(Bloomberg) – Flexible working hours and maternity leave are all well and good, but what women really want is a fair chance to climb the corporate ladder.
So says Vicki Hollub, and she would know: In her 35-year career she moved up the ranks at Occidental Petroleum Corp. to become big oil’s top woman, and has since led and won the battle for dominance in America’s hottest shale play.
“Women I work with and talk with in the industry really feel it’s the assurance they’re going to be given the opportunities and the chance to perform,” Hollub said in an interview in Houston. “The industry has to prove that that’s a reality everywhere.”
The University of Alabama-trained mineral engineer worked in Russia, Venezuela and the U.S. for Occidental before becoming chief executive officer in 2016.
Under Hollub, Occidental has come up against majors like Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. to defend its leadership as the No. 1 producer in the Permian Basin, one of the world’s biggest and most profitable oil fields. Last year, the company was among the 10 best performers on the S&P 500 Energy Index.
A path like hers is still rare in the industry, and she’s the only one who’s risen this high among the 18 oil producers worth more than $50 billion.
Only about 20 percent of the industry’s workforce are female, a smaller share than all other sectors except construction, according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group and World Petroleum Council. The upshot is not only that women lose out on a promising career, but that companies don’t hire the best talent and suffer from having a smaller diversity of perspectives, the study said.
Once companies hire women, flexible working is important to retain them, said Hollub, who took two years off in the early 1990s for family reasons.
“People do need to go and have their families,” she said. “They need to fulfill that part of their life. You need a way to integrate them back into the workforce while still understanding that they have to take care of their family.”
Historically, the oil industry’s need for engineers and geologists to work in remote locations may have stymied women’s opportunities but this is no longer an excuse, Hollub said.
As other companies laid off employees after the 2014 oil-price crash, Occidental experimented with sending younger workers out to rigs to gain experience on site so that later on in their careers they could work remotely or from home.
“They can sit in the office or at home and do a better job because of the exposure we put them through early,” she said. “We now have a formal program for people when they come on board of getting them out into the field before they’ve settled into a position.”
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