About five and a half years ago, Texas native Rebecca Ponton traded in her successful writing career for an equally successful career as a petroleum landman. It wasn’t completely out of the ordinary that Ponton had made this switch; she had been around the oil & gas industry all of her life – both her father and husband had worked in the industry. Now Ponton is coming full circle with an upcoming book: “Breaking the Gas Ceiling: Women in the Oil & Gas Industry.” This week we sat down with Ponton to chat about the book.
KNect365: Why write this book? Who is your intended audience?
Rebecca Ponton: I became involved in the O & G industry as a landman after having been a journalist for 20+ years. There are a lot of female landmen, so I didn’t realize how few women there are in other sectors of the industry until I began attending some of the major conferences and events. Not only did I notice how few women were in attendance, but also how rarely there were female speakers or presenters. I also became aware of how seldom women were quoted in the media or consulted as experts when there were news stories pertaining to the industry. After I read a newspaper article quoting the male CEO of an independent oil and gas company as saying he couldn’t name a single female CEO of an O & G company, I began researching women’s roles in the industry. I discovered a wealth of “unheralded” women who have made significant contributions and that’s when I decided I wanted to acknowledge their accomplishments through this book (which, hopefully, will be the first in a series) because women’s influence on the petroleum industry really is a missing part of the history of our industry.
KNect365: I know opinions vary widely on how to change the lack of women in leadership positions in the Oil & Gas or Energy industry. There is a similar lack of women in the Shipping & Maritime industry, for example, and one woman I interviewed in that industry seemed to think the dire need for tech skills will sort it all out (i.e. companies will bring more women onboard due to sheer necessity). It’s an interesting theory.
I read, in an almost 10 year old report “Closing the Gender Gap” that the average age of a worker in the oil patch is 50 so a large amount of employees are close to retirement. EY and McKinsey tell us that diversity means good business and they have data to prove it, but I am wondering if this will translate to change. What do you think are some solutions to bringing more women into the field, and allowing those women to get in and stay in leadership roles.
“Young women should be as familiar with Vicki Hollub and Ann Pickard as they are with T. Boone Pickens and Harold Hamm.”
Rebecca Ponton: Actually one of the reasons I am writing this book is to encourage more young women to consider energy as a career, but we have to dispel the myths and the mystery surrounding the industry. Carla Riddell of Centrica Energy has been quoted as saying, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” And that’s so true! Young women can’t envision a career for themselves in the industry if it is only represented by men. Young women should be as familiar with Vicki Hollub and Ann Pickard as they are with T. Boone Pickens and Harold Hamm. I think Katie Mehnert, CEO of Pink Petro, made a profound statement when she said, “Seeing successful women will make much more impact than simply telling (girls) to dream and achieve.”
“It was interesting for attendees to get the men’s points of view, but I think it was even more interesting (and beneficial) for the men to experience what it was like to be in the minority.”
Almost without exception, the 25 women I have interviewed for the book had supportive fathers and later husbands, but also professional mentors who were men. A unique aspect to one women’s conference I attended was that it included an all-male panel of four men. It was interesting for attendees to get the men’s points of view, but I think it was even more interesting (and beneficial) for the men to experience what it was like to be in the minority. I think it’s something that should be reenacted in more situations. It helps create awareness as well as generate empathy and understanding.
Kirsty Bashforth, who had a 24-year career with BP before founding QuayFiveLtd, once said, “The mark of success for me will be when we don’t need a Women’s Oil Council.” And while I agree with her, until that day comes, we need to do everything we can to enable the 19% of the women in the industry – that’s 226,000 women – to be seen and heard.
KNect365: When is your book due to come out?
Rebecca Ponton: I am self-publishing the book, so I don’t have an exact release date yet, but readers can sign up at breakingthegasceiling.com to receive notices about the book. While the target audience for the book is women currently in the industry, as well as young women who may be considering a career in energy, I hope it appeals to anyone interested in women and women’s history. The oil and gas industry is just the backdrop for the book. The real value lies in the women’s stories.