“I am always very committed in everything I do,” says Gladys Gonzalez, the first female President of the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers (EAGE). “As soon as I started working in the oil industry I knew that that was where I wanted to be and became passionate about it.” This enthusiasm and commitment has characterized a career which has covered major oil companies, service organizations and consultancy and in which Gladys has proved to be a trailblazer in leadership and diversity.
Interested in Innovation
At heart a natural scientist, Gladys, who was born and brought up in Argentina, toyed with a few degree subject options, including astronomy and archaeology, before settling for geology. She firmly believes that a good grounding in a range of sciences as well as in mathematics is a pre-requisite for the subject. “Geology is driven by physical, chemical and mechanical processes such as tectonism and deposition, so to be a good geologist you need a firm scientific background. This is particularly important nowadays in the hydrocarbon industry with our emphasis on the integration of geosciences and engineering in the whole E&P process,” she explains.
Initially planning to stay in academia after graduation, where she intended specializing in geophysics and structural geology, Gladys found the lack of financial support for research in Argentina very frustrating, and eventually she moved to the private sector. Western Geophysical opened an office in Buenos Aires, and she joined them as a geophysicist and sought to increase her experience at every opportunity. “In those days Western didn’t have a formal training system; it was more an immersion process, as you moved around different departments and got to know them all in a very hands-on manner,” Gladys says. “While it is good to have theoretical training as well, this method helps fix concepts in your head in a practical way rather than just getting an overview. I think it is very important that all geoscientists have a very good grounding in the concepts behind the science and don’t just rely on software."
“I’m always interested in innovation,” she adds. “I was working in seismic data processing when the first 3D surveys came to our office in 1992, so I offered to process them. I also asked to go out in the field and got several opportunities to visit some of the more remote locations we were working in, which was fascinating. I spent a number of years with Western and also with Geco-Prakla-Schlumberger and CGG and it was great experience, as I had the opportunity to work with and implement all the latest technology; it was all very exciting.”
Managing – or Leading?
Schlumberger soon recognized Gladys as a high potential employee and ensured she underwent training in management as well as technical subjects to prepare her as a future leader. Soon she was supervising several teams of geoscientists working on complex land and offshore processing projects in her first managerial post – a role she is clearly very good at, and about which she has some interesting insights. As she explains: “There are two ways in which you can supervise people: you can just manage, or you can be a leader. A leader looks out for the team and wants it to be successful; if it is, then so is its leader. Sometimes things are difficult, and it is challenging or stressful to deliver results and if you are in a top position you have to realize this. Not everyone is willing to be exposed to these challenges, and I think this seems to particularly apply to women, something which I have tried to address.”
In 2000 Gladys joined Paradigm Geophysical and two years later she and her family moved to Houston, because she was keen to be exposed to a different environment and culture. She became senior geoscience technical advisor for depth imaging, time depth conversion, mapping, seismic inversion and velocity modeling for Paradigm’s North American office. In 2007 her enthusiasm for innovation led her to the role of emerging technology leader at Paradigm, focused on wide-azimuth anisotropic depth-imaging applications for deepwater exploration. This was followed two years later by a move from the service sector to E&P company Repsol. “As Geophysics Research and Innovation Manager and later as Senior Geophysical Advisor for Exploration I was responsible for providing seismic and unconventional technologies to solve complex subsurface structure issues. I think it is really important to work for a number of different companies in order to enrich your experience,” she adds. “You need to be put in a place where you are challenged and out of your comfort zone, to help you grow and learn and demonstrate that you are capable of solving problems. In this way, you can develop new skills and this all helps innovation.”
Diversity in Geoscience
In 2011 Gladys Gonzalez was elected as the EAGE President, the first – and, to date, only – woman to fill the role in the organization’s 66-year history. She dedicated her presidential period (2013–2014) to improving diversity in the industry and, in particular, to increasing the participation of women in the geosciences, a topic which she feels very passionately about.
“In general, women still need to outperform men in order to progress; I have found that in my own career,” Gladys explains. “To change this we need leaders to recognize achievement – but at the same time, women need to ask for recognition more; surveys have found that it is often hard for women to realize that and to look for rewards for their work. Some women still do not feel confident enough to express what they want, often worried it will be misrepresented, so companies need to ensure that the workplace is an environment which encourage all employees to look for change and to advance their careers. I firmly believe we need women in positions of power in companies to make this happen; we must stop writing about it and start putting diversity into employment practice.
“But while we need companies to provide the opportunities, it is up to us women to take risks and be ready to be exposed to challenges,” she continues. “For that to happen we need support, both from each other and from our families. A united family can meet challenges, and partners must support and help each other in their career moves; that is important for everyone, not just women. We each have to find the right balance for our own family and circumstances.”
During her year as president, Gladys worked on strengthening the organization to have it ready for a new chapter of sustainable growth, focused on regional diversity and office organization according to new needs and growth. She set up the ‘Women in Geoscience and Engineering Special Interest Community’ to facilitate communication between women and to promote their active participation in professional society activities through the exchange of knowledge and experience and to offer mutual support. “We have special sessions during the annual meeting, where female speakers are invited to share their experiences of a career in the O&G industry, with its pitfalls and pleasures, as well as round table discussions on subjects like career development, mentoring and increasing retention of women. We need to help ourselves to be strong.”
She also addressed the EAGE’s plan to help younger people into the industry by creating the ‘Young Professional Special Interest Community’ to encourage the earlier involvement of young professionals by addressing their needs and empowering their skills.
An Independent Role
Early in 2016 Gladys took on another major career challenge when she left the multinational oil company Repsol and joined V&G Exploration Consultants, a small group of independent consultants in Houston. “I had really enjoyed my time in Repsol, where I had been in charge of a team which I had started from scratch, working on new geophysical techniques. It was very exciting, as we were developing workflows and technologies which could deliver new geophysical packages customized to our needs – in fact, Repsol was the first oil company to claim that it had in commercial use a proprietary reverse time migration system providing improved imaging in subsalt areas.
“But after several years in the company I was ready for a new challenge and a widening of my experience,” she explains. “I was also keen to work more in exploration and closer to the point where the decision on where to drill is made, and also to have a greater variety in my workload. At V&G I work advising clients on exploration and development projects and am fully immersed in qualitative and quantitative aspects of validating plays, leads and prospects.
“I love the change! In big companies like Repsol the management overhead makes it difficult in a senior position to have much focus on exploration and development. In large technology companies like Schlumberger and Paradigm, by contrast, you are dealing with clients in order to deliver tools that satisfy their requirements. I enjoyed that work as I learnt a lot about process management, as well as human resources and how to help my staff progress. In this new departure I have much more influence over the projects I am working on with my clients and I am learning so much. We are based in Houston, because it is the heart of the oil industry, but our clients are working all over the world and this is giving me experience in many different basins and regions.”
Narrowing the Gap
Gladys has been active in professional societies for all her career. In 2011 she was elected to the EAGE board and she serves on the Awards Committee of that organization. She is also a member of the SEG’s Advanced Modeling Corporation (SEAM) Board of Directors and until recently was chair of SEAM Phase II Management Committee, the industrial consortia project focused on land seismic challenges.
“I firmly believe professional associations have an important role in narrowing gaps towards equal opportunities – like, for example, balancing knowledge levels and recognizing outstanding professionals across regions,” Gladys says. “We, the members, all want to see the results of these visions and we are all responsible for making them happen. Through volunteering and active involvement there are a number of channels available through which everyone can contribute; we can do more than just be spectators waiting for results.”
For her year as President of the EAGE, Gladys chose the theme of ‘making a difference at a global scale – narrowing the gap’. “I am very focused on increasing diversity in the E&P workplace. I don’t just mean I want to narrow the gap caused by gender imbalance, but also want to ensure we employ people covering a range of ages, geographical or regional backgrounds and race and ethnicity,” she explains. “Embracing diversity also includes integrating a range of scientific and technical disciplines in decisionmaking teams, and encouraging more collaboration between academia and industry. Only then can we start to narrow the gaps and begin to make a significant difference.”