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Despite the modern emphasis on gender equality, there remain many industries where women are struggling to place themselves on an even footing with their male counterparts. This is particularly true of the oil industry, which for decades has been dominated by an almost entirely male workforce. Yet it seems that change could finally be on the horizon.

Bakken Oil Field
Bakken Oil Field

While men still make up the majority of the oil industry’s workforce, increasing numbers of women are becoming aware of the sector’s plethora of well-remunerated, long-term careers, and the US appears to be leading the field when it comes to improving equality. Some 18% of the overall workforce is now female, according to the latest data from industry news source Rigzone.

While the figure may seem low compared to the 46.9% of the national workforce that is female (according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey), it is more than double the female percentage of the global oil and gas workforce when considered as a whole – that figure rests at just 7.8%, according to the Hays Oil and Gas Global Salary Guide 2012.

The emergence of women in the US oil industry follows encouraging results from overseas. In Norway, data agency Statistic Norway shows that the percentage of women in the oil sector increased from 16.5% in 2003 to 19.5% in 2010, thanks in large part to companies such as Wintershall Norge pushing for increased equality.

Interestingly, the Norwegian data showed that women were having to work harder than their male counterparts to prove their mettle when it came to landing oil industry roles. Some 34% of male employees were recorded as having qualifications from universities or colleges, but the equivalent figure for women was 53%, indicating an increased need for proof of academic prowess among female workers.

Changing The Course Of History – The Rise Of Women In The US Oil Industry
Changing The Course Of History – The Rise Of Women In The US Oil Industry

Within Britain, the rise of women in the oil industry is still in its relative infancy, but drivers are in place to ensure that the initiative gathers momentum. Aberdeen’s leading Offshore Europe oil conference in 2013 hosted an open debate on women’s under representation in the industry, led by Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). Meanwhile, industry giant BP has put targets in place for enhancing gender representation on its senior leadership team, with the aim of 25% of the team being female by 2020. The strategy has already seen an increase in the company’s female group leaders from 9% in 2000 to 17% in 2012.

Back in the US, the figures are certainly encouraging when it comes to the oil sector’s recruitment of new employees. Based on Rigzone’s analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 46% of all new jobs within the industry were awarded to women during the first quarter of 2013. The positions included traditional roles working on rigs and pipelines, but also an emerging trend for highly qualified female recruits moving into advanced petroleum engineering and technical positions.

In the booming states of North Dakota and Montana, where the implementation of hydraulic fracturing (or ‘fracking’) has revolutionised the local economies, the rise of women in the sector is clear to see. Local company North Dakota Developments LLC, which builds industry-leading fully serviced hotel suites for oil workers at its Great American Lodge sites, has noticed a considerable shift in the balance of the workforce. Group CEO Robert Gavin comments,

“The oil industry provides a fascinating case study when it comes to the role of female workers. From the pioneers behind the Women’s Federal Oil Company of America in the early 1900s, which went on to become a key part of the country’s suffrage movement, to the graduates brining technical skills and knowledge to the industry today, women’s involvement is essential if the sector is to be the best that it can be.”

Mr Gavin’s own company certainly puts his ethos into practice: 50% of the supporting managers of the company’s global network of selling agents are female. The structure has been designed in recognition of the need to build a pipeline of female talent at the top.

This need for a sufficient pipeline of women in senior management positions is an issue that was picked up by PWC’s Building Talent for the Top report in November 2013, which found that only 11% of director-level seats in the oil and gas industry were held by women. The report further revealed that while 13% of non-executive positions were filled by females, only a shocking 1% of executive roles were.

Clearly, the industry as a whole has some way to go. However, with leading players such as the US setting such a positive example, the future of the oil industry – and women’s role within it – seems bright indeed.