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.

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