It’s no secret the energy sector is a male-dominated field, but women are working to shift the ratio.
Jobs in the industry can range from engineers to pump operators and underground miners to office staff, but women have had the tendency to be more predominantly found in the office positions.
“Women can and do, do a little bit of everything. I see woman welders, truck drivers, sales associates, petroleum engineers, drilling superintendents, analysts,” said Amelia Papapetropoulos, founder of Pittsburgh-based Young Professional Women in Energy. “But when you look at the numbers and compare them to men, it’s sad.”
It was the topic of a June 19 “Women with Energy” forum at the Charleston Town Center Marriott.
In 2013, only about 13 percent of mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction employees nationwide were women, according to information published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of that 13 percent, more than 50 percent were in management, professional and related occupations, and nearly 40 percent held sales and office occupations. In contrast, less than 4 percent worked in construction and extraction, and less than 1 percent worked in production, according to the BLS.
But in West Virginia, women aren’t too shy about getting involved.
West Virginia University’s Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources also saw 19 percent of undergraduate engineering degrees go to women, with 12 percent earning bachelor’s degrees and about 33 percent of those earning master’s degrees in petroleum and natural gas engineering were women. In addition, more than 9 percent of their graduates earning bachelor’s degrees in mining engineering were women.
Pierpont Community and Technical College in Fairmont has seen almost 30 female students in the college’s Apprentice Underground Miners Course since 2010.
In the transportation and utilities sector, 23 percent of those employed nationally in 2013 were women, with nearly 50 percent of those being sales and office occupations and less than one percent being installation, maintenance and repair occupations, according to BLS information.
On a more local level, Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy employs 21 percent women, and its West Virginia subsidiary, Monongahela Power, employs about 10 percent women, according to FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Meyers. Additionally, 18 percent of American Electric Power’s employees are women, while 10 percent of AEP subsidiary Appalachian Power are women, which includes employees in West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee, said AEP spokeswoman Tammy Ridout.
With the help of organizations like Young Professional Women in Energy, women are finding their way into the industry more easily.
Papapetropoulos broke into the oil and natural gas industry in 2007, and currently works as sales director at Bridgeport-based Lightning Energy Services.
After a few years in the industry, she began to wonder, “Where are all the women?” — A realization that prompted her decision to create an organization that encourages the industry to hire more women, she said.
Papapetropoulos then founded YPWE in Pittsburgh in 2010. In 2011, the organization expanded to West Virginia, and the group has plans to open chapters in Ohio and Texas.
“(Women) don’t know what opportunities are available,” Papapetropoulos said. “In my opinion, they would love to be part of the industry, they just need guidance on where to start, and that’s what I feel YPWE is doing for women.”
Papapetropoulos, said education on the industry needs to begin in high school, adding that the industry needs to work to draw people in at that age.
“We as an industry don’t educate the public enough on what’s happening around hem, so how do we expect that people in school today are going to be interested in an industry that gets a bad reputation in the press,” she said.
Panelists at the June 19 Women with Energy forum also agreed that a lot of these changes begin with education.
“You always want everybody to go to college, but college isn’t for everybody,” panelist Mary Ann Fox, vice president of land for Rex Energy, said. “There have got to be technical sides as well, and it needs to start in high school.”
Advice to Women
Women with Energy panelists, as well as Papapetropoulos, agreed women in the industry already need to be the leading example for those who are trying to break in.
“We all have to be cheerleaders for our energy professions,” said Jo Ellen Diehl Yeary, vice president and general counsel of Northeast Natural Energy. “We have to be the face the brings in new people.”
LuAnn Datesh, vice president of land resources for CONSOL Energy, asserted that women need to learn to integrate themselves into the industry rather than trying to stand out as a woman in order to make the transition easier.
“Women in all industries, including the energy industry, have to understand one thing: it is a man’s world,” Datesh said. “You can’t set yourself apart. You can’t let it scream out, ‘I’m a woman.’
“You can’t dress like that, you can’t talk like that, you can’t act like that.”
The notion went undisputed by the other panelists; however, Papapetropoulos disagreed with that statement, “100 percent.”
“When I first came into the industry, that’s what I thought I needed to do,” she said. “Today, I think what it does is it eats your confidence level. If you are feminine, why should you act or dress any differently to be accepted when you’re just as good for the jobs as the men are.
“To me, everything should be based on your job performance and work ethic, and not on your appearance.”
Papapetropoulos, who defines herself as feminine recently began a fire-resistant clothing line for women, which is set to launch in the fall.
“I am a woman and I am feminine, and to be the best employee, employer, mentor that I can be every day, I need to be comfortable,” she said. “I need to set an example.”
As a word of advice to women trying to move up in the industry, Papapetropoulos highlighted the importance of staying true to yourself and being confident in your own abilities.
“Be aggressive, be who you are and always move forward.”
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