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Last year Deb Ryan, who runs the Denver office of energy consulting firm Sproule, got a request from a young engineer. His girlfriend was moving up to join him in Denver. She also works in the energy field, so he wondered whether Deb could help her get involved in some of the women’s energy networks.
“Sure,” she responded. “But you should come to those meetings too.”
He seemed uncomfortable, imagining being the only man in a room full of professionals. That’s when Deb pointed out that it’s the same scenario she experiences all the time — just with the genders reversed.
Helping people develop consciousness of just how few women there are in the energy sector is an important part of making progress. And Deb is committed to using her platform to help advance gender equality and diversity in the sector.
That’s part of what she’ll discuss in her remarks at The Energy 2.0 Forum March 10 in Denver.
As an engineer herself — her title is senior manager of engineering — Deb has paved a career in a particularly male-dominated role of a male-dominated industry. She has also bucked a trend in which large numbers of women leave the engineering field due to the culture.
She fell in love with engineering as a child in Australia, and pursued a chemical engineering degree at a university in Perth. Then, an elective class on gas reservoir engineering inspired a passion for the energy industry, and she never looked back. “I really loved fluid flow, fluid mechanics,” she says. “It’s fascinating.”
Unfortunately, the problems that prevent women from sticking with the field — and that often make it tougher for them to work their way up the ranks — are too often taken for granted, Deb says. “You just kind of get used to it, which is the wrong attitude.” It takes continuous work to change the culture and open up doors for women, she says.
Some women are also “in a hurry, particularly the younger generation, to check things off” and start families, she says. And after they take time out in their careers, “because of the state of the energy economy, there aren’t many technical jobs for them to come back to.” And of those who keep working, some leave engineering roles for management roles, which depletes the number of women in technical roles as well.
Through Sproule’s alliance with PetroSkills, Deb is helping teach people the skills necessary to take on such jobs. In December, she traveled to Kuala Lumpur to deliver instruction, and she has an upcoming trip to London. She also has courses coming up in both Houston and Denver.
Through these efforts, Deb is helping grow the pool of skilled professionals of all backgrounds. “How we staff for the future” is an important concern of hers, she says. “I’m always looking for good technical talent.”
Hear from Deb Ryan at The Energy 2.0 Forum in Denver on March 10. For more information, visit energy2dot0.com.