Advice that a leadership exercise offered women in the oil industry might apply equally as well to men.
That’s what Elise Bouchner of Excelerant suggested this week after reviewing the results of the 90-minute “leadership event” held at the Louisiana Gulf Coast Oil Exposition, held Oct. 27-29.
The program focused on women in the oil industry, how they might succeed and how companies might retain them.
“The general consensus is that women want to stay in the industry,” Bouchner said. “At a time like now, as people depart the industry, you don’t want to lose women, who add to the diversity of thought.”
But Bouchner said suggestions that Excelerant, which ran the program, developed from participants’ conversations were applicable to men in most cases.
Advice for women in energy
For example, Excelerant offered these suggestions for women in the industry: Decide what you want and make a plan to get there; own what you know and admit to what you don’t; develop your professional and leadership skill set; build strong relationships; and be a risk taker.
“The same advice you would give to women, applies to men, as well,” Bouchner said. But how participants receive that information may differ.
For example, participant Pam Mouton of Atchafalaya Measurements said she had to be encouraged to take more risks, which include pursuing open positions for which she did not possess every required skill.
“I’m an accountant, so I am risk averse,” she said. There might be 10 skills identified for filling an open position, and she said she would feel uncomfortable if she lacked any one them.
“Men might say ‘I’ve got three of the 10’ and apply,” she said, adding that advice from the session that resonated with her was that you didn’t have to have every skill; you could develop some while learning the new position.
“Women sometimes think they need 100 percent of the skills necessary,” Deidre Toups, president of HB Rentals, said. “That’s not the case. If you have 60 or 70 percent, you are able to learn on the fly just like men are.”
How to retain women in energy
Once women make the climb to management, Excelerant suggests, they might take these five pieces of advice gleaned from the session to keep women in the workforce in their companies: Capitalize on capabilities; build talent, don’t buy it; talk about work-life balance; consider women for safety matters; make it known you value diversity of thought.
Greg Stutes of Completion Specialists Inc., one of the quarter of the participants who were men, said that last piece of advice is especially important. He said working for Conoco awakened him to the value of embracing and encouraging diverse workforces.
“You want to capitalize on everyone’s capabilities — race, gender and beyond,” he said. “You want to look for people who can contribute and apply their skills and talents and work toward a goal.”
But women have a “different set of challenges than men” in oil and gas, he said. Working in a male-dominated work setting, he said, “some might sell themselves short.”
Stutes said oil industry companies have learned, or are learning, to embrace diversity. If they don’t, he said, it may be as hard to retain women as it is to retain men.
Finding the right mentors
Part of the challenge might be in finding the right mentors, building the right workforce relationships and finding your place in the organization.
Mouton said she is at mid-career now, and while she still seeks mentors, she also looks for opportunities to mentor others. But she said she has learned to not limit mentors by gender or age.
“Sometimes older workers might not be as forthcoming, but younger people are,” she said.
Bouchner said companies can build leadership streams and retain emerging leaders, women included, by fostering the right company culture. That includes companies that are people-centered, providing leadership and development opportunities.
“It goes back to mentorships,” she said. “Most women, and most men, will tell you someone tapped them on the shoulder and told them ‘you’re going to be great at this’ or ‘this assignment is a stretch — but I think you can do it.'”