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Photo: Castlen Moore Kennedy, then manager of government affairs at Apache and a grad student at UT-Austin, sits in the car she retrofitted to use natural gas on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010, in Houston. According to a recent Census Bureau report, the percentage of women in information technology jobs stands at about 25 percent. Meanwhile, the WEF estimates that women comprise fewer than 20 percent of the energy industry’s global workforce, a number that drops to between 10 and 15 percent in senior levels of management. ( Mayra Beltran / Houston Chronicle )
The “day without women” strike will attract many headlines on International Women’s Day. But thousands of other women, myself included, will be focused on a more overlooked but equally important cause: the gender gap in America’s energy industry.
The World Economic Forum last year singled out the energy industry when it published disturbing numbers on the industry’s gender gap and issued a call to action to close it for good. Twenty-two energy CEOs endorsed that call.
But where is the public outcry? In short, it’s about a lack of appeal.
Energy doesn’t receive the attention and interest of industries such as technology or finance. There is no energy-sector equivalent of “The Wolf of Wall Street” or “The Social Network.” Our diversity problems are overlooked.
On International Women’s Day, it’s time we change that perception.
According to a recent Census Bureau report, the percentage of women in information technology jobs stands at about 25 percent. Meanwhile, the WEF estimates that women comprise fewer than 20 percent of energy’s global workforce, a number that drops to between 10 and 15 percent in senior levels of management.
Many don’t understand the energy industry’s scope and the vital role it plays in our daily lives (Hint: You can’t use your iPhone without energy).
I’m a proud second-generation “veteran” in the oil and gas industry. After working nearly 15 years in large multinational companies across the value chain, I am in love with the industry and have made it my life’s work to encourage girls to study STEM subjects to enter the industry and to help women in the sector advance.
My industry isn’t perfect. We’ve had catastrophic accidents. We’ve made mistakes. And we generally have done a mediocre job at engaging the public and telling our story. In some ways, we are like that really smart geek in high school who is brilliant, but socially awkward.
Maybe that’s why the rest of America doesn’t pay attention to our industry’s gender gap.
Energy is important, and I believe women can shape and improve the narrative. My industry is going through a time of significant change. Over the past few years, prices have dropped to multi-decade record lows, prompting hundreds of thousands of layoffs. Women and minorities in the energy workforce have been hit particularly hard. These same people are those who are bringing diverse views on how we can do business in an efficient and sustainable way.
As energy companies begin to recover, it’s critical to make the push for gender parity part of our rebirth.
The Peterson Institute for International Economics last year published a study that analyzed nearly 22,000 companies in 91 countries. It shows a strong link between “the presence of women in corporate leadership positions” and positive “firm performance.” Specifically, profitable firms saw a 15 percent increase in net revenue margin when the number of female leaders was increased from 15 percent to 30 percent.
In addition to the economic benefits, safety and reliability are built upon a culture of diversity and inclusion. The business case for women is clear.
The fact is world energy consumption will increase 48 percent by 2040, and 78 percent of energy needs will be met by fossil fuels, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. So let’s remember what got us here and what continues to enable us to move forward: abundant resources in oil and natural gas.
To drive innovation to co-create an energy future for everyone, we will need more women in energy to usher us into the next era of energy: a reliable, affordable, safe and sustainable one.
While others strike, we will be focused on seeing the broader picture of why diversity and inclusion are important for our global population and the many industries that power our planet. If we can’t move beyond sound bites to see this big picture, our society has some real problems ahead.
P.S.: I hope you read my op-ed on your fully charged iPad next to your freshly brewed coffee in your warm home or office. All of these things are made possible courtesy of energy.
Katie Mehnert, founder and CEO of Pink Petro, a Houston-based professional development company and online professional community.