Fingers cold to the bone and dirt covered nails. The ‘protective’ hard hat constantly slides to one side. Steel cap boots squeeze tight at your feet, yet they remain cold and damp. An image that is not usually associated with a woman in the workplace and yet this scenario is becoming an increased reality.

Visual artist Sue Jane Taylor is no stranger to extreme working environments. She has worked for nearly thirty years recording the lives of workers in the North Sea Oil industry on sites such as Piper Alpha, Piper Bravo and Murchison platform. Sue Jane Taylor describes her offshore experiences as “very emotional and inspiring”. However, amongst the 160 people on board the Murchison platform only 2 others were women. Nevertheless, women today are being encouraged, and are sinking in to all areas of the oil and gas industry.

The rise and recognition of women working in oil and gas is becoming a regular topic of discussion around the world. With women taking high ranking positions amongst their male counterparts in a variety of energy sector roles. This recognition is being used to encourage women to break through the outdated statistics that show men as the top leaders in oil and gas.

A survey undertaken in 2013 by NES Global Talent revealed that 45% of women who work in the oil and gas industry feel that they do not get the same recognition as their male colleagues. The results of the report highlighted that women feel as if they have to prove themselves and therefore work harder than their male equivalents. This is mainly due to the majority of workers in the industry being still, predominantly male.

However, there is an incentive to change this and create a clear career path of opportunity for women in the oil and gas sector. Positively, the report also revealed that 75% of women do feel welcome working in the oil and gas industry and 95% believe that mentors are important for career advancement. More efforts need to be taken in improving the route to employment for women in to the oil and gas market, whether this is through more available graduate schemes or educating others of the great opportunities that the sector can provide.
As the oil and gas industry evolves due to advanced technologies, in turn there needs to be a skilled workforce to support this dynamic change. Without the closing of this concerning gender gap, the industry could miss out on leading engineers and a varied workforce that could ultimately be the key to providing solutions for industry clients and partners. Out of the 275 women that took part in the report 42% said they were neither a mentor nor a mentee. This could be the root of the problem as there appears to be a lack of female representatives for the oil and gas working industry. However, this can be argued with the lack of women finding places at a Chief Executive level.
A Scandinavian woman, Petra Einarsson was promoted to head of the materials and technology division at Sandvick AB in 2013. Since then she has promoted the importance of entry-level recruitment for women. It was recorded that out of 145 Nordic large-cap companies only 3% had a woman as Chief Executive, compared with 5% of the US. Fortune 500. Sadly these Nordic countries are not alone in these statistics. A recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers in association with the Women’s Oil Council looked at the 100 largest oil companies in the world and found that only 11% of board seats were in fact, held by women.

Although these facts and figures suggest an excessive gender gap, there are companies who are tackling the issue head on. One main company who has gone to great lengths to welcome a female workforce and to support its current employees is global oil giant, Shell. Two female employees of Shell recently won awards for their talents at the esteemed Asian Women of Achievement Awards on 4 June 2014 in London. In 2012 (Kuwait) Shell also played a dominant part at the International Professionals in Energy Conference for the first time in the GCC countries. The theme of “Empowering Women’s Leadership” ran throughout the conference with Shell shedding light on its global policy to encourage women into the oil and gas sector. Shell now has a “Women Career Development Program” which is an internal training program that helps with the difficulties and the different transitions that go with a career in oil and gas. This in itself is a positive development because 82% of women that were asked in the NES Global Talent survey said they plan to stay in the oil and gas industry for the next 2 to 5 years. This percentage is shown to be urgently needed as reports show an industry skill shortage. A recent paper by Twenty Recruitment Group documented that a forecast of 1.3 million positions need to be filled in the US oil and gas sector over the next 15 years, just 14 per cent are expected to be filled by women.

At ADIPEC 2014 the encouragement continues as female leaders from the Middle East take time to raise the topic and share their experiences of working in a male dominated industry. Women who have cultural challenges to overcome may find it even harder to break into senior positions. The landmark event at ADIPEC 2014 offers valuable insights on these challenges faced by women leaders in the energy sector.

This is a first for the Abu Dhabi International and Petroleum Exhibition and Conference, in time to celebrate its 30th anniversary. There will be a series of events dedicated to women in the oil and gas industry. Prior to and during ADIPEC 2014, ladies can look forward to the opportunity of meeting with industry peers, in an exclusively female environment, discussing the future role of women in the energy arena. The main onsite gathering will take place on the 11th of November at the official event.

Conference Director Claire Pallen said, “We are very excited to be hosting an official series of Women in Industry events as part of ADIPEC 2014. We are dedicated to engaging with and creating a community for women working within the oil and gas sector, whether that be engineers, administration personnel, or senior managers.”

There is no doubt that the oil and gas industry itself is an industry which demands a diverse range of skills and expertise. Without this, there is a lack of innovation and design which are both considered desirable aspects in the employment of oil and gas workers. However, there is still a long way to go before breaking this gender gap. With a recent survey conducted by BP and Rigzone showing that a large 72% of industry professionals said that they believed that the sector is still male-dominated. Nevertheless there are still those 45% of women who feel welcomed in the industry today.

Additionally, with the involvement of companies like Shell and the coming together of industry professionals at the ADIPEC Women in Industry Conference, there can be a slow but significant movement in attracting women to the oil and gas industry. Essentially, making sure that energy companies do not miss out on any untapped talent that future female employees may have to offer.