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.