Odd Woman Out
Women have made impressive strides in the energy sector over the last few decades. And yet, some still feel they are pushing back against the notion that women and oil don’t mix
Women have made impressive gains from one generation to the next in the oil industry. But some feel they are dealing with acceptance issues in the sectors that are still so male-dominated
AMANDA BRAUER was preparing for a routine meeting in a downtown Calgary boardroom when she struck up a conversation with a male peer whom she’d never met. Brauer*, an engineer of 1.5 years, wasn’t wearing her engineer’s ring—a key identifier for those in the profession. At some point in the conversation, after describing her position to him, he made a comment that she found peculiar: “You don’t look like an engineer,” he said.
To some, the comment might sound innocuous. Even Brauer brushes it off as perhaps a clumsy choice of words. But the encounter is representative of the kind of subtle, often condescending treatment that women in the energy sector can face— that is, an attitude that is not necessarily overtly sexist, but rather offhandedly dismissive. As another woman put it, it’s like being treated as a “woman first, engineer second.”
The Canadian oil patch has come a long way in the last 30 years when it comes to its inclusiveness of women. Men no longer raise their eyebrows at the notion of female executives or board members, and the Calgary Petroleum Club has stopped being a stuffy establishment exclusively for old, white men (although it is still a bit stuffy). And yet, where overt sexism has mostly disappeared, it has sometimes just been replaced by something quieter.
For this story, Alberta Oil spoke with numerous women in the energy sector, both young and old, about their experiences in the industry. While their individual experiences varied significantly, an undeniable sentiment persists for each. Namely, that women still feel the need to conform to the unspoken rules and expectations of a world created by men—and that they need to be twice as smart, and twice as loud, to get noticed. Most problematic of all, they see these circumstances restricting their ability to fully realize their career ambitions. Despite appearing to make significant progress over the last few generations, the business of energy remains a man’s world. The lingering question is: Have things really improved as much as we like to think?
THE MOST GLARING PROBLEM WOMEN
in the sector face is that there are so few of them compared to men. This is especially true in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Women accounted for an average of 17 percent of Canada’s newly licensed engineers at the end of 2014, according to Engineers Canada. In Alberta, the average was slightly higher at 18.3 percent. But that number falls away over time. Only about 12 percent of practicing, or experienced, engineers in Canada are women. That was