As energy leadership diversifies, sexist images persist

HOUSTON — While women are taking an increasing number of key leadership positions in the energy industry,  sometimes things don’t change very much.

And sometimes you don’t have to look very far, noted Gindi Eckel Vincent, counsel for ExxonMobil Corp., who reminded women attending  a special session during the Offshore Technology Conference that companies continue to hire women in hot pants to sell oil and gas field equipment on the OTC exhibit floor.

It’s not just the scantily-clad women. It’s the slogans in the booths, said Vincent, recalling a tool seller that advertised along the lines of “If you have big nuts, you’ll need our big bolts,” and another that referred to their super stud powers.

“We’re clearly not there yet,” said Vincent, who is also  the author of the book “Learning to Lead.”

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Vincent, along with two other panelists, made their comments during the third annual “Women in the Industry Sharing Experiences.” They discussed women’s progress — or sometimes, lack thereof — in the energy industry and shared insights into how they’ve gotten so far in a male dominated business.

Vincent said she’s learned that women tend to view failure personally while men don’t see problems that crop up as their fault. The project didn’t go well? Many women look inward while many men chalk it up to external forces. Vincent said she’s had to learn that “It’s just business” — learn from the experience and move on.

When Lynne Hackedorn  got into the energy business in 1984, there weren’t a lot of female role models. And it stayed like that for a long time because of the downturn in the energy industry during the mid-1980s.

But that has changed over the years, which has made it easier for younger women coming up in the industry, said Hackedorn, vice president of government and public affairs for Cobalt International Energy.

Hackedorn continues to be a trailblazer. She recalled that, following her promotion to the senior leadership team, she often was the one asking questions in the meetings. It turns out that many men tend to avoid asking questions because they want to appear to know it all already.

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But Hackedorn discovered the chairman liked her questions, telling her, “This is why I like you in the room.”

Donna Birbiglia, general manager for deepwater completions and well interventions for Shell, said she’s learned to adapt to the different brackets of acceptability for women in the male-dominated offshore industry.

For one, Birbiglia, who described herself as “six feet, three inches in heels,” has toned down outward displays of passion for her job and the industry.  Too much passion, she noted, can be intimidating to men.

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