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Platform for change

Conference encourages women to enter the oil and gas industry

Lisa Wishart of Husky Energy leads high school students on a tour of the Bull Arm Facility.

By Rebecca Cohoe

The effects of the oil and gas boom in Newfoundland and Labrador are easy enough to identify. For example, the Northeast Avalon has seen strong housing markets, new developments, and plenty of jobs opening up both on- and offshore.

There is a problem though: those jobs are becoming increasingly hard to fill.
According to Caron Hawco, spokesperson for Fuelling the Future: Women in Oil and Gas, an upcoming conference presented by the Harris Centre in cooperation with oil and gas industry operators, there is a solution.

“Women comprise more than half our population, yet they are seriously under-represented in our industry. This conference is looking for ways to correct that imbalance.”

Taking place March 8-9 in St. John’s, the conference will be a multi-disciplinary event, featuring diverse speakers from industry, government, academia and non-governmental organizations dealing with gender equity, employment readiness and economic development.

The conference will feature several high-profile keynote speakers including Joan Burke, minister of education; Dr. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Centre for Work-Life Policy in New York City; Sara N. Ortwein, president of ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company, Houston; Hege Marie Norheim, senior vice-president of Statoil, Oslo; and Catherine MacGregor, president of Schlumberger Wireline, Paris.

Conference co-chair and associate director of public policy at the Harris Centre, Michael Clair, is excited about the international content of the conference speakers and presenters.

“We have high-level and knowledgeable keynote speakers from Norway, France, Texas and New York, who will provide an international perspective on the issue, and who will help position Newfoundland and Labrador in its global context,” he said. “As well, we have nearly 50 other presenters from across the province, across the country, across the continent, and across the North Atlantic.”

According to Ms. Hawco, the impetus to find ways to include female workers in the industry is coming from multiple directions.

“Oil and gas operators and suppliers feel an obligation to strive for gender diversity in all areas of their business,” she explained. “It’s a social imperative. But beyond that, there are important business drivers, too. There is a shortage of qualified workers in our industry, particularly in engineering, scientific and technical disciplines.”

She also emphasizes the regulatory driver.

“The province is now making gender diversity plans a requirement in all future oil and gas developments, so operators and contractors now have an expectation to achieve certain employment targets in the hiring of women,” she said.

Memorial also has a role to play in supporting industry-wide change. According to Mr. Clair, the event is a unique opportunity for any faculty, department or centre at Memorial to gain first-hand knowledge about what strategies are in place in other countries, in multi-national corporations and at other post-secondary institutions to increase the participation of women in the oil and gas industry.

“To our knowledge, since the Women and Oil conference was held in St. John's in 1985, there have been very few conferences dealing with the topic of encouraging more women to enter the oil and gas industry – anywhere in the world,” said Mr. Clair. “As the organizer for this conference, Memorial University of Newfoundland stands to assume a leadership role in this emerging field.”

Registrations are still being accepted at the conference website, Interested in discussing the issues surrounding women in the oil and gas industry? Visit the conference blog at