Monday, March 7, 2011

Exposing high school students to new career choices

SSEP 2010 participants, with program staff.
Informed choice is critical when choosing a career. And young women need to know the full range of opportunities that exist, including non-traditional occupations, before making a career decision.

That is the one of the objectives of the Student Summer Employment Program (SSEP), which is presented by Women In Science and Engineering Newfoundland and Labrador (WISE-NL).

SSEP is a summer program for girls in Grade XI, who are interested in exploring careers in science and engineering. The work includes social activities, workplace tours, networking opportunities and firsthand exposure to career options. Approximately 700 women from all over the province have participated in the program, since it was created in 1990.

“The main reason we target girls aged 16 to 17 is to try to catch them before they make any big decisions about their post-secondary education,” said Holly Baker, Program Administrator for the SSEP. “It’s a paid summer internship where the girls actually work in real research labs with scientists. At that age, they are able to contribute and also gain from the experience. It’s a good opportunity for them to explore more of the reality of working in science and engineering, because they are seeing and experiencing it every day.”

Applications are not accepted based strictly on aptitude, Holly said.

“We do ask for their grades when they apply, but that’s more to know they are registered for school and plan to continue their education. Mostly, we base acceptance on whether or not they are interested in science and engineering. Even if they are not doing the best in their high school courses, that does not necessarily dictate how you will do in those courses in the future. We’ve even accepted girls who say, ‘I don’t think it’s for me but I want to give it a try’.”

Holly Baker
Efforts are made to reach and enroll students in rural areas, Holly explained. “A lot of rural schools and communities might not have the same opportunities as ones in St. John’s or Mount Pearl, so we really do reach out as far as we can. A lot of rural schools don’t offer the same variety of science courses as those in urban areas, so we really want to expose them to these other areas of study.”

The program has also been expanded into Labrador, where they were able to deliver the courses on location.

“We’ve always welcomed students from Labrador, who came to St. John’s to work,” Holly said. “But last year, we expanded and were able to find positions with clinics, geology companies, fisheries officers and more, in communities in Labrador, so that students could participate in their own communities.”

Of course, not all students who take the program go on to study science and engineering. Some of the most powerful lessons are what students learn about themselves.

“There are some who come through the program and realize that maybe this is not for them, and that’s fine,” Holly said. “That’s one of the program’s goals – to help a person find their true career path. We try to place students based on what their career interest may be, and sometimes they don’t get their first choice. You can see some who are not too enthused at the start of the program, but then, by midsummer, they’re saying ‘Oh, the coolest thing happened today!’ and they are so into it. It’s a great feeling when they find an interest in something they didn’t even know existed… to see them discover new passions they might have for the rest of their lives.”

Indeed, the SSEP was evaluated in 2008 by the consulting firm Hollett and Sons, who found that the experience was overwhelmingly positive for students.

“Not all of our participants end up in science-related careers,” Holly said. “Approximately 70 percent of graduates end up in science, medicine or engineering. But more to the point, 100 percent said it was a worthwhile experience and would recommend it to others.”

Fueling the Future: Women in Oil and Gas takes place March 8 and 9, 2011 in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It is presented by the Harris Centre, of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Please visit the official conference site, for more information or to register.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

WRDC contributes to gender diversity by “Thinking Forward”

Okay, so you’re an employer in the oil and gas industry. You’ve read the writing on the wall, and are ready to make gender diversity a real priority in your workforce.

Now what? Where do you turn to learn more?

The Women in Resource Development Corporation (WRDC) has just what you’re looking for. It’s called “Thinking Forward: A Practical Guide, Increasing Women’s Participation in the Industrial Workplace”.

It’s a compact handbook, prepared by the WRDC’s Daphne Hart and Meredith Quaile, that will help employers and sub-contractors understand the challenges that women encounter when they are looking for work or working in the natural resource sectors.

“Issues and solutions surrounding recruitment and retention of female labour, as well as ideas to help prepare the industrial workplace for women’s participation, are presented as recommendations and practical checklists for application,” the authors write, in the booklet’s preamble. “The forecasted skilled labour shortage related to trades, technologies and operations in the natural resource sector should be considered as an opportunity for women and industry to move forward together in a new direction.”

Daphne Hart will introduce and explain the booklet to conference delegates during her presentation on March 9.

“One of the things we’ve learned, is what men want and what women want in the workplace are basically the same thing,” Daphne said, in an interview. “Research has shown this. They want an opportunity to hone their skills, feel good about the job they do, be rewarded for it, and feel like they are part of the team.”

Getting to that point can present challenges, however, when the workplace is dominated by one gender.

“There’s much to keep in mind,” Daphne said. “When you hire a woman, make sure when she arrives at the workplace that she knows where to go, who to speak to, that there is someone to meet her and that she knows where everything is. It’s important to prepare the workplace, when women are hired into what was an all-male environment. It's important to involve your male employees. You’ve got to communicate to the men what’s going on, and what your expectations are. Also, address any concerns they may have about women joining the team.  For example, the employer might say: ‘We’ve just hired a carpenter and an electrician. They are both women. They are trained, and we are going to integrate them into the team. We do have a respectful workplace policy in place and we will certainly work together as a team.’ In other words, communication is one of the keys to successful inclusion and integration of women in traditionally male worksites.”

Many positive things are happening in the push to increase women’s participation in non-traditional roles, Hart said, including change from the top down, such as the requirement to include gender diversity plans in developments agreements for major projects. And the numbers of women working in engineering, trades and technology is gradually increasing. However, there is still much work to be done.

“I like to think positively about our challenges, and change does take time,” Daphne said. “But just recently, I was talking with a young woman who is working to become a heavy equipment operator. She approached an employer to ask about possible work opportunities, and he said, ‘No, we don’t hire women.’ And that was four months ago. So it is still out there and unfortunately it still does exist.”

And there are unseen obstacles for women, even after they’ve been in the job for a while.

“I was speaking recently with a female electrician, who works with a large organization, and she’s been there for many years,” Daphne said. “She said to me, ‘I love my work and I do very good work, and have a good rapport with my teammates, but the thing that I find hardest is that, if the team changes or I move to a new team, I have to prove myself all over again.’ This was a very real problem for her. Many women are still fighting this.”

Most often, male workers are unaccustomed to working with females, and unsure of how to conduct themselves within this new dynamic. This can manifest itself in a number of ways, including milder forms of sexual harassment.

“I deliver gender awareness in the workplace training, and I say to people, ‘The men in the workplace are not Hannibal Lecters. They’re not monsters. They go home, volunteer in the community, take their daughters to skating, and so on. But in the workplace, there’s an embedded culture, that’s very traditionally male, because it’s always been that way. I use the following scenarios to demonstrate a point. Let's assume that Joe is a man working on site and he's looking at Melanie, and he's wondering if what he is about to say to Melanie is appropriate, we suggest that Joe do a mind check and ask himself : 'If my wife were standing next to me, or if Melanie's husband were next to her, would I say it then? Or, if this were my daughter or sister, would I want someone to say this to her? So it’s a matter of changing the mindset. Things are changing. Companies really do want an unbiased, gendered workplace. They don’t want any kind of harassment. And it's a wise decision for organizations. It's best to have respectful and harmonious workplaces where both men and women can do their work.”

Today’s organizations have a strong safety culture, Daphne said. “Now, we need to bring gender inclusion up to the same level as our safety awareness, and make it a part of the corporate philosophy and identity.”

Fueling the Future: Women in Oil and Gas takes place March 8 and 9, 2011 in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It is presented by the Harris Centre, of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Please visit the official conference site, for more information or to register.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fueling the Future conference moving to larger venue

The industry is buzzing about “Fueling the Future: Women in Oil and Gas”, an international conference scheduled for March 8 and 9, in St. John’s.

Advance registrations have been so successful that the original venue has sold out. The event is now being moved, from the Delta Hotel to the St. John’s Convention Centre.

“There’s been tremendous interest in Fueling the Future,” said Michael Clair, Associate Director (Public Policy) with the Harris Centre, which is presenting the conference. “This has been expressed in calls and emails we’ve received, and reflected in the registrations we’ve booked, which exceeded our own, fairly optimistic expectations. This indicates that the oil and gas industry is committed to increasing women’s participation in non-traditional occupations.”

However, a number of supply and service companies have yet to register, said conference spokesperson, Caron Hawco, Communications Lead, with Statoil Canada Ltd.

“Some supply companies have registered, but we’d like to see more,” Hawco said. “This conference will be of particular interest to companies in the supply sector, who will find the conference program very helpful in working with operators to develop their own diversity plans.”

Oil and gas operators are required to include diversity strategies in their development agreements, and most will expect the same of the suppliers they hire, Hawco added.

Keynote speakers include Sara N. Ortwein, President, ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company; Hege Marie Norheim, Senior Vice President, Statoil; Catherine MacGregor, President, Schlumberger Wireline; Dr. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, President, Centre for Work-Life Policy; and the Honourable Joan Burke, Minister of Education, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Fueling the Future will feature more than 40 presenters, from industry, government, post-secondary institutions, non-governmental organizations and academia. The conference will highlight employment trends and best practices, explore challenges facing women in the oil and gas industry, and suggest changes that will improve the participation of women in oil and gas.

Fueling the Future: Women in Oil and Gas takes place March 8 and 9, 2011 in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It is presented by the Harris Centre, of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Please visit the official conference site, for more information or to register.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Statistics tell the painful truth about women’s employment

Daphne Hart
In 2009, for the first time, women outnumbered men in the Canadian workforce.

That’s according to Statistics Canada, which reported that women averaged 50.6 percent of Canada’s 14 million waged or salaried workers, in the first half of 2009.

So, if women are so under-represented in non-traditional occupations, where are they working?

The answers are not encouraging.

“Women still make up about 70 per cent of part-time workers and 60 per cent of minimum wage earners,” according to an article in The Toronto Star, citing the same StatsCan data. “Forty per cent are employed in precarious jobs that are generally poorly paid with little or no job security or benefits such as pensions. And the average full-time, full-year female worker still earns just 71.4 cents for every dollar earned by a man working similar hours, according to the latest Statistics Canada data from 2007.”

And it gets worse, according to research conducted by Dr. Gordon Cooke, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Business at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Dr. Cooke was co-investigator on an in-depth study of the same StatsCan information. He found that lower-waged earners are less likely to receive employer-provided training – and thus face additional challenges in advancing to higher-quality jobs. Within this lower-paid, under-educated group, Dr. Cooke found that females have less access to training than males; not due to discrimination, but because women are so over-represented in poor quality employment. The odds are simply stacked against them.

The statistics don’t lie. In fact, they tell a painful truth.

And a new booklet, published by Women in Resource Development Corporation (WRDC), offers some interesting provincial numbers. “Thinking Forward: A Practical Guide, Increasing Women’s Participation in the Industrial Workplace” offers a wealth of information and tools for industrial employers and subcontractors, aimed at enhancing gender diversity in the workplace. (There will be more about this booklet in a future blog entry.)

“Thinking Forward” offers some startling data, drawn from a number of sources. For example, 36 percent of all employed women in the province work in low-paying, traditional jobs, such as administrative (99 percent women), childcare and home support (94 percent), cashier (89 percent), clerical (75 percent) and retail sales (65 percent).

On the other hand, just two percent of all employed women in the province work in high-paying, non-traditional jobs. This would include transportation (eight percent women), contractors/supervisors (six percent), construction (four percent), heavy equipment operators (two percent), and machinists/metal forming (one percent). As well, women represent just three percent of apprentices in non-traditional trades.

Clearly, a preponderance of women are squeezed into a ghetto of low-paying jobs, that offer little opportunity for advancement.

However, this is not to suggest that women don’t have options. “Thinking Forward” also includes projections on employment opportunities in the near future, due to existing and upcoming industrial projects, such as Hebron, Vale-Long Harbour, IOC, Lower Churchill and others. Potential employment demand for these projects is expected to peak at 9,000 jobs, between 2014 and 2106. That’s a lot of opportunity.

Indeed, there may even be time for women to make major career shifts, take training in any number of trades or occupations, and seize these opportunities.

“The forecasted skilled labour shortages and the peak employment demand associated with the province’s large scale projects mean that opportunities exist for the women of our province,” said Daphne Hart, Industry Liaison with the WRDC. “Now is a great time to consider a career in a non-traditional occupation. Trades and technology careers are good options – they are well paid, often unionized, offer self-employment potential and high job satisfaction. It is important to ensure that the women of Newfoundland and Labrador, along with our men, are major beneficiaries of these projects.”

There are a number of programs and services out there, intended to assist and support women interested in entering non-traditional careers. Here are some of them:

Orientation to Trades and Technology (OTT)
A WRDC program that gives women practical experience in natural resource-based industries. It provides a safe and supportive environment for women to explore trades and technology training programs.

Try the Trades
A skilled trades mentoring program, offered by the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, that offers the opportunity for adults, age 18 to 39, to experience skilled trades. Participants spend up to four weeks on a construction site – safety equipment and training is provided – and receive a generous stipend for doing so.

Camp Glow
A fire fighting camp for women 17 and over, to learn about the fire service, develop confidence and explore a possible career change. Offered by the WRDC.

Trades Work for Me
Loads of information about careers in the construction trades offered by the Long Harbour Employers Association and the Resource Development Council. The project can provide financial support for apprenticeable and non-apprenticeable trades.

Fueling the Future: Women in Oil and Gas takes place March 8 and 9, 2011 in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It is presented by the Harris Centre, of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Please visit the official conference site, for more information or to register.

Monday, February 21, 2011

There’s no glass ceiling at PF Collins

Susan Collins.
One of the business leaders presenting at Fueling the Future is Susan Collins, of PF Collins International Trade Solutions.

PF Collins was established 90 years ago as a customs brokerage firm, but has expanded and diversified its service offerings through the years. The company provides freight, customs, warehouse & distribution, marine agency and immigration consulting services from locations in St. John’s, Halifax and Calgary. They are recognized logistics specialists in the offshore oil and gas industry.

Susan will discuss the role of women in the global logistics industry, and will recount the stories of the women who work at PF Collins.

At the global level, women occupy just 20 percent of management positions in the logistics sector, according to a 2008 gender equity study by the SSM Group. “In the majority of logistics companies worldwide, more than 70 percent of the workforce is male,” Susan said, in an interview.

However, PF Collins is a notable exception to this rule.

“There are 46 women and 39 men employed at PF Collins, so about 55 percent of our staff are female,” she said. “As well, our management team has more women than men holding key positions in a variety of disciplines.”

At PF Collins, women occupy leadership roles in customs brokerage, freight forwarding, quality assurance, health safety and environment, human resources, immigration consulting, administration, and marketing and sales.

They arrived at those positions through a lot of hard work, with support and encouragement from their employer. Most of the women who are now in management positions started out in clerical and administrative assistant roles. However, unlike many other women in the logistics industry, they did not run into the proverbial ‘glass ceiling’ as they worked to enhance their skills and increase responsibility. “In so doing,” Susan explained, “they gained confidence in themselves, which translated into our clients having confidence in the firm.”

PF Collins has always been very big on education, Susan said. “Most of the women in senior management roles have been with us for more than 30 years. They started off in administrative support positions and worked their way up, doing a lot of specialized training that is unique to this industry. We try to match the training we provide to the interests and talents of the individual, enabling these women to work in the parts of the business that appeal to them the most. Education is the big thing. We’ve come a long way and we've certainly developed a terrific team, getting women up to the table and making decisions.”

The investment in training and promoting women has paid off, Susan added.

“I think women bring some very valuable skills to the logistics industry,” she said. “Certainly at PF Collins, we’ve benefited from their focus on developing client relationships, their attention to great customer service and their eye for managing all those important details.”

Traditionally, logistics has been regarded as a masculine field, Susan said. “You're talking about arranging cranes and forklifts to hoist big industrial equipment onto trucks, planes and ships. All those ‘ugly’ details like truck dimensions and load capacity, cargo capacity on aircraft and vessels – where you have to think about mechanical and technical challenges about freight movement and really know your business – the cargo, the carriers and how you're going to come up with the best way to get that piece of equipment where it needs to be.”

At PF Collins, these challenges are being faced by women. “It might not be typical for women to deal with these matters, but here, at PF Collins, they are dealing with them every day. And they're very good at it. They've certainly proven that they can get in there and get the job done on a completely level playing field with their male counterparts in our industry.”

In her presentation at the conference, Susan plans to highlight some of the women who hold management positions at PF Collins, working in a non-traditional industry where their unique skills have made a huge contribution to the company's success.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The business case for hiring – and retaining – women

Lianne Lefsrud

Yes, it would be nice to see more women enter careers in trades, technology, science and engineering.

But there’s an even bigger challenge: keeping them.

That’s according to Lianne Lefsrud, of the Canadian Centre for Women in Science, Engineering, Trades & Technology (WinSETTCentre).

Lianne will be presenting ‘Putting Fuel in the Tank: Best Practices in Promoting Diversity and Innovation’ at Fueling the Future, and has researched and written extensively about women in non-traditional occupations.

Statistics show that the numbers of women entering science, engineering, trades and technology (SETT) have flattened out in recent years, and, in some cases – such as engineering – actually declined, Lianne said, in an interview.

“The largest issue is one of retention,” she said. “As many as 50 percent of qualified women are dropping out of their professions within 10 years. So it’s not just a pipeline issue, where we need to keep people coming in, it’s also a retention issue. We have to keep those trained, talented, educated people in the pipeline, and we’re losing them right now. We have a leaky pipeline. It’s like, ‘Holy crap, what’s going on here?’.”

Research shows that several systemic barriers work, often in combination, to steer women off their non-traditional career paths.

“People talk about work-life balance, and that’s part of it,” Lianne said. “But more than anything, employees need to see a future for themselves. People define success in different ways and, for women, it’s more than work-life balance. It’s imagining what success could look like for them, and how they might work with their bosses, mentors, colleagues and others within an organization, to say ‘how could this work for me?’ ‘How could I get work that’s challenging, that feels like I’m making a contribution, and where my contribution is valued, and people recognize and appreciate it, and I can see where I will be in this organization five or 10 years from now.”

If an employer can create a career path that is more clearly delineated, that can help mitigate other issues that eventually drive women away from their careers, Lianne added.

“More than anything, if a corporation can create that vision, that imagined future, for an individual, they can overcome a whole bunch of things. It solves mentoring problems. It solves work-life problems. For example, if a new parent, with the usual childcare issues, can see that they could be VP of operations five years out, with a plan to get there, that helps. The proactive companies are the ones anticipating that… they’re paying for child care, or providing extra training so women can come in two or three times over the maternity leave, stay connected to the company, keep their skills sharp and still feel involved. I mean, I’ve got two kids, and when you are sitting at home, you feel pretty disconnected from the company. You need to keep those connections alive.”

Yes, a bit of effort is required on the employer’s behalf.  And that’s the whole point of Lianne’s presentation: women are worth it. For more reasons than you might expect; reasons that go beyond social responsibility and have dramatic impacts on the bottom line.

“Our research shows that women’s increased participation and advancement in SETT can bring significant economic benefit to businesses,” Lianne said. “It’s a compelling business case that has been articulated by leaders across all sectors, and supported by research findings. If a company can attract a female employee, there are some pretty powerful reasons why they should work to retain that person.”

Following is the abstract for Lianne’s presentation, ‘Putting Fuel in the Tank: Best Practices in Promoting Diversity and Innovation’:

In an increasingly global and publicly scrutinized industry, the continued success of Canada’s oil and gas industry depends integrally upon its capacity to innovate. Companies are under pressure to attract, retain, and leverage those employees who are most able to fuel their innovation engines. In line with the goal of this conference, the purpose of this presentation is to answer the following questions: How are diversity and innovation linked? The business case: what’s in it for business? What are the challenges specific to technical types like engineers and technologists? What corporate/individual initiatives make a difference? We draw from our experience in industry, regulation, and business research to answer these questions. Our focus will be to share best practices and practical guidance for promoting diversity and innovation by companies, industry associations, and governments.

Fueling the Future: Women in Oil and Gas takes place March 8 and 9, 2011 in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It is presented by the Harris Centre of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Please visit the official conference site, for more information or to register.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

COMPASS sets new direction for female recruitment

John Connors.
Of the many non-traditional occupations in which women are under-represented, which has the lowest participation rate of all?

That unfortunate distinction probably goes to the marine transportation sector, where, on a worldwide basis, just two per cent of employees are female. One Canadian study indicates that, in Canada, the percentage may be a little higher, at around three percent.

“However, in Canada, as elsewhere, the vast majority of women in the marine transportation industry work in catering and housekeeping roles, doing what is traditionally seen as ‘women’s work’,” says John Connors, Executive Manager of the Council of Marine Professional Associates (COMPASS), a marine transportation industry association with membership across Canada. “Therefore, the numbers of women working in non-traditional professional occupations in marine transportation are much lower than the three percent indicates.”

This then, is a story about potential – and this is where the story gets good. The opportunities in marine transportation professional occupations are numerous and quite lucrative. Part of the COMPASS mandate is to spread the word about these opportunities and increase the involvement of women in marine transportation.

COMPASS had its beginnings in 2002, Connors explains, when the Marine Institute of Memorial University and Human Resources Development Canada (now Service Canada) formed the Marine Careers Secretariat (MCS) with a primary role to research and document careers in marine transportation. Connors was chair of MCS and moved over to COMPASS when that association was formed in 2008.

“One of the things that struck me from the beginning was the small number of women involved in marine transportation,” Connors says. “It seemed like an enormous inequity, but also an enormous opportunity, for young women.”

One of the first projects undertaken at MCS was a public perception study of the marine transportation industry in Newfoundland and Labrador. More than 1200 students were interviewed from all regions of the province, along with educators and parents. MCS also undertook a study of national and international supply and demand, in the marine transportation industry, that revealed a large and growing shortage of marine personnel. In Canada, the shortage is aggravated by an aging marine workforce nearing retirement age and new projects requiring additional personnel.

“On the basis of those studies, we held a symposium in 2006 of marine transportation professionals and developed a strategy contained in the 2007 report  In the Same Boat: A Collaboratively Developed Marine Careers Promotion Strategy for Eastern Canada. That report has been referred to as a seminal document, one of the best available in outlining the needs of the sector; and it formed the basis of the action plan that COMPASS has been following.”

Building on In the Same Boat, COMPASS has made promoting careers in marine transportation a key priority – and it has given specific attention to promoting those careers to women. It should be noted here, too, that the oil and gas industry and marine transportation are more than two ships passing in the night. They are in fact, tightly integrated and co-dependent, especially in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Marine transportation is inextricably tied to the offshore oil and gas sector,” Connors said. “All of the supply boats and shuttle tankers are staffed by marine transportation personnel. And many of the people on board the floating installations work in vessel, rather than production, operations.”

As noted, very few of those marine transportation positions are filled by women; but, Connors notes, “the number is increasing, and COMPASS intends to play an integral role in making that number growing at a much faster rate.” COMPASS has taken great care to ensure gender equity in its video and print promotional materials and on its website. A visit to the website reveals “Women in Marine Transportation” as one of the components displayed prominently on the home page. The website also displays 25 profiles of young marine transportation professionals, eleven of them women. 

Promotional brochures and posters have been developed in two formats – generic and female-specific. In January 2010, COMPASS released a Gender Equity Strategy, heralding the development of a long-term action plan for reducing the gender equity disparity in marine transportation professions. The action plan outline was developed with the assistance of COMPASS’s Marine Transportation Gender Equity Committee, which has representation from most major women’s organizations.

“There are marine-related occupations onshore, such as naval architects, systems designers, superintendents, and so on,” Connors says, “but the most critical shortages and the greatest opportunities are at sea, as ships’ officers – mates, captains, and engineers. And if you talk to some of the women who have gone into those occupations, you will be amazed at how excited and enthusiastic they are about their careers. They are great ambassadors for their industry.”

There are longstanding misperceptions about marine transportation that die hard, Connors says. “When people think about ships’ captains, many still think about the old grey-haired guy with the dutch cap. Well, it’s not that way anymore. The marine transportation industry is young, dynamic, and high-tech. It’s possible to become a captain or a chief engineer before age 30. And it’s no longer a matter of being gone for nine or ten months of the year, home for two weeks, then gone to sea again. Those days are gone. Seagoing positions provide equal time off for time worked, and on a regular shift basis, so these young professionals can be at home for six months each year. This kind of lifestyle can be very appealing for women.”

And the salaries, says Connors, are fantastic. “Just a few days ago, I spoke to a young woman who graduated from a marine transportation program at the Marine Institute five years ago. She went to work two days after graduation, she’s now second officer on an oil tanker, and from the first day she went to work she has never earned less than $100,000 a year.”

The old perception about rust buckets, with rustic, unisex bunks, is also a myth, Connors adds. “Today’s ships are well-equipped vessels with modern technology and amenities. They’ve got internet, satellite TV, gymnasiums – some even have spas on board. Most have private cabins, with their own washrooms.”

The industry’s attitudes have also evolved. “There is zero tolerance for any kind of sexist behaviour,” Connors explains. “None of the women I have spoken to who work on ships have ever mentioned any kinds of problems working with men. Their typical response is very positive.”

In fact, misinformation is one of the greatest barriers to women entering marine transportation, and dispelling popular misconceptions is a key focus of the strategy to increase gender diversity.

“Our public perception study found that parents are the primary influencer of their children’s choice of occupations,” Connors explains. “And we know that some parents still question whether they want their daughters to go to sea. They labour under old impressions that are no longer accurate.”

COMPASS is pursuing an action plan that tackles the misperceptions problem from three different angles. “The first is to reach young people directly, the second is to reach educators, and the third is to reach parents and guardians. For youth, we have developed a module on marine transportation careers for inclusion in the high school curriculum, and we will be promoting marine transportation careers through social media such as Facebook. For educators, we’re developing a strategy, associated with the curriculum module, for enhancing awareness of marine career opportunities and benefits.  And for parents, we have developed an advertising program that will run this winter and spring on community cable channels and in regional newspapers.”

COMPASS is also working closely with a number of women’s organizations, such as Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women, the Women in Resource Development Corporation (WRDC), Women in Science and Engineering (WISE NL), the Women’s Policy Office, Women Interested in Successful Employment (WISE), the Canadian Centre for Women in Science, Engineering, Trades, and Technology (WinSETT Centre), and others, to help spread their message to young women.

“Last September we surveyed the first year students enrolling in marine transportation programs at the Marine Institute and the Coast Guard College. I was struck by the response of a woman in her 40’s, now beginning a new career as a ship’s officer, who indicated she had learned about this opportunity though consultation with Women In Successful Employment (WISE). So we know those networks work.”

In a dramatic departure from its traditional image as an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry, Connors says COMPASS expects the marine transportation industry to lead the way in establishing a progressive gender equity program that will set the standard for Canada and provide a template for other industry sectors to follow in its wake.

Fueling the Future: Women in Oil and Gas takes place March 8 and 9, 2011 in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It is presented by the Harris Centre at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Please visit the official conference site, for more information or to register.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Nancy Ann Hart: a trailblazer on the path to diversity

Nancy Ann Hart

Nancy Ann Hart is one of the pioneers for women in non-traditional careers.

A Professional Engineer with an electrical background, she, like all trailblazers, has run into an occasional bump.

She was on her first road trip with Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) Hydro, visiting an operations facility, when she discovered a lavatory conundrum.

“There was no bathroom for women,” Nancy said, in an interview. “I just went about fixing it, by working with the team to designate a women’s bathroom. There was no confrontation or anything. I’m a secure individual but, at the same time, I realized that a young woman who wasn’t as outspoken as I, probably wouldn’t have dealt with it as well.”

That was in 2004, but a lot has changed since then. Nancy earned her professional engineer status, rose to a management position, and started a family.  In the meantime, the Government of NL created a provincial energy corporation, Nalcor Energy, and Hydro became one its key lines of business along with Churchill Falls, Oil and Gas, Lower Churchill Project and Bull Arm Fabrication.

She started in a junior role with NL Hydro, but Nancy is now the Interim Operations Manager of the Bull Arm Fabrication facility, with Nalcor Energy. She has experienced enormous growth and change at the company, and is helping guide its gender diversity policies. Nancy will be bringing the benefit of her experience to the Fueling the Future Conference, in a presentation titled Diversity as a Critical Success Factor for Energy Companies.

“Since starting here in 2003, I became a mother of one and am currently expecting my second child. Being a young female growing up in this industry, the issues of diversity and how women play a role in a large energy company have played a big part in my career and career development,” Nancy said. “And my company has been amazingly supportive of just about every initiative that I ever brought forward. But a lot of times they just said, ‘Wow, we never thought of that’.”

During the 1990s, when gender diversity emerged as an issue, there was very little hiring within NL Hydro. The workforce was static with little turnover. “There were not a lot of new employees, including women, coming in so they didn’t have to deal with maternity leave and issues like that. All that started to change after 2000 and I just happened to be one of the women hired at that time, in a non-traditional role.  In my role I was able to help stimulate that change. So these issues were very real for me early in my career.”

Last year, Nalcor set about developing a diversity management plan, to implement across all five of its lines of business. At the same time, Nancy started researching best practices in diversity for her university studies. It was a perfect match.

“I was able to marry the research I was doing for my MBA with an initiative I was doing here at work,” she said. “That worked out really well! So I did a great deal of research, drawing upon a variety of sources, and found a lot of consistent themes. Many different people were saying similar things about best practices, so I was able to distill the 60 to70 articles I reviewed down to a handful of key themes. When I presented those findings to management, they recognized the same consistent messages from their own research, and it provided them with a good roadmap to proceed.”

Nancy performed a second piece of work for her employer, by recommending the best mechanism to put the diversity plan and resulting procedures into action.

“A large company like Nalcor has well established processes, policies and procedures they follow for corporate planning, accounting strategy, project management, and so on. So I suggested we apply that same process to embark on our diversity strategy. We aren’t reinventing the wheel; we’re using a process that is already familiar to most managers in the company. We’re integrating diversity into the corporate structure and making it another key aspect of what we do, and how we operate.”

In her presentation, Nancy will discuss the short list of best practices that she developed in her research, and the internal process that was used to recognize and address diversity issues. Following is the abstract for her presentation:

Strategic change occurs for a number of reasons - both initiated within the organization and as a result of external pressures. Industries such as financial services have had major change initiatives thrust upon them by corporate governance and financial reporting reforms such as Sarbanes-Oxley. The nature of these corporate governance reforms has been to force senior executives to assure that the financial statements they are presenting to regulators and other stakeholders are correct. Senior management gains comfort through process-mapping the systems and identifying critical factors needed to ensure accuracy and reliability in their financial reporting systems. There is much merit in energy companies applying the same type of rigour and process to diversity management. Too often, diversity is delegated and not owned by senior management. Without a full understanding on how diversity is approached from a process and critical success factor level, executives deal with diversity at too high a level to have real meaning or to effect lasting strategic change within their organization. This presentation will show how energy firms can tactically approach diversity within their organizations. Using their existing core competencies to plan, map and succeed in managing diversity, energy firms can move beyond talking about diversity and instead focus on managing inclusion within the organizations. This presentation will examine good practices towards managing diversity by analyzing the work of other companies and their relative successes, and then use this information to propose a process method to managing diversity. The presentation will also provide a number of strategic and tactical approaches to achieving diversity goals in the energy sector.

Fueling the Future: Women in Oil and Gas takes place March 8 and 9, 2011 in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It is presented by the Harris Centre, of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Please visit the official conference site, for more information or to register.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Stilettos to Steel Toes: A contest with a difference

Michele Tesciuba.

High heels or bootlaces? This is the question that students at many American universities ponder, when they enter the Stilettos to Steel Toes contest.

Stilettos to Steel Toes is an essay contest that prompts young women to think about their full range of career choices. In a nutshell, students write a short essay – up to 350 words long – about the reasons why they might consider entering a non-traditional career.

According to the official web site, the contest encourages students to explore career options, chart their own course, contemplate where a non-traditional career might take them, and “dare to think about all the other possibilities.”

The contest was launched two years ago, by the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) in the U.S., with sponsorship support from Schlumberger. It is open to all sophomore, junior or senior engineering majors who are members of a participating SWE section. Students can win cash prizes, including first, second and third prizes of $1000, $500 and $250 for their SWE section, and an overall best essay grand prize of $2000 along with an expense-paid trip to the SWE National Conference to receive the award.

Here, from the web site, is the topic outline, intended to get students thinking about their subject:

“What kind of footprints do you want to make? 
Does your idea of a non-traditional career include taking on some of the most complex engineering and technical challenges in the world, in the most demanding situations and extreme environments? Or do you have another vision of ‘not just another day in the office.’ In 100- 350 words, tell us where your non-traditional career will take you!”

“The idea is to get students thinking about why they would want to choose an unconventional or non-traditional career,” said Michele Tesciuba, North America Wireline Supply Manager with Schlumberger. “We want to get them thinking outside the ‘shoebox’. We are not trying to push them in one direction or another, just to get them thinking about all the possibilities.”

The contest was launched two years ago as a pilot project, with the participation of three schools. “There was good buy-in and participation in that first year, and schools were very receptive,” Michele explained. “So, in the second year, we expanded to 15 schools, and again, there was a very good response, both in the number and the quality of essays submitted.”

The competition has been such a success that Schlumberger is considering an expansion into Canada.

“We are working with various organizations here to explore how it might work,” Michele said. “We don’t have the equivalent of SWE in Canada, though there are several organizations that promote women in non-traditional careers, so we are looking into that now. The plan is to have it in place in Canada, in time for the next school year, in September. It will be the exact same program, with the same rules and objectives, but it will be administered and promoted in a different way.”

Schlumberger’s support as sponsor is altruistic, to be sure. But it is also more than that. Schlumberger has an interest in encouraging more people to enter the industry, Michele said.

“The oil and gas industry needs engineers: mechanical, chemical, petroleum, electrical engineers, among others, especially in the oil services,” she said. “This contest is definitely a means to raise awareness, but, at the end of the day, we want it to be beneficial to the company as well, in terms of name recognition, the awareness of the type of work the company can provide, and the numbers of talented women we can recruit.”

Michele will tell the story of Stilettos to Steel Toes at the Fueling the Future conference, in her role as Schlumberger-SWE Ambassador. Following is a brief summary of her presentation:

Following a thorough analysis of Schlumberger’s recruiting efforts, it became clear that a major bottleneck to achieving gender diversity in the oil and gas industry is our ability to reach out to enough potential women. This presentation will discuss the male vs. female recruiting trends uncovered and will challenge some of the preconceived notion that a fewer percentage of women who get offer letters will accept the Field Engineer position. During the course of this presentation, Schlumberger will also present how they are tackling this diversity challenge, associating themselves with key academic and non-profit partners in the USA & Canada, to entice female students to consider unconventional jobs and put aside their stilettos for some steel toes.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Women need to focus on 'Becoming Leaders'

For women in the oil and gas industry, leadership is not just laudable – it is essential. Especially when you see leadership from Carolyn J. Emerson’s perspective.

Emerson is Project Coordinator for the Canadian Centre for Women in Science, Engineering, Trades and Technology (WinSETT Centre). At Fueling the Future, she will co-deliver, with Susan Hollett of Hollett & Sons Inc., a presentation entitled “Developing Women’s Leadership to Increase Recruitment and Retention in the Oil and Gas Sector”.

Because female scientists and engineers are under-represented in oil and gas companies, and leave their fields at rates higher than males, few advance to senior leadership roles. One strategy then, is to develop women’s leadership skills, so that they can advance in management and leadership positions and become inspiration for others.

Carolyn J. Emerson.
“Successful women can be powerful role models, leading by example and showing other women that there is place for their talents,” Emerson said, in an interview. “Women who are successful in their careers can also serve as mentors and, as women are progressing through their careers, can serve as advocates and sponsors to help those individuals attain further success, as they define it. And the more that women are successful in their careers, the more that helps to not only attract but also to retain women, because they know there is a place for their contributions as well.”

It’s important that women’s voices be heard in all venues and all industries, Emerson said. “A lot of the issues facing society in general have a strong science and technology base, and it’s important to bring different voices, different perspectives, different values, and different interests to all of the tables at which decisions are made.”

And leadership need not be narrowly defined as reaching the top of the corporate hierarchy.

“Part of the message is that leadership is not everyone necessarily wanting to be the chief technical officer. No matter your level in an organization, you can be a leader. You can show new ways of doing things, you can show effective management skills, teams skills and so on. It’s very much about leadership in terms of how we define our own success within careers and being proactive in our career paths. But certainly leadership in the traditional sense is important, in terms of showing the way for other women, and also bringing benefit to organizations.  There is a strong business case that addresses increased innovation capacity and more effective governance among other benefits to women’s increased leadership, and the business case will also be featured at the conference.”

And Emerson knows a thing or two about leadership. You might even say she wrote the book on it. She is co-author, with Dr. Mary Williams, of “Becoming Leaders: A Practical Handbook for Women in Engineering, Science and Technology”. The book was originally published in 2002 by the NSERC/Petro-Canada Chair for Women in Science and Engineering, Atlantic Region, and Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Newfoundland and Labrador. It has gone into several reprints, and a revamped, updated version was released in 2008 by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Last year, working with Susan Hollett and Drs Williams and Moloney (both former NSERC/Petro-Canada Chairs), Emerson developed the “Becoming Leaders Workshop” derived from the handbook, and presented it to a St. John’s audience of early to mid-career female engineers, scientists and technologists from Suncor Energy. Emerson and Hollett will bring outcomes of that workshop and future plans to Fueling the Future participants.

“We’ve delivered the workshop a couple of times, and it’s been very positive, both in terms of what the women attending the workshops have said, but also for us, in helping to understanding more of the culture and some of the challenges and opportunities for women in the oil and gas sector,” Emerson said, adding that the workshop has a variety of objectives.

“We will talk about why women’s leadership is important, where women are in organizations, and what some of the factors are that affect career success for women in science, engineering and technology careers. We will then engage women in talking about the necessity to actually be a leader in your own life, and very proactive in thinking about your career; looking at how that fits into your own life. We lead not only in our workplace, but also in our personal lives, communities and other interests, so it’s a question of looking at what factors we need to be aware of, in terms of developing our leadership potential. And then we do some more specific work around what are the competencies within that particular organization that are leadership skills and so forth, and what are the specific strategies to help you look at your own career planning to work on those particular competencies.”

Emerson said there have been advances in gender diversity, since the International Conference on Women and Oil, which took place in 1985 in St. John’s, but there is still more work to do.

“I think there has been progress, but I think you just have to look at the continuing numbers of women in certain fields,” she said. “Overall, in Canada, women are still only about four percent of the construction trades sector, for example. We are still at about 10 percent of professional engineers, and, here in this province, about eight percent. So, while there have obviously been significant steps, it’s clear if we look at the numbers that we still have a ways to go.”

Emerson noted the positive role of community organizations such as WISE NL, WRDC and others, for not just identifying challenges, but following through with strategies and tactics to help overcome them. She also singled out the role of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, in promoting diversity.

“The role of the provincial government, in making women’s employment and gender diversity plans part of the requirements for large scale natural resource developments, and allocating units within their organizations to look at how they can be proactive in attracting and retaining women in these fields, is truly impressive. I think Newfoundland and Labrador in many ways is a leader in this field, certainly within North America. Norway again has a different culture and series of priorities and requirements, so part of the benefit of this conference will be to look at different jurisdictions, and learn from each other about what has worked elsewhere.” 

If you have an opinion or experience to share regarding the role of leadership, as it relates to women in the oil and gas industry, please offer a comment below.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

25 Years Later: An interview with Mark Shrimpton

Mark Shrimpton.
Fueling the Future is not the first conference to focus exclusively on the employment of women in Newfoundland and Labrador’s oil and gas industry.

There was a similarly-themed conference, just over 25 years ago, called the International Conference on Women and Oil.

Not coincidentally, Mark Shrimpton had a key role in organizing both events, behind the scenes.

“I helped put together the original event, back in 1985, and I’ve been watching developments in gender diversity since then,” Shrimpton said, in an interview with this blog. “Last year, I set up a small committee to explore the idea of a new conference, and the Harris Centre at Memorial University was eager to participate as host organization. They were a great fit, due to Memorial’s extensive involvement in the 1985 conference.”

The 1985 conference was no small event, said Shrimpton, who is a Senior Associate at Stantec.

“There were about 200 registrants for that event, which is a substantial number. We had speakers from Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. It was quite a large event, though it was more of an academic-driven exercise, as opposed to the latest conference, which is very much industry-driven.”

The Fueling the Future Blog spoke with Shrimpton, to get his perspective on what has changed since 1985, and what challenges remain.

Fueling the Future: How far have we come since 1985?

Mark Shrimpton: I think we’ve come a tremendous way, in terms of people being aware of this issue, and recognizing it as being important and seeking to do something about it. I think there has been a cultural change in the industry, where this is being taken seriously, rather than receiving lip service. The industry has expanded dramatically since 1985, when we were engaged only in exploration, and there is far greater awareness among employers about gender diversity. And we have made some important progress with operators, who generally are trying to be more proactive in hiring women. In fact, Husky Energy is the first operator to include a Diversity Plan as part of its overall operational plan. So, we’ve come a long way, but still have a lot of distance to cover yet.

Fueling the Future: Has there been an increase, in the numbers of women working in the industry?

Mark Shrimpton: Only a modest increase. There have been small gains in some key areas – for example, there are more women engineers now, compared to 1985 – but there is still enormous room for growth. In all skilled trades and technology occupations, women still comprise less than 10 percent of the workforce.

Fueling the Future: What are we striving for, then? Are there specific targets in mind?

Mark Shrimpton: No. At least, not hard numerical targets. What we want is an equal opportunity for women to participate in the industry. We want businesses and employers to remove barriers and create an environment that welcomes women, and to work hard at building gender diversity in the workplace. We want to encourage and support and facilitate women being in the industry. And we want women to have impressions of the industry that are based on reality, not old misperceptions. If a woman decides that she does or doesn’t want to enter the industry, that’s okay, as long as that decision is based on solid facts.

Fueling the Future: What are some of the obstacles keeping women out?

Mark Shrimpton: One is a lack of awareness for girls and women that there are opportunities for them in the industry, so they don’t get appropriate training. Many girls drop certain courses in junior high and high school, which are necessary foundations for skilled trades and occupations, because a non-traditional career choice was not even on their radar screen. There may be social pressures or expectations to pursue other career paths, from friends and family. There are misperceptions, for example, that oil and gas jobs require working on an offshore rig or platform when, in fact, the majority of oil industry jobs are onshore. There have been and maybe still are cases where the culture of the industry has not welcomed women and made them feel comfortable, so that some who entered the industry ended up leaving, because they did not feel welcome. There are still a few instances of men who don’t want women working with them, or for them. Some aren’t comfortable having women as their boss. But it must be emphasized that these sorts of individuals are becoming increasingly rare. There are other issues, no doubt, but those are some of the key ones.

Fueling the Future: How do we encourage women to enter the industry?

Mark Shrimpton: There has been a great deal of discussion about that, and action is being taken on a number of fronts. Industry operators and suppliers are required to develop diversity plans, which set out specific measures to make their corporate culture more welcoming to women. We need to encourage and celebrate the success of women who are already in the industry. At every opportunity, the industry needs to highlight women as role models, whether they appear in corporate advertising, brochures and on web sites. There is a great deal of outreach to schools, where awareness is raised about opportunities for women in the industry. Even  statements at the bottom of job advertisements, emphasizing that the company is striving for a diverse workplace, can make a difference. All communications have to make clear that the industry not just accepts women, but welcomes them and encourages them.

Fueling the Future: How important is education?

Mark Shrimpton: Tremendously important, of course, because math and science courses are critical to entering many skilled, technical occupations. You have to reach girls while they are still in school, through outreach programs, to make them aware of the many diverse opportunities in oil and gas, through outreach, and even career counselors. Again, young women have to make career choices based on genuine awareness, not on misperceptions.

Fueling the Future: Will there be recommendations coming out of this conference?

Mark Shrimpton: No list of formal recommendations will be generated by the conference. However, we do think that many managers and senior executive will come away from the conference with their own list of best practices, along with resources they can use to increase gender diversity. And we want people to come away with an even greater appreciation for and understanding of this issue, which will serve to increase momentum and carry things forward to a new level.

Fueling the Future: Assuming an employer is committed to gender diversity, how does it find women to hire?

Mark Shrimpton: First of all, it’s not just the job of the human resources lead. It’s much broader than that. What we are talking about here is an organizational culture. So it is everybody, from the most senior to most junior, who has a role to play to make sure women are comfortable in the workplace, and there is a respectful and welcoming work environment. I think it is a mistake to ascribe that responsibility to the HR lead. If you look, for instance, at the White Rose Diversity Plan, you will see these kinds of principles espoused over and over. Husky Energy also has regular diversity forums with their suppliers, and expects them to make diversity a priority as well. And it is working. If you look at White Rose, something like 25 percent of their engineers are women, which is very good, considering that 20 percent of engineering students are women. The theory is that, if you make a workplace that is welcoming and inviting and respectful toward women, gradually you will bring more women into the organization… and into the industry.

Fueling the Future highlights Women in Oil and Gas

Conference spokesperson Caron Hawco. 
Newfoundland and Labrador boasts an impressive ‘A list’ of industrial developments, including Hebron, Long Harbour, IOC expansion, offshore oil field extensions, Muskrat Falls, and more. All will create significant demand for skilled, experienced workers, in both the construction and operations phases.

Meanwhile, a grey wave of baby boomers is retiring from senior executive, engineering, technical and other roles in the oil and gas industry, creating further demand for skilled workers.

There’s no question: the industry is facing a serious labour crunch.

But think about this. Women comprise 52 percent of the population, yet are grossly under-represented in the oil and gas industry. In fact, just two percent of the province’s women are employed in high-paying, non-traditional work roles.

If this imbalance was corrected, there would be no labour shortage. And men and women would stand as equals in all industries and occupations, from construction trades to advanced engineering.

Why are women so under-represented in the oil and gas industry? And what can be done to change this situation?

These are the questions at the heart of “Fueling the Future: Women in Oil and Gas”, an international conference scheduled for March 8 and 9, 2011 in St. John’s. And those questions will be discussed in this blog, as we interview presenters and explore conference themes in some detail. Keep coming back, please – the blog will be updated at least three times per week, from now until the conference concludes.

Fueling the Future will feature more than 40 presenters, from industry, government, post-secondary institutions, non-governmental organizations and academia. The conference will highlight employment trends and best practices, explore challenges facing women in the oil and gas industry, and suggest changes that will improve the participation of women in oil and gas.

Keynote speakers will include the Honourable Kathy Dunderdale, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador; Hege Marie Norheim, Senior Vice President, Statoil, Norway; Dr. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, President of the Centre for Work-Life Policy in New York City; and a senior executive, as yet unconfirmed, with ExxonMobil.

There are a number of factors driving interest in this issue, said conference spokesperson, Caron Hawco, Senior Advisor, Communications and Stakeholder Management, Statoil Canada Ltd.

“Oil and gas operators and suppliers feel an obligation to strive for gender diversity in all areas of their business,” Hawco said.  “It’s a social imperative. But beyond that, there are important business drivers, too. There is a shortage of qualified workers in our industry, particularly in engineering, scientific and technical disciplines. Women comprise more than half our population, yet they are seriously under-represented in our industry. This conference is looking for ways to correct that imbalance.”

There is a regulatory driver as well, Hawco added. “The province is now making gender diversity plans a requirement in all future oil and gas developments, so operators and contractors now have an expectation to achieve certain employment targets in the hiring of women.”

The conference will be of interest to executives and managers in the oil and gas industry; government regulators and policy personnel; employees’ representatives; post-secondary institutions offering training in industry-related disciplines; organizations dealing with gender equity, employment readiness, regional development and related issues; leaders of business and industry associations; and academics studying labour market issues, the petroleum industry, women’s studies and other disciplines.

The conference is being presented by Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Leslie Harris Centre of Regional Policy and Development, in cooperation with oil and gas industry operators.

“In particular, we are pleased with the degree of commitment we have seen from the oil and gas industry,” said Michael Clair, Associate Director (Public Policy) with the Harris Centre. “Industry operators have come on board as sponsors, and are engaging their people at the senior executive level, as keynote speakers, presenters and participants. Clearly, the industry is taking this issue seriously, and we’re excited about that.”

For more information or to register, please visit the official conference web site.