Creative approaches required

Industry Needs to Attract Females

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

AAPG President-Elect Scott Tinker said in Bahrain that the goal of attracting women to the geoscience work force requires awareness of and creative approaches to challenges and changes.

Tinker made his remarks as one of three keynote speakers at the third Women’s Leadership Forum (WLF), held in conjunction with the March GEO 2008 conference in Manama, Bahrain.

WLF is an international gathering of professionals to discuss issues of recruiting, leadership, retention and career development of women in the petroleum industry. One of the forum’s co-chairs was AAPG member Pinar Yilmaz.

Several industry executives and professionals – representing a variety of corporate disciplines and levels – participated in the forum, including Abdulkarim Al-Sayed, chief executive of Bahrain Petroleum Co., who said “women are essential to meet the pressing challenges in our industry.”

He said women comprise 32 percent of the Bahrain labor market, according to 2004 statistics.

“Despite hardships, women – especially Bahraini women – have contributed to progress and prosperity in significant and indispensable ways,” Al-Sayed added.

Tinker, who plans to make awareness of the recruitment and retention of women in the geosciences one area of focus of his AAPG presidency (2008-09), praised the panel of women science and engineer speakers as true “pioneers,” and told forum attendees that:

  • Attracting more women to the geoscience work force means that the industry needs to “lose gender stereotypes and facilitate mentoring – including a cross-gender mentoring program.”
  • Retaining women will require “flexible programs and work/life balance solutions.”
  • Promoting women demands that the industry must “break the corporate mold” regarding the “glass ceiling,” and must “track the metrics of female promotions compared to those of men – (it) needs to be a win-win situation.”

As an example of the “difficult challenges to overcome,” Tinker said adjustments need to be made to accommodate the industry’s changing demographics.

“Google’s company policy requires a minimum of 20 percent female engineers,” Tinker said. “They’ve found that (team) ratios of less than one woman to five men result in unhealthy communications patterns – at least one woman is on every engineering search committee.

“To accommodate special needs of women in the workplace, Google introduced flexibility programs – the four-day workweek, telecommuting, shorter hours during vacations, and others,” he said.

Of course, flexibility is not without challenges, he added. Issues that could arise include:

  • Reverse discrimination concerns.
  • The willingness of female scientists to maintain their scientific edge during “part-time” years.
  • How to handle “precedent setting” cases of flexibility.
  • “Flexibility dysfunction,” which is when there is so much flexibility that “not much gets done.”

“Fifty percent of the population is female,” he concluded. “We need to continue to adapt and improve, particularly in high tech industries. Everyone will benefit.”

Other Voices

Another AAPG member and forum speaker, Fowzia H. Abdullah of the Kuwait University Faculty of Science, said “forums like this one can be solutions for the networking problems working women face.

“Women don’t have as many opportunities for social learning as men do,” Abdullah added.

“At our university, we’ve learned we have to keep parents very aware of the need for their daughters to have the same preparation as male students in the same discipline,” Abdullah said. “We must influence those who have an influence on children and decision-makers.”

Other participants included:

  • Sara Al-Akbar, the founder and CEO of the independent oil company Kuwait Energy, who succeeded despite the reality that “what men take for granted, women have to work hard to get.”
  • Amal Al-Awami, a consultant for Saudi Aramco, who spoke of new scholarship programs in Saudi Arabia to help prepare young women to join the work force.
  • Abla N.A. Al-Riyami, gas director of Petroleum Development Oman, who said that the industry should “nurture children toward their interests and don’t set up obstacles to their learning,” and about women in the work force, “I encourage you to take on new initiatives, and strive to understand people.”
  • Melanie Dreiman, with Saudi Aramco, noted that “international oil companies are now taking the lead in serious endeavors to attract, retain and promote women in the workplace.”  

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