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.


Rebecca and Cat said...

I gotta say, the name of the contest really turns me off.

It's so polarizing.

In my opinion, it emphasizes a perception that has caused problems for women, both in terms of society's view of us and the way we see ourselves, for a very long time: that women must define themselves as either pretty or smart.

It's especially inappropriate because the contest is aimed at college students: smart, driven women, who, though they might enjoy getting dressed up in heels from time to time (more power to them!), really shouldn't be defined by their footwear.

A contest aimed at male students would never be marketed this way.

Alright, I've said my piece!

PeopleCan said...

I coach women who are in the non-traditional sector to achieve personal success. Sometimes that entails learning how to compartmentalize our lives. How do we remain women and have a non-traditional career? It is manageable for certain.

There's a bit of an assumption that women in oil and gas are only Engineers but the reality is that there are also tradespeople of many stripes that comprise the "Women". I like to see approaches that are inclusive. Good luck with the upcoming conference.