExxonMobil Development Company.
“ExxonMobil’s large work force allows flexible work policies,” she said, “which in turn enable the company to accommodate diverse employee needs.”
For Allen Gilmer, CEO of Drilling Info Companies in Austin, Texas, as a mid-sized, private, family-owned company, his company takes a “family first” approach.
At the same time, Gilmer said, he looks for “diversity of viewpoints” when hiring.
Hussain Al-Otaibi, manager of Saudi Aramco’s exploration technical services department and AAPG’s Middle East Region president, explained that Aramco’s operations are centralized from within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“While certain social constraints and customs are culturally mandated, the company’s vast resources provide many opportunities to its employees,” he said.
Al-Otaibi shared statistics of a work force phenomenon common to many oil majors.
“Saudi Aramco, too, is undergoing the ‘big crew change’ with an aging work force,” he said – but as a result of proactive recruiting, “almost a quarter of our work force now is in their twenties.
“Saudi Aramco’s internal job mobility structure allows employees to move and change positions within the company, and provides these employees with interesting and challenging careers,” Al-Otaibi added.
Research associate Lorena Moscardelli counts herself among the diverse research staff at the Bureau of Economic Geology’s Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin, where 41 percent of the research staff represents 20 nationalities.
The Bureau conducts basic and applied research related to energy resources, mineral resources; coastal processes; Earth and environmental systems; hydrogeology; carbon sequestration; nanotechnology; energy economics; and geologic mapping.
In addition to its culturally diverse research staff, Moscardelli pointed out that from the year 2000 to 2009, “the percentage of female researchers has increased from 14 percent to 21 percent.”
For AAPG member Scott Sach, geoscience vice president-Northern Division of Chesapeake Energy, “Chesapeake’s growth has transformed our work force significantly and provided the opportunity to rethink how we approach our business.”
In the past five years Chesapeake’s employee count has grown from roughly 2,500 predominately experienced employees, to over 8,400 employees, approximately 50 percent of whom are under 35 years of age with less than five years experience.
This age-diverse and experience-diverse work force “created many new business challenges, which caused us to re-address how we recruit, on-board, train, mentor, challenge and reward our employees,” he said.
Allyson Anderson represented the perspective of government on the panel. A professional staff member with the U.S Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in Washington, D.C., Anderson sees her position as that of “translator,” bridging the gap between scientific research and government policy making.
Anderson, an AAPG member, provides the Energy Committee with research on carbon sequestration and geothermal energy resources in addition to fossil energy resarch and development, upstream petroleum issues and other science-related policy areas.
New technologies and new discoveries drive the need for a larger work force. With the latest upswing in onshore unconventionals and deepwater offshore plays, companies of all sizes are scrambling to increase their staff capacity to remain competitive. Career opportunities abound not only for new hires and young professionals, but also for more experienced professionals.
From the vantage point of Saudi Aramco, Al-Otaibi recognizes a global shortage of oil and gas professionals.
“Today, Aramco’s work force is primarily Saudi,” he said, “however, close to 15 percent of our work force is made up of nationals from over 70 countries.”
He attributes “the relatively low expatriate representation in our work force to market driven factors, due in part to the lack of sufficient numbers of qualified professionals in the work force.”
The upside of this current work force shortage, compared to the demand for skilled oil and gas professionals in the work force, points to opportunities for students and young professionals.
Rapid growth experienced by large independent companies like Chesapeake Energy Corporation has resulted in the need for rapid workforce expansion.
“The rapid growth in unconventional reservoirs and the parallel advances in technologic understanding and applications needed to harvest these plays has changed our company and the industry dramatically,” Sachs said.
He also predicts that the same expansion of unconventional plays discovered recently onshore in the North America will soon be discovered globally.
Chesapeake received the FORTUNE “100 Best Companies to Work For” ranking three years running, and recently was listed on Outside Magazine’s 2010 “Top 50 Best Place to Work.“
According to Sachs, “Chesapeake’s redesigned processes, data access, stronger onsite technical support and streamlined communication led to improved work force productivity.”
At Chesapeake and other companies world wide, seasoned geoscientists remain highly valued employees with key roles to play as trainers and mentors of less experienced new hires.
Career opportunities for skilled geoscientists also can also be found in government positions.
“Diversity in our industry is key to representing the views of the general population,” said AAPG member Allyson Anderson – one of only eight geologists currently employed on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
“More geoscientists are needed to work in government,” she added.
Students and Young Professionals in the PROWESS seminar audience received an unexpected bonus in the form of free career advice from the panel of successful geoscientists representing a broad spectrum of employers.
- From Bates: Consider what you need to deliver technical contributions to benefit your company, leverage your position and ask for what you want.
- Gilmer remembered advice about valuing diversity of viewpoints – advice he received when starting his own company. “Remember the equation 1+1=1, and hire someone who is not just like you,” he said. “To this day I hire selectively to fill specific skill niches.”
- Moscardelli emphasized the need for technical confidence and excellence – and added, “A strong mentorship can help with learning to effectively share ideas.”
- Anderson stressed the importance of identifying, connecting with and building relationships with a wide range of people in your company’s work force.
In the end, regardless of their organization’s size or type of business, the panelists all embraced the value of a diverse work force – and their collective advice to energy industry job seekers worldwide was consistent: Begin your career by building a solid foundation of technical skills. Along the way, learn to communicate clearly. Then have confidence in knowing that employers value diversity of viewpoints. So seek out an experienced geoscientist as a mentor. Then ask for what you want and need to advance your career and make a contribution to your employer company.