A History of PROWESS and the AAPG Women's Network

Honoring the Past

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

“Recognizing that AAPG is a prominent and inclusive membership organization with the potential to be very influential, the mission of this committee is to encourage women in Earth science and industry, with emphasis on retention, education, outreach, support and developing leadership.”
Marjorie Chan
PROWESS ad hoc committee chair, 2006

AAPG’s Professional Women in Earth Sciences (PROWESS) special interest group (SIG) was formed in 2006, as an ad hoc committee of 22 members with the purpose of taking “an activist approach to improving the climate for women in the petroleum industry.” PROWESS focused on promoting and supporting professional women geoscientists and also their male peers, employers, educational institutions and professional societies.

The first PROWESS event took place in 2006 with a workshop, “Women in the Petroleum Industry: Developing Future Female Leaders Today,” to encourage women to pursue and remain engaged in the petroleum industry. The workshop was hosted by AAPG and the Association for Women Geoscientists.

The PROWESS committee began nominating outstanding AAPG women members for awards and leadership positions to raise visibility of women geoscientists, conducted short courses to promote professional development and started gathering data on issues affecting retention. 

The 2009 PROWESS Workforce Survey addressed the issue of gender equality in the industry. AAPG members submitted data from more than 15 countries. The survey highlighted three key issues that became the focus of PROWESS’s efforts for the next 10 years: (1) lack of information about geoscience careers at the high school and university levels, (2) geoscience not deemed to be a suitable career for women owing to cultural, male-dominated mores and concern about field work and (3) lack of women in senior managerial and technical roles. From this survey came multiple initiatives, from providing child care at AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition (ACE) events to raising awareness of gender issues at outreach and professional events.

A project to highlight the extraordinary careers of the petroleum industry’s first women geoscientists began as a search through AAPG’s member card file. Robbie Gries wondered how many women were listed as members of AAPG before World War II.

“I was shocked, absolutely shocked, to find we had over 100 women identified,” said Gries. “I saw that our female history of employment of the oil business began the same year as AAPG, 1917.”

The research grew into the Pioneering Women project, which became the source material for a book, “Anomalies: Pioneering Women in Petroleum Geology: 1917-2017,” authored by Gries.

At AAPG’s 2017 ACE, commemorating the Association’s 100th anniversary, thousands of geoscientists viewed a 60-foot banner and discovered the hidden stories of the first women working in petroleum geology, from the first biostratigraphers, to the first women to earn a doctorate in geology, to female wildcatters and oil company owners. Approximately 600 people attended the premiere of the documentary based on Gries’ book, “Rock Stars: Women in Petroleum Geology,” written and produced by Vern Stefanic, AAPG’s director of Administration and Programs. Since then, “Rock Stars” has traveled to several screening events, with Gries often making personal appearances and autographing copies of her book.

PROWESS also organized special sessions at AAPG’s International Conference and Exhibition (ICE). In 2017, a PROWESS special session, “Leadership: Technically-Adept and Business-Savvy in the Petroleum Industry,” was held at AAPG ICE in London. Denise Cox served as the moderator to panelists including Herlinde Mannaerts, Gretchen Gillis, Katya Casey and Stephanie Nwoko. The panel discussed the importance of skills in current technologies and business acumen as critical for geoscientists’ success as leaders in today’s industry.

In 2018, PROWESS hosted another special session, “Transforming the Petroleum Industry and Adding Value Through a Globally Diverse Workforce,” at AAPG ICE in South Africa, moderated by Denise Cox and Stephanie Nwoko. The panelists were Laura Johnson, Lindiwe Mekwe, Karyna Rodriguez, Rawan Alasad and John Kaldi. The panel discussed how global experience maximizes the exposure of new play concepts in global markets and how technology may be applied for exploration, development of existing fields and redevelopment of mature reservoirs. The panel discussed how a diverse workforce can affect transformation and the need for more diversity in the petroleum industry.  

These special sessions were well attended and followed by networking receptions with geoscience researchers, petroleum technology experts and industry leaders to enrich professional connections.

In 2018, PROWESS hosted two webinars to connect with audiences online. Liz Percak-Dennett, technology director at Biota Technology, gave a presentation of her research, “Subsurface DNA diagnostics basics, field workflow, data analysis and case studies of practical applications in U.S. shale.” The second webinar featured Amy Rhodes, development supervisor for the Greater Kapanuk Area Light Oil Team for ConocoPhillips, who presented “Embrace Your Humanity: A Vulcan Perspective on Innovation.”

With these webinars, a shift occurred. Rather than focusing on gender inequality in the industry, these presentations highlighted prominent geoscientists sharing their knowledge and technical expertise. The geoscientists also happened to be women.

Although the PROWESS name has changed, the integrity of the group’s mission remains intact. PROWESS has a rich history that has laid the foundation for what is now known as the AAPG Women’s Network (AAPGWN).  AAPGWN continues PROWESS’s mission and is dedicated to elevating the status of women in the petroleum industry until a time that women’s issues become non-issues.


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