Strong Women of Oil and Gas -what we wished our male coworkers knew.

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.12039425_10153490750486858_1140305957195140899_n

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Flowers vs Shoes: A day in the not so glamourous life of an oilfield medic.

It’s Friday the 13th. After this day, I am now a believer in the curse.

After a late start and a drive that seemed like it would never end, I arrived in Fort Nelson at 2am on Tuesday morning. I managed to get two hours of sleep and then I was off for my first day of the Elleh plant turn-around. I am going to assume that cumulative lack of sleep and the ominous bad-luck curse of Friday the 13th were the causes behind my latest misadventure.

Each morning, when I turned off the Sierra and onto the 61Rd to begin the final leg of my hour-long trip to the plant site, I was distracted by the lovely clusters of white flowers that line the roadside. My eyes glazed over as I imagined how lovely they would look in a Styrofoam cup in the Control Room. I imagined that their delicate scent floated in room, soft and soothing (which just goes to show how vivid my imagination is because anyone who knows me also knows that I have virtually no sense of smell). I could even hear the words of appreciation from the operators for enlivening their drab environment.

My mind then began to imagine that once the flowers were artfully displayed on top of the microwave, the mosquitoes -which are as big as chickens and as abundant as panhandlers on Robson Street – suddenly vacate the premises. WOW! I have discovered the most affective mosquito repellent known to mankind! I am going to make millions when I sell it to OFF!

Suddenly my truck radio blares,”Loaded bridge 2 on the 61”. My mind snapped back to the present. SHIT! Where the heck am I? I’ve been so busy daydreaming that I haven’t been watching the kilometer markings, which can be a fatal mistake on these roads.

I looked around frantically trying to pin point my exact coordinates and realized that I am well past bridge 2. Phew! That was close. Maybe I should stop and finally pick some of those flowers rather than just daydreaming about picking them? My love for all flora and fauna triumphed over my anal-retentive need to get to and from my destination with as few stop as possible. Yes, I decided, today is the day.

Dutifully, I called over the radio that I have pulled over at kilometer 7. I hopped out of the truck and cautiously surveyed my surroundings, trying to determine the boundaries of the ever encroaching muskeg. There was a moment of hesitation when I wondered if I should return to the truck and put on my work boots. However, after a few moments I decide that my precious flowers were residing firmly on solid ground. My eyes lit up as they locked onto my prize. Four steps off the road, my shoes began to sink. I stopped and watched in horror as the cute white and red polka-dots of my favorite pair of shoes actually begin to disappear beneath mucky, sticky slime!

OH MY OD! They don’t make these shoes anymore. I bought the last two pairs the previous summer! I love them so much that I even bought a matching pair for my young daughter Chelisa. Now what will we do? People won’t stop and tell us how cute we are anymore with our matching shoes. They won’t smile and point at our shoes in the grocery store. This might even affect the global economy because millions of women will no longer be inspired to buy matching polka dot shoes for their daughters.

Suddenly, I realized that my mind was on a crash course with sheer hysteria. “Get a hold of yourself Jennifer!” I shout to myself.

“Okay, you are in this mess now so you might as well make a decision. Shoes or flowers?” I calmly asked myself.

“Shoes or flowers? Did you fall and hit your head today you daft woman?” I furiously argued with myself. “That’s like asking if I want my right leg or my left! Milk chocolate or dark. My black Gucci heals or my Coach boots! It’s an impossible decision. No woman was ever meant to make such a terrible choice. Oh the agony”!

“Fine you big retard. Stand there and lament about how tragic the situation is until the last polka dot disappears beneath the mud. Then you’ll really have something to cry about when you try to take a step and your precious shoe stays stuck forever in the mud. With your luck, one of your crew members will drive by at this point and see you standing like a crane in the swamp, perched on one foot!”

That thought was horrifying enough to propel me instantly forward through the muck to the location of my flowers. Triumphantly, I leaned down and snatched up a handful of them and raced back to my truck, thoughts of losing my shoes to the muskeg forever, foremost in my mind.

Once safely ensconced in the cab of my muskeg-free truck, I turned happily to the prize in my hand. The smile on my face slowly fades as I looked down at ugly white weeds. This can’t be right! I looked across the road at the pretty flowers and back at what looked like soggy cotton balls that I was holding.

What a rip off!

God is going to get an ear-full when I see him about false advertising!

Moral of the story: Shoes trump EVERYTHING