On November 7th, the Society of Exploration Geophysicists Women’s Network will host its second annual breakfast at the SEG Annual Meeting in Las Vegas. Our keynote speaker this year is Marcia McNutt, director of the United States Geological Survey and science adviser to the Department of the Interior.
At last year’s meeting, Alexandra Herger, Director of International Exploration and New Ventures at Marathon Oil gave the inaugural keynote to a room of 100+ attendees, both women and men. I had the honor of introducing Alex and chairing the breakfast session. The following are a number of helpful and provocative points from Alex’s talk, some that I fully agree with and others I continue to debate with colleagues. Note that Alex has a corporate approach and that the audience consisted of primarily industry workers and then academicians and students.
You need to manage your own career. Open your own doors.
Career longevity and risk:
The days of working in a secure career for 30 years are over.
Love your job and find where you fit in that company’s culture – those who stayed had survivor skills.
In the case of having to switch jobs, put yourself through this thought process: If you take this other job, what’s the worst that can happen? No matter what happens, my family and I will not live in a van by the river. Take the chance.
Experience and advancement:
Take some sort of planning assignment. Industry work is not about science projects; you really work in a business, so learn about economics and value.
Being a manager is not the only way to be successful. Conversely, being a technical savant is also not the only way to be successful.
Take an international assignment. An expat assignment is not necessarily about the money, but the experience of learning about different geology and different cultures at work.
This isn’t just about you:
Pay your successes forward!
Daughters get the female work ethic and self-confidence from their working mothers. It’s worth it.
Make an arrangement with your spouse/partner. Choices that you make (and at different stages in your career) with respect to work-life balance and dual-career have to be made with care. Be realistic about your choices, personally and professionally.
What worked for Alex?
An extreme work ethic and immense support from her spouse. She missed out on many of her daughters’ academic and sporting events, but her spouse attended them all.
Our post-key note discussion questions were a) What are the biggest barriers women face climbing the corporate ladder? b) How can a woman get an effective sponsor? and c) What would you like to see the SEG Women’s Network accomplish in the next year? What we spent time on instead was the big elephant in the room: the dual-career couple. It was noted over and over again that a company regards two working people married to each other as a dual-body problem and “solves” this by offering one spouse a less-than-ideal position. Some argued that this is a realistic sacrifice to keep both people working, but others countered by asking why one spouse has to be punished; why can’t both have fulfilling, career-advancing jobs? Recognize that this is a bigger problem for couples in academia, since it is more difficult for someone to get tenure or more permanent employment in the same state, much less university, as his or her spouse.
Other challenges are the lack of viable childcare options and pre-existing biases in the workplace. In reference to the former, Nancy Ramsey, author of The Futures of Women: Scenario for the 21st Century and Nuclear Weapons Decision Making (killer combo, if you ask me), offers this in an in-depth interview: “In order to get the best and the brightest, you’re going to have to make changes and understand that it isn’t just women who have to fit into a man’s world. The brainpower of women and their growing dominance in education are going to force companies to understand what women need.” As for innate social biases against women in the workplace, that is going to come from old ways dying out, the discouragement of all-male or all-female cliques and higher-ups recognizing that, given the current rate of retirement of qualified workers, the company that recognizes talent regardless of gender is the one that’s going to move forward. Slow-moving but inevitable.
Let’s take a moment here. While the industry grows in leaps and bounds and the retirement rate of experienced professionals goes up with it, it seems like a great time for young folks, especially women, to make their marks. What I will warn about is how they do it. As a recruiter, I increasingly find that young geoscience graduates now approach interviews with the paycheck as their priority over the science and job description. As a stark example, I offered to mentor an undergraduate whose very first statements to me were “I switched my major to geology because of the shale gas industry. Where are the jobs? How much do you make?”
Graduates, hear this: If you come into my interview with this attitude, I see it and will not hire you. Yes, this is a business, one centered on economics and value as Alex Herger said above, but also one that requires loving what you do, teamwork and deep technical understanding to make sound economic decisions. This advice goes double for female graduates, especially since the technical prowess of female workers is scrutinized much more than that of our male counterparts, even if we do the same amount and quality of work or more. Come to geoscience because you love it, do not half-heart your university classes and research, get a graduate degree, write at least one excellent thesis, take on and be fully present in your internships and look for work as a confident and qualified young scientist willing to learn.
I look forward to taking more notes at Ms. McNutt’s talk and the attendant discussion next week. Wednesday, November 7th from 8:00 to 10:30am, Mandalay Bay Convention Center Ballroom L. Please register to attend.