Women in Charge

2014 was a landmark year for women in the oil and gas industry.
This article appeared in Vol. 11, No. 5 - 2016


In 2014 three important oil and gas industry organisations have been led by a woman

This year 7,417 out of a total AAPG membership of 37,629 are women. (Source: AAPG) The American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) was formed in 1917, the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers (EAGE) in 1951 and the Petroleum Society of Great Britain (PESGB) in 1964. Women were involved in each organisation almost from the start – but it is noticeable that very few women have held major office in these august bodies. It is therefore interesting to note that in 2014 all three of these important oil and gas industry organisations have been led by a woman: Gladys Gonzalez as President of the EAGE, Randi Martinsen, the AAPG, and Oonagh Werngren, the PESGB. 

Still Below 20% 

Randi Martinsen, President of AAPG, is a certified petroleum geologist with 40 years’ experience working in industry, consulting and teaching. (Source: AAPG) According to Robbie Gries, AAPG Past President, six women were elected into the AAPG as early as 1919, when they were working on well sites, collecting core information and examining samples with microscopes. Their presence was probably due to the shortage of manpower in WW1; only one of them continued membership for more than a couple of years. Between the two world wars, the percentage of women in the organisation remained low, and by 1986, the first year for which there are clear records, 10% of the membership was female. Even today, when approximately 50% of all geoscience graduates are woman, that figure is still less than 20%. Robbie was herself the first woman AAPG president, serving in 2005, and Randi is only the second.

Statistics from the EAGE and the PESGB also point to a present female membership of about 19%. It is not clear when the first woman joined the PESGB, but its first female council member served in 1978, 15 years after the founding of the society. Rosemary Johnson Sabine was the first female president, in 1994, and Oonagh is the second, after a gap of 20 years. And Gladys is the first ever female president of the EAGE – also the first Latin American.

Oonagh Werngren is 2014 President of the PESGB. She is also Operations Director for Oil & Gas UK and has 30 years’ experience in the industry. (Source: PESGB) All three 2014 presidents have put getting more women into the geosciences and the industry at the top of their agenda, as well as encouraging them to be more proactive in the societies. Deirdre O’Donnell, Managing Director of specialist oil and gas recruitment company Working Smart, believes that woman now make up approximately 15-20% of the industry workforce, with a growing percentage under the age of 35, which is very encouraging. She thinks the main challenge still appears to be the retention and development of these women to take on senior level management roles and board positions. 

Both Randi and Robbie believe that they owed their initial employment to affirmative action’ in the ’70s, so are gender short lists and quotas the answer to increasing diversity? Are female employees putting themselves forward to get the diverse skills required to be successful in today’s industry, so enough women are promoted into the middle ranks to be involved in succession planning?

Advice from the Presidents

Gladys Gonzalez, President of the EAGE. What advice can these three successful women Presidents give to the next generation of female geoscientists? 

Gladys says: “The message I want to pass on from my own experience is that if you are determined and obtain the skills, the opportunities will come.” Similarly, Oonagh believes “that women can have a very successful career in the oil and gas industry and manage a good work life balance. You just have to have the confidence to apply for a role and ensure you get the right experience early on in your career”. 

But maybe Randi has the real key: “A sense of humour goes a long way!


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