It was a pleasure to attend the recent Hart Energy 2019 Influential Women in Energy Luncheon in Houston. In its second year, the event had almost 1000 attendees, double that of last year, and honored 25 outstanding women across the energy industry. The pinnacle award recipient was M. Katherine Banks, Ph.D. currently Vice-Chancellor of Engineering and National Laboratories, and Dean of Engineering at Texas A&M University.
Ms. Banks noted the challenges they face in attracting students to STEM programs, where only 25% of engineering students are women versus 40-50% women in other professions such as law and medicine. The US lags Europe too with only 5% of college graduates in engineering versus higher numbers across the pond. To help address the shortage, Texas A&M has K-12 programs to recruit more women and minorities in engineering. She also recalled that most engineering programs are still teaching classes the same way they did 40 years ago when she (and I) attended university; but now the universities face the first generation of students brought entirely up in a digital world, i.e., digital natives, who expect universities and prospective employers to be tech-savvy.
This is a particular challenge for oil & gas and process industry companies given the industry’s negative reputation, slowness in adopting new technologies and an experienced but rapidly retiring workforce. Let’s face it, Digital Transformation, or more importantly Industrial Transformation in oil and gas and the process industries is still in the early stages compared to finance, retail and much of the discrete manufacturing industries. Massive asset and capital-intensive industries don’t change on a dime, yet, we can do better.
However, there’s good news too. While students and fresh-outs may have little industry experience, they are digitally savvy and ready to contribute. For instance, one of the young women at the event, who recently graduated from the university, talked about her background in programming languages – Python, SCALA, C, etc. It won’t be long until we expect all STEM students to have basic programming skills as de rigueur as fluency in Microsoft office.
Moreover, aspiring students and recent graduates now have substantial numbers of distinguished and accomplished women in leadership positions to follow, who can mentor and guide their careers. So, hats off to Hart Energy for putting on a first-class event and highlighting the many accomplishments of this year’s distinguished honorees. The only disappointment is - no outstanding women in downstream were honored. With major integrated oil companies plus Valero, Marathon, LyondellBasell, DowDupont, INEOS, BASF and a host of other large and small firms in Houston, there’s sure to be many deserving women meriting recognition. Nevertheless, the Hart event highlights a very positive trend as our industry strives to utilize all our human capital.