This past weekend, I took to the stage with an amazing group of women. For the past several weeks I have been teaching them some tough choreography for a dance performance in support of a worthy local charity (now you know my secret; oil and gas professional/writer by day, dance teacher by night).
If there’s one thing teaching dance has taught me, it’s that women are incredibly, amazingly, awe inspiringly strong. My dance “family” has seen everything from cancer, to divorce, death of a loved of one, engagements, pregnancies, medical emergencies…..you name it. And each time, women rally around each other and either cheer each other on or offer a kind word or supportive hug.
When I trade my dance shoes for a white hardhat and my studio for an oil and gas field, the fact that I am able to experience something that most women will never see or understand leaves me with a feeling of awe. When I first joined the industry in 2006, I have to admit that I’d never thought about where the gas came from when I flicked on the fireplace in my living room in Kelowna. When I go back to visit my family and friends, I really can’t blame them for not understanding what my job is like; how many women go from a ballet bar to steel toed boots, right? While my two worlds couldn’t be any more different, I am extremely grateful for both as I’ve learned so much from each.
Every day that I am on a lease, I am impressed by the hardworking men who endure brutal hours, inclement weather and wet socks (something I despise). These guys deserve a serious round of applause for everything they sacrifice for their families and our economy.
The picture that accompanies this post was taken for a dance production in which the theme was, “Strength of a Woman”. Being on the stage this weekend and preparing to head back to the field soon reminded me of the amazing women who reside in my two different worlds. We recognize single moms, young women getting university educations, women who are doctors and lawyers and stay at home moms, but I have yet to see a “Hell Ya” for the women of oil and gas and the incredible obstacles they have to overcome.
Our girlfriends at home don’t appreciate what our work days are like but the men we work with should. Yet, I am not sure to what extent they understand what a foreign world it is for us or the kind of strength it takes for a woman to step into this predominately man’s world – especially a woman competing for business in this often brutal industry – and not just survive but thrive?
Let me tell you from just one such woman that it’s damn hard. Women are appreciated for our softer, gentler natures, our attention to detail and our unending patience.
There’s nothing soft and gentle about the oil and gas industry. Is it any wonder that the “tough business bitch” has started to emerge? You know the type; the ruthless business woman who claws her way to the top and destroys anyone who stands in her path. Somehow, this has become the poster child of what a strong woman should be. It is not a stereotype that I prescribe to. Being a “tough bitch” is more about hiding insecurities than it is about being a strong woman. As far as I am concerned, kindness and empathy are strengths, not weaknesses.
The other stereotype is the woman who puts on a low cut top and uses her big, beautiful breasts to gain entry into the Old Boys Club. She has the intelligence of sawdust and talking to her is like having a conversation with your toast in the morning. However, I like to think that times are changing and this stereotype is fading. I know I am treated with far more respect than I was ten years ago and I credit that to a younger generation of men taking over lead roles.
To me, the only thing worse than the days where we were treated like a Playboy bunny on the lease were the days when we had to play dumb. I bet there is more than one woman reading this article who has dummied down her intelligence to fit in. I know there have been a few times in my career where I have realized that I was working with someone who expected women in the field to be simple minded or incapable and it was not an easy thing to accept.
It’s refreshing to work with a consultant who is the complete antithesis of those types and it never seems to crosses his mind that we are less intelligent than anyone else on the lease. One of my favorite experiences with just such a consultant was on a drilling rig early in my career. He was pouring over thick books he had brought back from his recent wellsite supervision course. A nearby rig had recently burned to the ground after taking a kick. I was asking a few questions so he called me over to show me something in one of his text books. Not knowing him that well, I hesitantly pointed out that he didn’t have to memorize or bookmark the formula; he could figure out how much barite he had to put down the hole to suppress a kick by solving for units. He joked to everyone after that that I was going to be his replacement when he went on days off. Needless to say, I thought he was pretty cool and wished that I could have cloned him.
Being treated like we are totally incapable is almost as bad as being treated like we are dumb. I am willing to bet there are women like me who have had trouble buying a super duty, long box, crew cab truck because the salesman felt it was too much truck for “a little lady”. How about buying tires? How many of you have had men question your ability to read the numbers on the side of the tires? Or that you can jump a vehicle, tow someone out of the ditch, or that you know how to check your brake fluid level?
Gentlemen, this article isn’t about slagging men or whining about our circumstances. We aren’t trying to be your equals in every sense (Lord knows I’ll never be able to get the lid off the pickle jar by myself). I know enough to know that diesel trucks don’t have spark plugs but if you start talking about engines in great detail, my eyes are going to glaze over and I’m going to start daydreaming about shoes. At the same time, there are some women who know as much or more about engines than men. We appreciate it when you help us out or teach us things (let’s be honest, it wasn’t my mother who taught me that my car might be out of coolant if it’s blowing cold air) but I promise you that breast size is not inversely proportional to intelligence. The point is, please don’t assume that we are all completely incapable.
We are impressed by what you guys do every day and hope that if you know a strong, intelligent woman working in the oil and gas industry who isn’t using cleavage to get work and isn’t a bitch, you give her a high five today because you are lucky enough to be associated with a very remarkable woman who deserves a little credit.