Noticeable upward trend

More Women Joining Geologist Ranks

A noticeable transformation continues to thrive within the geosciences community.

Women are becoming more prevalent and, increasingly, more prominent in the ranks of AAPG and throughout the energy industry.

At first the evidence was largely anecdotal – anyone who has attended an AAPG annual convention in recent years could spot a rise in the number of women who were not just attending the meetings but participating in the technical program.

But now, officially, the saturation of women in the geosciences field within the last 10 years is a quantifiable upward trend, according to an August 2005 report conducted by the American Geological Institute, the American Geophysical Union and the Statistical Research Center of the American Institute of Physics.

The study, taken from the class of 2003, shows women have increased their representation among geoscience Ph.D.s, with women earning 33 percent of earth, atmospheric and ocean sciences doctoral degrees.

Laura Zahm
Laura Zahm

“There has been an increase in women in the petroleum industry,” said AAPG member Laura Zahm, part-time member for the sedimentology and stratigraphy services group for ConocoPhillips in Austin, Texas.

“I chose a career in the geosciences because it captured my imagination and at the same time pushed and stimulated my intellectual capabilities, ” said Jessica Moore Ali-Adeeb, geologist for Chevron and the Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG) president.

“There are so many facets to the earth sciences, which allow it to be a lifelong professional pursuit as well as one of my favorite hobbies.

“What more could a girl ask for?” she added, “I have a hobby for work!”

And like dominoes falling down in succession, this increase in the number of women in the profession has resulted in more women assuming leadership roles in the industry, thereby making more women key decision-makers, thereby affording them the opportunity to mentor the younger generation following in their footsteps.

“More women in the industry has changed the need for companies to offer alternative employment options for women who fill a niche in a team, but still would like to have the flexibility to spend time with their families, ” according to Zahm.

“The petroleum industry is no longer a 40-hour-a-week-at-the-office-or-nothing type of industry, ” she said, “Many women are working from home, working part time or job sharing.”

Of course, Zahm is slightly biased to this versatile concept because of her current alternative employment position. Still, she believes it is an option becoming more common in the workplace.

Obstacle Course
Jessica Moore Ali-Adeeb
Jessica Moore Ali-Adeeb

Anna Dombrowski, a staff geologist with Shell in Houston, agrees there has been a steady climb in the number of women within the petroleum industry. However, she recognized a significant change in how women in the geosciences were viewed beginning in the early 1990s.

“There was a big change in corporate culture,” said Dombrowski, also an AAPG member. “More respect came with the awareness of the legal ramifications if you discriminated against a woman. ”

Dombrowski remembers a time when she couldn’t get a job in the geosciences. It was in the early 1970s – a transitioning period for many women in the work force.

It was a time when “women were not taken seriously,” she stated.

“Even after graduating with honors,” she said, “I applied for a position with a major oil company and was rejected on the basis that I was single. ”

Not too long after, Dombrowski married. She then applied for another position in a major oil company and was rejected on the basis that she was married.

After finally being offered a position in the geosciences industry, Dombrowski was paired with a mentor who let her know he didn ’t want to be her mentor – he had to be her mentor.

“His words to me were, ‘You should be barefoot and pregnant at home,’” she said.

Yes, times have changed.

The Role of Mentors

Both Dombrowski and Zahm agree on the importance of mentorship to other women in the geosciences industry – “to be a contributing member of society and to leave something behind better than how you found it, ” as Zahm stated.

“One way to give back to the industry is to serve in leadership roles and play the role of mentor wherever possible to those with less experience, ” Zahm said.

“Women have made a conscientious effort to reach out to the younger generation, to provide advice and to build contact networks where someone who is new to the industry feels that there are people who have their best interests at heart. ”

Besides mentorship, there are programs available to help increase the number of women in the geosciences such as the Stop the Leaky Pipeline program formed by the AWG.

AWG, an AAPG associated society founded in 1977 in San Francisco on the principles to provide encouragement to women in the geosciences, recently celebrated its 30-year anniversary. Consequently, its membership approaches 1,000, reflecting the increasing participation of women in the geosciences.

And as for the future of women in the geosciences industry, “I’ve seen a trend that is continuing – a real trend,” Dombrowski said.

“Being a woman is not an issue anymore.”

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