Shortly after becoming a petroleum landman[1] in 2011, I remember attending my first oil and gas conference. As I looked around the cavernous exhibit hall, I realized I was one of very few women. While I was not intimidated nor did I feel like I had stumbled into a place I didn’t belong, it was still an odd realization. As I attended more con­fer­ences, exhibitions, and seminars, I continued to notice the same scenario. There were few women in attendance and even fewer female speakers and presenters. Where are all the women, I wondered?

Having been a journalist for 20 years before I became a petroleum land­man, my curiosity was piqued. I started researching women’s involvement in the oil and gas industry and was mystified by the lack of information. This was even more surprising to me because it was a female friend who had gotten me started as a landman and, in all my trips to various courthouses around central and south Texas, I had observed a fairly even split between male and female landmen. (Equally as interesting, as it was a career I started at midlife, was the fact that many women were of a “certain age,” as we like to say euphemistically.) I quickly discovered that parity definitely was not the norm throughout the industry.

When I read a 2011 interview with the male CEO of an explor­ation and production company, in which he was quoted as saying, “I don’t think I can name a CEO of an oil and gas company that is a woman,” (Stonington, 2011), I was astounded! The more research I did, the more I came to think of these women as “invisible,” even within the industry itself. Certainly they exist, but few people seem to know who they are.

This book is not about male-bashing (us vs. them) nor is it meant to be exclusionary – almost without exception, the women inter­viewed mentioned having a male mentor – but the numbers don’t lie. Women make up nearly 47% of the workforce in America (and simi­lar percen­tages in many other countries),[2] but according to a report by IHS Global, Inc. (2016) for the American Petroleum Institute (API), they comprise only 17% of the total employment in the combined oil and gas and petro­chemical industries. The Petroleum Equipment & Services Association (PESA) Gender Diversity Study (Accenture, 2018) puts the figures at 15% of entry-level hires and 18% of experienced hires. Based on public awareness and exposure, you would think it is even less. It is important to hear more of these women’s voices, see them quoted and interviewed in the media more frequently, and feature them at industry events, where often there is not a single woman among the guest speakers. Currently, there is a campaign to encourage diversity on speaking panels by eliminating “manels” (all-male panels).

Originally, when I began writing this book, I envisioned it as a broad overview of women’s contributions to the industry. However, once I started interviewing women for the offshore chapter, it took on a life of its own and I realized it deserved to be a separate book, profiling some of the elite group of women who comprise a mere 3.6% of the offshore workforce (Oil & Gas UK, 2017). Pat Thomson, who worked as a materials and logistics supervisor until she was 72 – and dreams of returning offshore at nearly 74 – was the first woman I interviewed and it was her incredible story that was the inspiration for this book.

Not only is there a need to encourage more women to join the energy industry as a whole, there is just as great a need to create awareness of the women who have led and are continuing to lead the way. I am in awe of the women featured within these pages – many of whom have achieved firsts in their fields – and am so appreciative that they have entrusted me with their stories. I hope I have done them justice and that readers will be as inspired by them as I have been. While this book is not a comprehensive or exhaustive look at women in the offshore oil and gas industry, hopefully, it will be a step toward documenting their contributions to the genealogy of our industry.

It was difficult to decide how to arrange the interviews, as there is some chronological overlap in many of the stories. It also is not possible to present them according to region, as the oil and gas sector is a world­wide industry, and many women work outside their home countries in a variety of locations over the course of their careers, becoming world travelers in the process. And so we begin with Margaret McMillan, who, at 95, is the matriarch of the book, and the creator of many of the water safety programs, which all offshore person­nel are required to pass prior to going offshore, and which have greatly improved the personal safety of the intrepid women – and men – who work offshore. I want to close with Ocean Engineering major (Class of ‘17) Alyssa Michalke’s inter­view because I believe she is representative of the face and voice of the new generation of the female offshore workforce.

Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC; 2015) released a survey in which 57% of female millennials polled stated they would avoid working in a business sector that had a negative image, including the oil and gas industry, further underscoring the need to emphasize that women have been involved in this industry from the very beginning. We are not new to the industry. Women have been involved in the industry just as long as men have (although not in as great numbers). We are a minority but, until there is greater parity, we can be a vocal minority and we can be a visible minority.

It has been said, if we forget the past, we are destined to repeat our mistakes. I think it is equally important to remember the past so we can emulate our successes. I believe if girls – and women – are aware that they have had a history in the oil and gas industry, it will enable them to envision a future in it as well.

– Rebecca Ponton
February 2019

[1] In its simplest definition, “landman” refers to a man or woman who runs title to determine mineral ownership in a property.

[2] Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics (2017)

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