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?


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

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