Women have found work in oil and gas from that industry’s beginnings, but through that long history, and even to this day, the oil and gas industry has been a predominantly male-occupied, male-driven industry. The Permian Basin is no exception. But things are slowly changing, and recent trends have something to do with that.
Meanwhile, as women gain a greater foothold in O&G, the work itself has changed. The energy industry is more technological now than at any time in its history. The workforce is more white collar than at any previous time. And even the blue collar work holds opportunity for women—as employers continue to tell us.
We spoke with a successful woman careerist, someone who is also a business owner and employer in the oil and gas world, to ascertain what the challenges and directions are, when it comes to women in energy.
Kat Galloway, president and CEO of Artemis Energy, is also the president and owner of Bright Sky Environmental. A business owner for going on five years, she has worked in the energy sector for almost 20 years, mostly in energy consulting, including stints at some large companies.
Galloway says she has seen a lot in her two decades in the patch. And she has seen more women entering into oil and gas during that time as well, a development she finds commendable.
“However, what I would like to see more of is more women moving into executive leadership,” Galloway said. “There are a couple of things that we need to focus on to really support women in the industry and the first part of it is attracting more women to the energy industry to start with. The energy industry is a vital and vibrant part of our economy. There are great jobs to be had in the energy industry. But consider, for instance, the engineering workforce—only 15 percent of the engineering workforce is female. That statistic is from the Department of Labor.”
Asked if she thinks that perhaps women might be passing up opportunities to work in oil and gas simply because they think that the industry is closed to them, Galloway said it is possible.
“The energy industry itself has struggled a bit with messaging for the past several years,” she said. “I’m not sure that’s a phenomenon limited to [messaging to] women. I’ve been doing a lot of outreach to college students to talk about the great jobs that are available in energy. You hear about downturns in the oil patch and then you hear about people wanting to leave the industry. The energy industry struggled, on the whole, to attract talent. So we need to talk not just about how great these jobs are, but how important it is to have domestic oil and gas and how important it is to have a strong backbone of energy in the United States.”
Some have suggested that women could feel intimidated about applying for work in the energy sector, because it is such a male-dominated field. Galloway agreed that the prospect can be intimidating, but doesn’t have to be.
“I would say it’s more open than ever to women and it is more accessible,” she said. “When it comes to choosing careers, a lot of times it really starts with what has happened in early childhood, as to whether or not girls and young women have been exposed to the STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] programs overall. The best way to do this is to support these STEM programs and give mentorship opportunities to young girls so that they know what kind of jobs are out there, and how exciting it can be to be an engineer. And give women those opportunities to see what it’s like. So I really support STEM education for young girls.”
For her own part, Galloway has hired women in roles for her own businesses.
And then there’s that other focus that Galloway would like to see, and that is retaining more women in energy. The work requires patience and perseverance.
For one thing, all involved have to acknowledge that the oil and gas industry can be a dangerous field in which to work. “If we are out in the field, we might find ourselves working in a high temperature environment, around high pressure systems, with the chance of chemical exposures and other hazards,” Galloway said. “And it’s not just oil and gas field work—it’s chemical plants, it’s refineries, it’s a lot of these other jobs that are also in the energy sector. Those kind of working conditions are not really ideal for all workers during all phases of their lives. So I think an important concept in particular to the energy industry is to allow for some alternate work programs. That might include providing ‘rotational’ programs so that women can experience different parts of the business.”
This concept of rotational programs holds some promise for all sectors of oil and gas.
The idea of “rotation” can be extended even further, as Galloway explains.
“As life and family need it, it’s good to give some opportunities to get out of the field and out of the travel routine and come in to a workplace, even to a remote working situation, and work on a desktop. I’ve got two young children and after I had both of my children, I wanted to slow down a little bit and enjoy that. It was important for me to be able to have some flexibility in my work schedule. I feel that that was a challenge 10 years ago.”
Things have changed, indeed, but even today most companies—and not just oil and gas companies—feel that workers need to be in the office or in the field on a 9-to-5 schedule.
“I think that one silver lining that came out of Covid-19 is the way we have seen how people can work remotely,” Galloway said. “We can work from home. Employees can be trusted to do their jobs. More people have accepted the fact that we don’t have to sit at a desk in an office location all day long.
And I think being able to provide some flexibility in those work arrangements is really important for women, especially as we’re considering family and how do the obligations change. And for all parents in general—it’s not just women. Allowing some flexible time really helps.
“It’s clear that worker attrition occurs when employees are not happy in their working conditions,” Galloway concluded. “And I think another thing is just for companies to listen to their employees.”