Is There a Glass Ceiling in the Oil and Gas Industry?

Glass Ceiling in the Oil and Gas IndustryIs There a Glass Ceiling in the Oil and Gas Industry for Women?

Canada has been known to promote gender equality in both the business world and in society. However, a report published by Oxfam indicates otherwise. It has been found that progress for women in the Canadian economy has stalled and, in many cases, moved backwards. The existence of a glass ceiling for women is an unspoken truth in the business world.

This gender inequality is even more evident in the oil and gas industry. A study in 2011 indicated that nearly one third of publicly traded energy companies had no women in executive positions or as members of the board. As much as efforts have been made to break the theoretical ceiling, the energy industry seems to be missing the mark.

The lack of equality advancement in the oil and gas sector could exist for many reasons, including current industry executives being from a previous generation and a general lack of female interest in the industry.

Fortunately, there are a few notable successes in the advancement of women working in the energy sector. For example, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) finally had their first Chairwoman, Kathy Sendall, after 15 years of exclusively male leaders. And in May of 2007, Bonnie Dupont, became the first woman to be the president of the Calgary Petroleum Club.

Cracking the glass

In a recent PWC study of women in board positions in the field, it was found that businesses with women on the board and in senior management positions generally have better financial performance and higher profitability.

Despite this, a survey of the 100 largest gas and oil companies saw only 11% of board seats held by women. This ratio is second only to the mining industry in terms of male domination. The average board surveyed held 11 seats, including two executive seats. Of these, 13% were women in non-executive seats and barely 1% in executive positions. Of the women who do hold seats in management, very few have a chance at the board director seat – suggesting the presence of a ceiling even in the highest levels of business.

In order to change attitudes and open doors for women, industry insiders have started to change attitudes early. They have started by working with universities since 2010 in increasing the recruitment of female engineering students. The Schulich School of Engineering has had success with their website –, created to pair female professional engineers with prospective female students to promote an increase in participation in the engineering field. Their goal is to foster corporate leadership, community involvement, and most importantly, to encourage women who are considering pursuing related careers.

Personal Deterrents

One possibility of better upward movement for women is to include additional technical subjects throughout their studies so that they are better equipped to move directly into the oil and gas field upon graduation.

Additionally, companies should seek to keep employees happy, as many are beginning to opt ‘out’ of their field instead of ‘up’ within the business. Better support for women, through mentorship and communication, during their time in the leadership pipeline can also prepare them for upper management roles and to support their pursuit of upward movement. Retention of employees through this support is a key factor in keeping qualified women in the field.