the actual jobs women in resources do

let’s ditch the hard-hat photo shoots

Let’s be honest, the resource industry is struggling to recruit women, even though more women than ever take up STEM subjects at university.

The Research Science Institute (RSI), the most prestigious summer STEM program for high school students, reports that female students will outnumber male students for the first time in 2022, representing 55% of accepted U.S. students, up from 22% in 1984.

The numbers have definitely improved, although in Australasia it may not yet be up to the quoted levels. But, why isn’t this reflected in the resources industry? According to a Boston Consulting Group survey, in 2021 the percentage of women in the global oil and gas industry was 22%, effectively the same as in 2017.


Oil and gas companies tend to recruit the majority of their graduates from a range of engineering degrees, and senior roles in the company are usually engineering related. And here is a clue, engineering only attracts 20-25% females in their student cohort.

For other STEM subjects, the percentage of females is higher. Things have definitely improved over the years since I studied geology in the 1980’s, when only 10% of the students were female.

Over the years I have had to deal with a number of misconceptions about the suitability of jobs in the resources industry and the oil & gas sector. So hereby a brief list of my answers:

  • My job is not physical.
  • My job is not dirty.
  • My job is not remote or on a site. If I travel, it is for a conference or meeting and I get to stay in a nice hotel.
  • It is a high tech industry! With one oil well costing between 2 and 200 Million USD each, there is a lot of studying and computer modelling to be done before a drill bit hits the ground.
  • How about the fact that engineering roles are among the highest paid jobs for graduates.
  • Be a part of the answer to society’s big questions, our hunt for cheaper and more sustainable sources of energy to support a rapidly growing population.

The industry can do a much better job to encourage women into a career in the resources and energy sector. How often do we see adverts and documentaries where even the HR lady will be sporting a brand-new coverall and hard-hat for the photo shoot, which is somewhere on a site.

Spot the brand new coveralls! (I am third from the left)

Let’s be honest and show the real work instead. The majority of staff will be spending their days in a nice air conditioned office in a big city. Usually working behind a high-end computer, using sophisticated software to solve logical problems, planning projects, requesting and receiving technical data, making 3-D models of reservoirs and deposits.

I started as a geologist working for a multinational oil company. My first two years in the industry were a graduate role where I was required to fly in and out to a desk job on drilling and production platforms in the North Sea. I enjoyed the opportunity to experience this unique world. That will not be for everyone though, and these roles are relatively rare.

However, for my remaining 30 years in the industry I can count actual site visits on one hand! And yes, they usually were accompanied by a brand-new set of work gear, hard hat, gloves and boots.

Although it is important to have at least an appreciation of the actual locations where petroleum or minerals are extracted, our safety standards demand that we minimise exposure hours, which translates to minimal staff on site.

My usual place of work, in this case with a nice view of Circular Quay in Sydney

So, the perception of the actual jobs involved needs to change, ditch the hard hat photo shoots!

Naturally, this won’t solve the entire gender imbalance problem, but every little bit helps. And as Dr Phil says, “perception is truth”! Our society needs diversity of thought and diversity of approaches, and this requires a diverse workforce, to solve today’s challenges and create a better future for all. 

Achieving a diverse cohort intake goes hand in hand with ensuring this diversity is maintained throughout all layers and areas of a company. See my blog on gender diversity for some more thoughts…

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