Women in Oil & Gas: Australian Resources Sector Gets More Diverse

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Calling all females! Are you a woman thinking of joining the oil & gas industry or another resources sector? There are plenty of programs and groups in Australia that can help you. Learn more.

Australia has some of the world’s most distinctive and diverse natural environments, with unique wildlife and speculator landscapes. Its vast land has made Australia become one of the world’s top producers of gas and other energy resources since its humble beginnings in the late 1970’s.  In recent years, it has seen some of the world’s largest gas projects  such as Chevron’s Gorgon and Wheatstone and Inpex’s Icthys project really fire up the sector.

As a result, companies in Australia’s energy sector are challenged with the task of attracting and retaining a highly skilled workforce, and an even bigger challenge is attracting workers to the regional and remote areas of the country, particularly Australia’s untapped north.

More and more companies are recognising the importance of a balanced approach to challenges and the value of diversity.  To address skills shortages, increased efforts over the years have been made to attract and retain women to an industry that noticeably lags behind others in employing skilled women.

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Diversity in Oil & Gas. Paulina Svoboda (pictured left) is a production engineer who is in charge of capacity and efficiency improvement projects in a chemical plant. She’s also now seeing more and more women at higher positions, and in operations. Read my interview with her here.

The Benefits of Gender Diversity

While opportunities for women in Australia’s oil and gas industry have always been there, it is evident that in the past, it could have been better publicised and encouraged. While women are still under-represented in engineering and oil & gas, in 2016 there are many successful women working in the resources industry. This has been helped by increased engagement in programs and scholarships available in Australia that help assist women in joining the industry and employers in building a great base of female talent.

Companies are realising that to compete in a global market, they must recruit and retain women. Here are a few key reasons why your business should consider hiring women:

  • A diverse workplace that mirrors the community will enhance a company’s reputation.
  • Women’s perspectives in the company will support successful business and marketing strategies, as women consumers influence buying decisions. (Australian Company Bauer Media Group, reported Australian women are big spenders and influencers. For example, they influence 70% of car buying decisions.“Women are forecast to add $6 trillion in additional earned income over the next five years, yet many companies are still struggling with how to provide products and services that meet their needs for value, time savings, and emotional connection”).
  • Greater attention to detail and precision will occur in female-dominated teams.
  • Women are often committed to staying in their communities over the long term, making them a loyal and stable workforce.

The latest edition of the Australia Connected Consumer Report indicated a real tenacity in women to stay connected across many devices, with a tendency towards mobiles and tablets for portability and convenience. The report highlights clear peaks in engagement throughout the day, as well as a strong appetite for TV content delivered via both traditional and online sources. In June 2015, there were nine million women online, representing 51% of the entire online population. Women are more likely than men to engage online, with more than half (57%) regularly browsing profiles, and sharing more than men. Now more than ever, brands and advertisers must understand how, when and where to engage with a multi-tasking, sociable and digitally confident Australian woman.

As the percentage of digitally-savvy female engineers increases, so too does the importance of establishing diversity and equality within engineering-related industries. The bottom line is, the return on investment for an organisation that actively works to integrate women and diversity into its core structure creates a healthy workplace culture.

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Some of the Stochastic Simulation team playing Friday evening board games together. Stochastic Simulation is an Australian company that provides upstream oil & gas software modelling for reservoir simulation and production forecasting. Their company is dedicated to diversity in the workplace.

2016 Stats Reveal Women in Australia’s Resources on the Rise

The number of women directly employed across Australia’s resource industry has seen its biggest quarterly increase in eight years – an encouraging result as resource employers focus on diversifying their workforces for greater competitiveness.

Tara Diamond, executive director of the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) says areas of the industry that are traditionally dominated by men should be the focus of diversity-savvy employers.

“The statistics indicate that despite market challenges impacting the workforce structures of many Australian resource organisations, employers remain committed to prioritising their diversity strategies in recognition of the positive impact diversity has on organisational performance and competitiveness,” Ms Diamond said.

“Although total employment in the industry has experienced some fluctuations over the past few years, we can only hope this positive boost in women employed in our industry keeps momentum.”

Latest Labour Force Data figures revealed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed the number of women working in the resources sector has jumped by 8,000 to a total of 38,600 (or 17.17% of the workforce) in the three months to May 2016. This compared to a decrease of 6,600 men employed in resources to now sit at 185,800. The total number of people now employed in the industry is 224,400.

This is a great improvement since ABS data stats back in 2014, when the resources industry fell from 15.5% of the total workforce to 13.9%, and there were only 37,000 women working across Australia’s mining, oil and gas sectors.

The ‘exploration and other mining support services’ sector gained the most female employees, increasing from 3,900 to 8,900. This was followed by the coal mining sector, which employed 1,800 more women to reach 5,700 and the oil and gas sector which employed around 1,200 women to reach 5,900. Women remained most prominently employed in metal ore mining, with this sector increasing its female workforce numbers by 1,250 to 12,300. Encouragingly for an industry that has traditionally low part-time employment compared to the all industries average, the number of part-time workers gained ground lost over the year by rising from 3,700 to 6,600 (or to almost 3% of the workforce) in the quarter. The vast majority of these new roles are occupied by women.

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Indigenous women working in the mining, oil and gas industries at the annual Indigenous Women in Mining WA conference in Perth. Image Source: ABC.

Australian Indigenous Women Supported in Resources Sector

Australia’s Indigenous women are also leading the charge in the resources sector, thanks to initiatives such as the annual Australian Indigenous Women in Mining conference run by AIWIM, a voluntary, not-for-profit group that promotes and supports Indigenous Australian women in the mining and resources sector. The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia’s Chief Executive Reg Howard-Smith stated:

“The resources sector is proud to be the largest private sector employer of Indigenous Australians in Western Australia, with Indigenous Australians making about 4.2% of the sectors workforce. Initiatives such as the AIWIM Conference are a great example of industry leading the charge in promoting greater workforce diversity”.

Keeping on top of statistics and identifying this breakdown will assist in gaining an understanding and formulating key strategies to address the main issues facing female workforce participation, and thereby inform and develop strategies to increase opportunities for women.

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Pictured: Farnoosh Mirzaee, senior petroleum engineer & technical consultant at upstream Oil & Gas software & modelling company Stochastic Simulation. Read her interview with The Australian Oil Gas Review.

Retaining Female Employers: What do Women Want?

Retaining women is also an issue. Achieving a work/life balance is important to women in the industry, where flexible work schedules, health insurance and other family policies (as well as professional development or advancement training) are considered important. Adding more flexibility to working arrangements in Australia’s oil and gas industry will lead to an increase in gender diversity.

However, for some, flexibility has not been too much of an issue. Farnoosh Mirzaee, Senior Petroleum Engineer at Stochastic Simulation, says her experience of working in the oil and gas industry has been a positive one without any restrictions. In her advice to other women considering employment in the industry, she says:

“Maybe the public’s understanding of petroleum engineering is that they have to work in the field away from home and work long hours, which is not always appealing to women, especially if they have a family and kids. However, the reality is that there are many different disciplines within petroleum engineering where working in a field is not part of the role. It’s simply about educating people and offering insight into the many career routes that can be taken” she says.

Nonetheless, companies should be encouraged to think differently about people management and employment models.  According to CMEAWA (The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia), there are just some of the proven strategies to promote greater gender diversity at all levels of their organisation:

  • Providing flexible working arrangements for male and female employees, such as part time options, flexible start and finish times or enabling employees to work from home.
  • Encouraging women to return to work after having children and removing cultural and organisation barriers to foster this return.
  • Providing career development for female employees to encourage the progression of female talent through the business to management levels.

Other major factors that encourage women to quit or to stay in the industry are:

  • Children – Some women may feel that having kids could stop their career, or that they have to choose between family and career. Maternity leave, flexible work arrangements, access to childcare, or even on-site childcare can help with this.
  • Lack of advancement – Particularly for older women, some positions represent advancement that are only available at the beginning of a career. Companies must re-evaluate their executive ranks’ female talent.
  • Hostile workplace – Some females may feel loneliness and exclusion in a male-dominated workplace, if they don’t receive an invitation to male-centric activities such as golf or fishing, or are made to feel like they shouldn’t be there.

The overall key is flexibility to create a win-win situation for both worker and employer.

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Pictured: Women work in oil rigs too. A group of Cairn Energy workers posing together. Source: India Economic Times

 

Supportive Programs, Clubs, Not-For-Profits:

While the industry is in a downturn, the market often bounces back. Hiring is still occurring nonetheless, although there are more layoffs than new hires this time around. With all this said, what specific  programs are running to encourage women to join the resources workforce?

There are plenty of programs available in Australia to encourage women to succeed in any profession, including trades and careers in oil and gas.

  • Society of Professional Women in Petroleum: http://www.spwp.org – A non profit organisation that was formed to support professional career women in the petroleum industry through technology and information. They have monthly breakfast meetings and special seminars, covering all aspects of drilling and production operations. Their membership consists of women who have active careers in oil related fields, such as engineering, geology sales, research, finance, law, quality assurance, purchasing, advertising and marketing.
  • Petroleum Women of Perth http://www.petroleumwomenofperth.asn.au – Promoting friendship and hospitality among women who are involved in the petroleum industry or are the partners of men in the industry. They have monthly meetings and offer wide range of club related activities.
  • Women in Technology (Queensland Division): http://www.wit.org.au – WiT is the peak industry body for women in technology and life sciences within Queensland. Their vision is to advance, connect and empower women in technology and life sciences.
  • Women in Technology (Western Australia Division):  http://www.witwa.org.au – WiTWA is a Perth-based, not for profit organisation that provides a framework for women in technology to extend their network and expand on a broad range of professional topics. Their mission is to encourage business change to accommodate diversity and provide a support network for women in technology, science and innovation.
  • Women in Mining & Resources (Queensland): http://www.womeninminingqueensland.com – The WIMARQ is supported by The Queensland Resources Council and is made up of a group of volunteers who provide support, mentoring and encouragement to women who are working in, studying for or taking a break from the minerals and energy sectors. They organise events aimed at bringing together women in all areas of the resources sector including people from the mining exploration, metals processing, oil and gas industries.
  • Women in Oil and Gas http://www.womeninoilandgas.com.au/ – The Women in Oil and Gas (WIOG) is a national organisation founded by Veena Mendez in 2013 that is focused on advancing the interests of women in Australia’s oil and gas sector, as well as promoting diversity. The group offers an opportunity for organisations, associations, and companies to establish sponsorship or business partnerships while promoting their names as growing leaders in Australia’s oil and gas industry. Keep updated with their annual WIOG Mentoring Program which runs over a 6 month period. View their upcoming events here.
  • Women in Engineering http://www.engineersaustralia.org.au/women-engineering – Their mission is to promote diversity in the engineering workforce and culture, and to foster principles of equal opportunity in the engineering profession. They look to attract women of all ages to engineering careers, retain women in engineering, support women throughout their engineering careers and celebrate the achievements of women in engineering. View all their events here. For more information on what Women in Engineering is doing in your region, select below:
  • Western Australian Division: http://www.engineersaustralia.org.au/women-engineering-western-australia 
  • Queensland Division: https://www.engineersaustralia.org.au/women-engineering-queensland
  • Canberra Division: http://www.engineersaustralia.org.au/canberra-division/women-engineering-canberra 
  • Newcastle Division: https://www.engineersaustralia.org.au/newcastle-division/women-engineering 
  • Sydney Division: https://www.engineersaustralia.org.au/women-engineering-sydney
  • Victoria Division: https://www.engineersaustralia.org.au/women-engineering-victoria
  • South Australia Division: https://www.engineersaustralia.org.au/south-australia-division/women-engineering-sa
  • The Australian Women in Resources Alliance (AWRA): http://www.amma.org.au/help/awra – The AWRA is a national workforce gender diversity initiative facilitated by expertise, knowledge and the highly regarded reputation of AMMA. The AWRA is dedicated to building women’s workforce participation in the resource, allied and related construction sectors to 25% by 2020. They are dedicated to drive business productivity and innovation through integrating a diverse mix of skills.
  • The Australian Indigenous Women in Mining: http://www.aiwim.com – A voluntary, not-for-profit group that promotes and supports Indigenous Australian women in the mining and resources sector.
  • Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) “Women in Engineering – WA”: http://www.speuwa.org/women-in-engineering/ – Features presentations from successful and inspirational female engineers, as well as provides an opportunity for women undertaking an engineering degree to network and form relationships with others in similar career pathways.
  • Steel Heels: https://www.steelheels.com.au/– Steel Heels was founded by Sharon Warburton, the 2014 Telstra WA Business (Woman of the Year and the 2015 NAB Women’s Agenda Mentor of the Year).  Their vision is to increase the self confidence of professional working women. Sharon has extensive experience in the creation of diversity strategies and is able to facilitate and participate in your strategic planning sessions management workshops or staff meetings.

Universities across Australia also provide numerous programs and initiatives aimed at encouraging women to join Australia’s resources industry, with some offering scholarships specific for women in engineering (including financial aid and internship opportunities).  One university program in WA that has gained particular momentum is Girls in Engineering, a program delivered by The University of Western Australia (UWA) with support from Rio Tinto. The program aims to engage secondary school girls in the world of science and engineering and to inspire girls to consider engineering as a career path. In addition, many universities have their own clubs which run diversity events on campus for networking and support for women and people of all races.

Have I missed any helpful websites or any other information for above that are Australia-focused? Comment below and I’ll add them in here.

Featured Image: Women in Engineering course graduate on-site at Challanger Tafe’s simulated oil and gas plant.

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Written by Tahnee Arlt, a newcomer to the upstream Oil & Gas industry. She is the Digital Content & Marketing Specialist at Stochastic Simulation; a provider of fast, scalable and fully integrated modelling solutions & services for the upstream Oil & Gas industry. Discover what complex problems they could predict and solve for you, visit www.stochasticsimulation.com or contact +61 8 9446 2099 for more information.

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