Apparently, most studies are examining the issues of gender discrimination and ethnicity separately (Fairchild, 2009; Parashar, 2014; Broyles & Fenner, 2010). In so doing, the researchers have failed to investigate how female Black Americans, who are victims in both cases, cope in the workplace. This paper addresses the knowledge gap by assessing how gender and ethnicity makes the female black Americans the most oppressed subgroup. The study examines the oil and gas industry since it provides an ideal environment that is typical male-dominated workplace.
Background and Research Problem
The United States has been on the forefront in pushing for human rights agendas around the globe, especially when it comes to gender and racial equality. However, Americas neighborhoods and workplaces tell a different story. Recent studies reveal that the American society is a racially segregated society. The thought behind this research is to assess the specific factors that restrict women from working in certain male dominated fields. The oil and gas industry is an ideal sector to conduct the study since the working conditions presents the majority of factors that keep women away certain workplaces. At this level, the research accommodates all the American women as they struggle to compete with their male counterparts for such jobs. However, this study is specifically targeting not just any American woman but the Black American minority group. As mentioned above, possessing the Black-American heritage is a serious disadvantage when it comes to employment. It is logical to hypothesize that female employees suffer double tragedy for being women and being Black-Americans. Therefore, the next step will be to examine how the two disadvantages, gender and ethnicity, makes it difficult for black women to survive in the male-dominated oil and gas industry.
Women in the US Oil and Gas Industry
Male employees constitute the majority of the workforce in the US oil and gas industry. According to McKee (2014), unfavorable working conditions in the oil and gas industry is the main reason that has led to historic exclusion of women. According to the US Department of Labor, the Oil and Gas Industry falls under the male dominated field bracket since women constitutes less than 25% of the total workforce. There are predictions for job growth in millions of new careers in the United States oil and gas industry in the next twenty years. Across, the world, shortage of workers in this industry will result in more job openings. Currently, women hold slightly less than 20% of total employment in the petrochemical, oil and gas industries. Their representation is higher in downstream and significantly lower in the upstream segments (technical and core aspects of the industry). This leaves enormous room for women with the right skills and knowledge to take up competitive positions in this male dominated industry.
Miller (2004) observes that for women wishing to pursue competitive careers in the oil and gas industry, there are three important employment categories that they can consider. The first one is drilling. Across the United States, there are lots of employment opportunities related to drilling and spudding of oil wells and reworking of old wells. The second category of employment is extraction. Under this category, women can pursue careers related to the operation, development and production of gas and oil fields. Included in this category is the exploration of work up to the point of transportation from the production wells. The third category of employment opportunities is in support activities. Here, women can play a wide range of roles in support activities for gas and oil operations. The above job categories are broad and thus include a variety of career paths requiring both soft and hard skills.
Factors affecting Female Employees
Studies have identified a number of barriers for women in the oil and gas industry. These include unfavorable working conditions (especially in the drilling category), tight schedules, lack of appropriate accommodation, the need to stay away from their families, and lack of training opportunities. These barriers have been found to impede womens participation in this important sector. A research by Barrett (2012) revealed that organizational cultures in the oil and gas industry have historically been dominated by male-oriented values, styles of behavior and beliefs, which discourage alternative modes of expression and perspectives. As a result, a small number of women is promoted to senior and middle level and senior positions in the industry. For those women who reach senior levels, they have a limited female peer group, and thus experience lack of support and isolation from male dominated professional networks.
According to Barrett (2012), the small numbers of women in the oil and gas industry hinder them from initiating key corporate changes at executive level. The few women who succeed to advance in the industry have learned to abide by established rules and organizational behavior patterns. Accordingly, they become reluctant to propose innovative ideas that could be seen by their male counterparts to be different, but that could otherwise benefit the organizations. Various studies and industry reports have reported that the recruitment process often present challenges to women. Lack of opportunities for alternative work schedules (such as flexi work, part time positions and job sharing) and child care support have been shown to significantly hinder womens advancement and equal participation.
A major issue for career women in the oil and gas industry is that field experience and mobility are critical successful factors. To gain valuable skills that can lead to rapid promotions, women must aspire to have adequate experience in the profession as well as a full understanding of the technical aspects of upstream and downstream processes in the industry. In recent years, the mobility factor has gained adequate attention due to increasing domestic responsibilities for career women (Barrett 2012).
Although women are not equally represented in the United States oil and gas industry, there are signs of positive gains. Several oil and gas companies have established diversity management programs aimed at dealing with gender related issues and addressing any barriers that hinder womens participation in the industry. Some of the common initiatives that have been implemented include child care facilities in the workplace, bridging courses to introduce diverse training opportunities for women, implementation of harassment prevention programs and other trainings that require high levels of managerial support and accountability. There have also been introduced gender awareness trainings and gender sensitivity trainings in the hiring and training of employees. Outside the organizations involved in the oil and gas industry, more associations have been formed to promote women in engineering and science based courses. All these positive steps have shown potentials to increase women participation in the oil and gas industry. As such, the steps should be supported in order to ensure that the industry benefits fully from the alternative working styles and new ideas brought by women.
Perceptions about female employees in the gas and oil industry
Various studies such as Fairchild (2009) have explored perceptions about women working in the gas and oil industry. The studies report that majority of respondents held the perception that the oil and gas industry is a preserve for men. This finding is consistent with the fact that the oil and gas industry has traditionally been dominated by men even in countries such as the United States which has been at the fore front in championing gender equality. Miller (2004) reports that most people believe that the risks inherent in the oil and gas industry are quite high to be faced by women. This has nurtured a decades-old perception among recruiters that the industry is a male-suited terrain. This perception informs recruiters subjective assessment of job seekers qualifications, which in effect works in favor of male job seekers.
Barrett (2012) argues that since few women are employed in the gas and oil industry, the percentage of black women in this industry is even smaller in countries where they have to compete with white women. This is because of racial stereotypes against black people. In countries like the United States of America where racial discrimination against blacks is widespread, the proportion of black women in the energy industry is quite small. Notwithstanding the fact that women in general are underrepresented in the industry, there are persistent perceptions that blacks are not well educated to perform technical duties in industries. This perception is based on the fact that blacks in the United States have historically been relegated to the periphery of educational opportunities. As such, the perceived lack of education is one of the factors responsible for the underrepresentation of black women (and even black men) in the industry.
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