An interview with 5 women in the industry

Coordinated by: Satinder Chopra
5 women in the industry

This issue features a special section focusing on women in the Canadian geophysical industry. Women have made significant contributions and are a growing, influential force in our industry. Both oil and service companies these days are equal-opportunity employers, realizing that diversity creates value. Men and women are both important components for a good working environment and both important contributors to business success. The integration of females into the geophysical workforce is on a firm footing now and oil and service companies have achieved much in this area. Having said that, it also true that men and women may demonstrate different preferences, choices, challenges, levels of creativity – not only at work, but also in other aspects of their lives, especially in how they balance family and career.

In our context, out of the 14 interviews that we have conducted for the RECORDER so far (since March 2001), only one was done with a female (Lori Jones in January 2002). While we are aware this imbalance does not represent the demographics of our society, and we would like our interviews to be more representative, we have been limited by the reluctance on the part of the female candidates we have approached for interviews.

In an attempt to overcome the natural modesty of our female members and balance this lopsided scenario, we designed an interview structure that shared and softened the harsh glare of the interview process among several women. With this approach we were able to gain interviews with five successful females working in the Calgary oil patch. This section is dedicated to the celebration of success by women in our industry, and so appropriately we have titled it, ‘Women on the Go’. As our intention here was to gain female perspectives on a wide range of issues, the questions were accordingly not focused so much on technical topics. The following are brief introductions to the women we interviewed, and their responses to the questions we posed to them.

Karen Brawley Hogg is Vice President, Exploration at Quarry Oil and Gas Ltd., Calgary. She is an exceptional geophysicist, known for her use of AVO analysis to lower risk in seismic exploration. Earlier on in her career, she proved to be a good team worker and has now gained prominence as a good team leader.

On being approached for this conversation, Karen agreed without hesitation. She welcomed us with her characteristic engaging smile and sat through patiently and offered us her views on different aspects of the professional life of women geophysicists. She has struck an admirable balance between her productive geophysical career and personal activities that involve her family, friends and her love for art. Karen is warm, polite and full of energy.

Elaine Honsberger has been a practicing geophysicist for 19 years. Although most of her career has been as a seismic interpreter, she also has experience in seismic processing, and an interesting stint in hard rock mining geophysics. She even had a silver-bearing vein in a northern Ontario mine named after her – the “Elaine Vein”! Presently, Elaine works as Staff Geophysicist with EnCana Corporation, Calgary.

Elaine is known for the technical excellence she brings to her work, and as a person, for her warm, open and honest nature. She has also gained some notoriety in CSEG circles as one of those rare people who actually enjoy committee work! Elaine has represented the interests of CSEG members on various levels of committees, including some CGU and APEGGA work. The RECORDER editors had a fascinating discussion with Elaine, as she displayed a keen insight into the issues experienced by a female working a field that is still essentially male-dominated. Always honest, gracious and thoughtful, readers will enjoy reading Elaine’s views on various issues.

Monica Martin’s career has followed a path closely linked with the evolution of onshore 3D technology. She came into her own as a seismic processor just as the first 3Ds were being acquired in Western Canada. In processing those early 3Ds she experienced the laborious methods used to process what were then considered overwhelming amounts of data. Since that time Monica has never been too far from the leading edge of 3D processing. Today she continues to process some of the largest and most ambitious 3Ds being shot in Canada.

In a career that spans 25 years, Monica has kept her enthusiasm for the art of processing. People who work with her know her as an honest, confident, and totally reliable geophysicist. She is warm and friendly by nature, with a wide range of interests outside of work, and offered many interesting ideas and opinions during her interview.

Gloria Stenhouse is President of Intercontinental Seismic Surveys, Calgary, a Geophysical Data Brokerage company. Her aggressive and meticulous business acumen has gained her an excellent reputation within the geophysical community. With her husband working by her side, Gloria has struck a balance between work and home. She is used to the long hours it takes to run a successful business and it is not unusual to find Gloria in the office as early as 4:00 a.m.

Helen Isaac is a Research Scientist with the Fold-Fault Research Project at the University of Calgary. She is not, however, an ivory tower academic, having spent many years as an exploration geophysicist in the oil patch. Helen is actively involved in the publication of the RECORDER as an Assistant Technical Editor. It took considerable leverage on the part of the other editors to overcome Helen’s reluctance to take part in this discussion. Readers, however, will agree that this effort was worthwhile, as Helen’s views on various issues are always thoughtful, thought provoking, and often convey her dry sense of humour.

Could you review your educational background and career for us?

[Karen]: I was educated at Queen’s University and did a geological engineering degree with a geophysics option. I graduated in 1984, over 18 years ago! I started working at Petro-Canada as a geophysicist, got my training there, and have worked at a number of companies since then. I worked at Petro-Canada until 1990 when I had my first child. After my baby was born I came back part time but after 4 months of part time at Petro-Canada, motherhood was my true focus. I was not prepared for the strength of the mother-child bond! So I decided to be a full-time mom. I quit. That lasted only a couple of months. It did not take me very long to realize I had made a mistake. So, I started working part-time at home. I soon began working a lot more hours and built up a very busy consulting business.

I liked the flexibility I gained for juggling both motherhood and my career and I ended up having a successful consulting business for about 5 years, until 1996. At that point of time I was ready to make a full-time commitment to a company again, as my kids were getting older. So, I accepted a position at Remington Energy which was then taken over by Dominion. I stayed on at Dominion until 2000. Then, I resigned to come and join Quarry for my dream job at a junior oil and gas company. Quarry is currently producing about 1200 boepd and I have been here for two-and-a-half years now.

[Elaine]: I went to the University of Western Ontario, and graduated in 1983 with an Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Geophysics. I started working in the mining industry in1983, but mining wasn’t doing very well. First I worked looking for gold, copper and zinc in northern Ontario, and followed that with a brief stint in Nova Scotia and the NWT. My mining career was quite brief. After that I moved to Calgary and started at Geo-X, which was a great introduction to the oil and gas industry, and to a lot of people I still know – some are still there. Monica (Martin) was actually my first boss.

At that point I got married, and my husband was offered a job in Nova Scotia, so we moved there, but our stay lasted only 9 months. Then we came back to Calgary, and I got a job with Shell; I worked there for 9 years, and then moved to AEC, which of course is now EnCana.

[Monica]: I received a B.Sc. in Pure Mathematics from the U of C in late 1977. I had no definitive idea about what I wanted to do but was certain about what I didn’t want to do. My first interviews were with major companies and they all wanted to put me in their programming department which held no interest for me. By luck and chance, a family friend’s friend was centre manager at C.G.G. I was hired by them in February 1978, made Group Leader within a year and I spent almost five years with them. I started at Geo-X in December 1982 and just shake my head when I realize how fast the time has gone.

[Gloria]: I started at Hudson’s Bay Oil and Gas in 1973 as a secretary, but I quickly realized that secretarial work was not exhilarating enough for me. So I decided to work on changing my job prospects. Between going to school in the evening, taking the geophysical technicians program at SAIT and on-the-job training (with two awesome role models, Neil Rutherford and Don Poruchney), the pace was set for my career. In 1977, I went to Forest Oil, then moved on in 1979 to start GeoTrades (a spec and brokerage company owned by Grand Geophysica) with Jack Porter. Working with Jack was a great training period for what lay ahead. In 1987, I decided to leave the industry and follow the love of my life (Jim) to Phoenix. After 10 months of being away from the fast paced life I was used to, I came back and worked for IEXCO putting together and marketing spec surveys. After eight years I felt I had the experience as well as the burning desire to start my own company, so in 1997, Intercontinental Seismic Surveys Ltd. was formed.

[Helen]: I received my B.Sc (Hons) in Mathematics from Imperial College, London, in 1973. I followed that with an M.Sc in Geophysics in 1974. I worked as an exploration geophysicist for Phillips Petroleum in the US and England then for HBOG and Canterra/Husky in Calgary. I enjoyed working on data from many geographical locations across the globe and on many different play types. I was laid off in 1992 and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go to the University of Calgary to do that Ph.D. I had always hankered after. After finishing, I was offered a job with FRP and here I’ll stay until I retire – or they tire of me.

What is the nature of your job or role at work?

[Karen]: I am Vice-President of Exploration at Quarry and I also wear many other hats, as we are a very small, understaffed company. So I work as a landman, geophysicist, and geologist. I generate a range of opportunities for my company, from largescale farm-in deals to small development drilling programs. I do most of the geology, some of the land and all of the geophysics. I also participate in all of the budgeting and planning which I think is a critical component of being successful. For the most part, this has been the job I always wanted!

[Elaine]: I’m a technical geophysicist – I work in a team with an engineer and a geologist. Our job is to find gas in NEBC in the Jean Marie formation which is an Upper Devonian carbonate. The play encompasses a very large area that lies quite a distance north and west of Ladyfern. We use underbalanced horizontal drilling, so we don’t invade the formation, due to the extremely low permeability. We’ve got huge gas potential – the gas is almost everywhere, the trick is getting it out of the rock. The potential for EnCana is enormous, and of course it’s a great opportunity and challenge for me.

I’ve been working the play for the last two years. It was really introduced to AEC when they bought Amber. So it was brought to us through an acquisition, and one of our goals at AEC was to push this thing hard – let’s get a land base, let’s get this thing to work for us. There’s been a huge evolution of the play since it’s come to this company, and that’s because we’ve put the money behind it.

[Monica]: I have been in processing my entire career, nearly all of it in a Group Leader position with anywhere from two to five people. My first love is still 3D work but, obviously, we do whatever comes through the door. While the nature of processing has not really changed (it still is basically all about geometry, statics and velocities), the available tools have improved 100 fold.

[Gloria]: My role as President of ISS means I involve myself in all aspects of the business. Being a “hands-on” person, it is common for me to be doing 10 different things as once. Brokering seismic data, marketing spec surveys, pursuing data management contracts and administrating payables and receivables are just some of the aspects of my day.

My role as President of ISS means I involve myself in all aspects of the business. Being a “hands-on” person, it is common for me to be doing 10 different things as once. Brokering seismic data, marketing spec surveys, pursuing data management contracts and administrating payables and receivables are just some of the aspects of my day.

[Helen]: I potter about doing research on anything that interests me and is connected with exploration of complex structures. I spend a lot of time helping grad students with their seismic data processing problems and learning new software. I usually have two or three seismic lines from different areas that I’m processing. I am also the resident artist – I prepare posters, design report covers and brochures, etc.

Have you faced any challenges in the exploration world as a woman?

[Karen]: You know, I try not to think about that too much. I just do my job, the best I can and try not to think if I am impeded because I am a woman. I have had very few occasions where I felt discriminated against, so I have been truly lucky. And I have had some really good people to work with. Anyway, I wonder occasionally, if I might not be an imposing enough figure. Sometimes, the more imposing, the more assertive, get more respect. It took me awhile to learn how to stand my ground. I am not sure if that has to do so much with being a female , but perhaps. I think it is also related to being a mom and how I deliberately held back my career for a few years and really struggled with balancing motherhood and career. So my ‘woman’ challenges have been more related to the innate ‘maternal’ tendencies which created a juggling act for me, as with many women.

[Elaine]: I feel that the challenges we each face are first as people, and to me gender is just part of a very large equation. We come from different families, different values, different backgrounds, and then throw gender into that; to me it’s not actually the top thing. It’s really where we’re from, who we believe we are, and part of that is that I’m female.

[Monica]: I think in the oil industry there is a big difference between field and office operations. Women in the office are certainly better accepted. When I started 25 years ago there were very, very few women in geophysics. In school, girls were not encouraged to take Math and Science. Thirty years ago, it was not easy being better than your boyfriend at math! I sure hope that has changed. But I have never talked to another female geophysicist who felt she encountered a lot of gender bias.

But I also think there is a huge difference again in oil companies versus service companies. Oil companies have a rigid structure and a hierarchy and a flow of how you progress. I am happy to say that in my particular case it has never been a problem – certainly not at Geo-X in the 20 years I’ve been here.

[Gloria]: Initially, after starting my own business, I had a misconceived perception of how I would be treated as a woman. Proving myself as a broker to my potential clients was naturally the biggest hurdle to overcome. The industry accepted me then and continues to do so and supports me.

[Helen]: There have always been men who respected my abilities and work and have given me opportunities. However, I once had an interview with a major oil company in England and the interviewer said “you are married – what would you do if your husband were transferred?”. Well, there’s no right answer to that – if I said let the bugger go alone that would point to a troubled relationship and if I said go with him of course then they’d say oh she’s not interested in her job.

In your perception, what are the main differences between males and females?

[Karen]: Are you really going to print this??? Seriously though, if I had to generalize then I’d have to admit that we do think and behave differently in many ways. But that can be changed. For example, I have learned to have less ‘woman’ responses to certain situations (less emotional, less sensitive). And as men and women continue to work together, we all can learn from each other.

[Elaine]: I know from my own experience, communication is the key. Achieving good communication is one of the challenges we face working together as a team – men and women. But men and women communicate in different ways, and it is a gender thing. I work in a world of many, many men, and I’ve had to learn how to communicate effectively with them, and I still don’t know if I’ve mastered it. In order to address that I’ve tried to educate myself. If there’s a technical challenge, I’m going to take a course to better myself and address it. Communication is often considered to just come naturally and I don’t believe this to be generally true, when it comes to effective communication. I’ve read some books written by a lady named Deborah Tannen – she has her Ph.D. in linguistics. She’s written a couple of books on communication in the work place, between men and women. One of the things I’ve taken away is that men and women have a comfort level of where they’re sitting in a conversation or relationship. Not to say that all women behave in one way, and all men in another, but generally speaking, men are more comfortable when they know which one’s up, and which one’s down in a hierarchical sense. From a female perspective, and I feel this in my heart, we’re far more comfortable when we’re all sitting together, whether it’s my boss or someone who’s reporting to me, but we’re all perceived to be addressing a common thought, and we’re all working at it together in a level way.

So the one person up, one person down thing is really important to be aware of in any communication between men and women. I find it’s tough sometimes – I have to be aware, “Is this a situation where I need to be either up or down instead of working to keep everyone at an equal level?”

Women might underestimate, or understate how good they are at something – perhaps we’re a little more humble. A man will not necessarily right up front admit, “Oh, I’m no good at this particular job,” whereas a woman is more likely to.

Another area of difference is with the issue of saving face. I think it’s very important for men, less important for me and most other women. Women are far more equipped to say, “I don’t know how to do that, or I don’t know what that means.” The male presumption from that is that I’m confused or don’t know what I’m doing. Well that’s not it at all! I’m just very forthcoming in terms of admitting when I don’t know something. There’s way less of that going on with men. To avoid losing face they will not speak up when they’re unsure of themselves. I think the expectations placed on men by society in that regard are quite different – there are much different rules for men.

From a technical perspective, I feel women tend to be highly organized. I don’t know what it is – nest building?! But not just organizing in terms of paperwork, it’s getting the job done. We see a beginning, a middle, and an end to a task, and there’s a great deal of satisfaction gained from getting it done, closing the book, and starting another one. From talking to other women, that’s a very common sentiment. I find men are more comfortable – not all men of course – with not actually finishing a job. They get it started, and then, “Oh!” there’s something else exciting going on here or there, so they like to jump around a bit more, and dabble in many things at once. I’m not confident in saying that’s really strongly a male/female thing, but that’s been my experience.

Females are also better at providing a form of societal support, like team bonding sort of stuff. Like who in my team organizes lunches? We do the personal things. That’s a very positive thing.

[Monica]: Again, because I’ve always been processing, I have perhaps a different perspective. I work for a service company where the client chooses with whom they wish to work. They are not forced to work with any particular processor, male or female. So, that alone probably ensures that I do not encounter any gender related problems. Also, I am 6 feet tall. Most guys don’t want to give me too much grief! But, seriously, there is a huge difference when the client has the choice and the final decision of who does his/her work. Also, our groups are small and I am not forced to work with a large team. Problems go up exponentially with the number of people in a group. But I certainly agree with Elaine. Women, by and large, are better organized, more apt to admit what they DON’T know, and are always the ones who organize the social events. Men just eat the cake.

[Gloria]: Being on the service side of the oil industry, I deal with men and women, but I see them both as equals. They choose to come to me for my work ethic and my drive to give them the best and fastest service I can, with the help of my team – who happen to be mostly women.

Is it important to have a good mix of demographics in the work environment – different genders, ages, personality types and so on?

[Karen]: I think variety is good in many ways. But, in considering somebody to work for me or with me I think attitude and strength of character is the first and foremost thing. Technical skills and intelligence come as a close second. Any holes in our talent or experience can be much more easily overcome with somebody who has the right attitude and strength of character and can more easily go that extra mile to fill the gaps. As for gender and age variety, yes I believe it’s always a benefit to have some variety. And I prefer those kinds of environments.

[Monica]: I think in all aspects of geophysics, we are noticing a lack of younger people. We have a real bubble around mid 30s to 40s and not a lot of younger people coming in. I have a younger fellow in my group, who just came in. I find it is really a positive challenge to me, because he has got that enthusiasm. After 25 years in the business, you can still be enthusiastic but there is a different type of enthusiasm when you first come in. And that is very important. Yes, you want a mix of people. Not everybody is good at everything. I think gender is really not an issue. It is how people can work together and you will notice, sometimes, the same gender can’t work together. So, you can have a mix. I have had men working for me who did not want to work for a woman. And that is fine; they can go somewhere else.

[Gloria]: I think it is more important to assess the quality of the employee rather than the age or gender. In our case, we primarily have a young female group. I look more for the knowledge and personality they can bring to the company – in other words, DO THEY FIT?!!

[Helen]: It’s always good to have a mixture of personalities, whether at work or on volunteer committees. We all bring different talents and you need the big picture people just as much as the detailed perfectionists, even though they may drive each other crazy. The oil industry has to employ young people or there will be no-one to fill the shoes of the retiring baby-boomers. Just think of all that knowledge and experience – how is it going to be passed on if there are no younger people following?

How did you become interested in geology/geophysics?

[Karen]: When I was quite young, 12 I think, I was really interested in rock-hunting. I spent most summers on the north shore of Lake Superior, where my aunt and uncle would take me and my cousins to look for gems. I would always be the one to come back with pockets full of agates and garnets. I loved treasure hunting then and I guess that is what exploration is all about. At the beginning of my first year of geological engineering, I had to decide between the geological or geophysical options. By then, I knew I liked physics more than chemistry, so chose geophysics. When you are in university and deciding what you are going to do as a career, most people including me don’t have a clue what that career will actually look like. I feel I am lucky because I picked something that really worked for me.

[Elaine]: Well, I’ll tell you the story of how I was first really tipped off in terms of geophysics as a career, because I’d never heard of it when I went to university. I wanted to take science, because I enjoyed it and was good at it. I actually thought I would go to med school, but then I discovered that in first year biology I actually really didn’t enjoy it – the concept of it being based on memorizing, not logic. I didn’t understand that about myself yet at the time, but once I was at university I better understood my style of learning. So I thought, “Maybe biology isn’t such a good fit.” I went down to the head professor in biology and talked to him about what career I could follow with biology. He told me that they weren’t there to train me for a career, they were there to educate me! It happened around that time that I was speaking to a guy waiting in line with me for a lab. He said to me, “Have you heard about geophysicists? They make a hundred thousand dollars a year!” And that was the first time I heard the word geophysicist. So I marched up the hill to the geophysics department, and asked them what I could expect with a geophysics degree. And they basically promised me the whole world! And in a way they were right in that the opportunities really are available, worldwide. It was an excellent career choice for me. I’m good in math and physics, and I’ve also got creative aspects that help with what we’re doing.

[Monica]: When I got a job doing it. Well, not exactly. My father was a geologist and I have always loved rocks and dinosaurs and exploring. We used to go out around Drumheller (long before it was illegal) and dinosaur hunt. I loved those trips. Anywhere we went, he would always point out to me the different formations and give me a brief lesson in local geology. Still, I didn’t consider geology at university and there was no geophysics department when I was there.

[Gloria]: While I was a secretary at Hudson’s Bay Oil and Gas, I worked in the geophysics and geology group, and found I was more geared to the excitement of geophysics. I really thrived on learning new exploration techniques, and when I went to Forest Oil I was thrown into the world of computers. I was one of the first there to learn digitizing via the computers. That provided the groundwork for my future as a broker.

[Helen]: In the final year of my bachelor’s degree in Mathematics I had difficulty getting enthused by the job opportunities – actuarial work, accountancy, that sort of stuff – so I looked around for an M.Sc. to do and I spotted Geophysics. That looks interesting, I thought, and might give me the opportunity to work abroad. I was right. I had never been exposed to any Geophysics before then, although I had always enjoyed Geography at school.

What continues to inspire you in your job?

[Karen]: I love exploration. And what I’ve been doing here at Quarry is what I love most – creating exploration plays, being very hands-on, and being very active in such things as setting up and doing my own land deals. Not that I won’t bring in a consultant to help but I have enjoyed being involved and making things happen. Because we are a small company, we have tried to keep our G & A down. So, I have not had the luxury of having my own geologist. I have been forced to hone my skills as a geologist and that has been fun too. Obviously a job like this has its stresses, but I enjoy learning and I love being hands-on, creating value, coming up with ideas and pursuing them.

[Helen]: I am fortunate in being able to do pretty much as I please, so if something interests me I can pursue it. I also enjoy working with grad students – passing on some of my knowledge to them makes me feel useful and that I’m doing something worthwhile.

[Monica]: I still love my job. Not many people are lucky enough to say that after 25 years. The nature of processing suits my personality well. Things have a definite beginning and end and tend to not drag on for months on end. Also, each new brute stack is like a little present to be unwrapped. A bit strange, I suppose! Plus I love 3D work, the more intricate the better. And software/hardware has changed and improved so much over the last few years that there is never a shortage of something new to learn.

[Gloria]: The people! With the constant changes in the industry and the ever-shrinking market, I love the challenge of developing new and innovative ideas for expanding our business.

Do women make good managers?

[Karen]: Well yes, sometimes. Women are more emotionally based. So, that can be a good thing because they might be more sensitive to potential adversity or difficulty in the work place. They might be quicker to catch it and deal with it. But that has its negative side also. Sometimes, more sensitive can become too sensitive! So I would say, absolutely yes, women do make good managers, and again it comes back to variety. I wouldn’t want a corporation with all men managers or all women managers. We all have something to offer and sometimes taking the emotion out of it, being very cut and dried in a typically ‘male’ way, is a better approach to a lot of situations and something I have had to work at learning.

[Elaine]: What I’ve found in dealing with other women is oftentimes the ones who have risen to the top are somewhat different from the rest of us. I have not been able to strip out the elements that are specifically different. They are often more like men. You might picture a female manager as sensitive and caring and everything female like that, but this is not necessarily so! These are women who have risen above many men. So generally they’re going to use the same rules as men, they’re going to play the male game very well. Are they going to fit my picture of a typical woman? Likely not. But to me, it just depends on the person.

There are certain aspects about women that help them make good managers. Communication skills as I’ve mentioned. We’re more aware of when people have a problem – more empathetic. Women may pick up more on body cues and be willing to ask questions when perhaps men are not.

[Monica]: As with all these generalities, there is no simple yes or no answer. Some women will and some won’t. Define good. Does that mean solely getting work out or also having a group of happy workers? It goes back to the question about the differences between men and women. We all have different styles. Some can be generalized perhaps to gender (women are more sensitive, men don’t want to acknowledge conflict) but, as with most things, I still think it comes back to an individual’s particular character traits.

[Gloria]: I like to think so! We tend to be more focused and driven, while still adding a personal touch. Being on the service side, it is important to create relationships. As a woman, this seems to come more naturally.

Do you think women are more ambitious than men?

[Karen]: No – but I know I am very ambitious; I can speak for myself and I like to work. No, I think women and men are equally matched there. Perhaps some women’s ambitions are just different, not more or less. I think if women are ambitious in ‘traditionally male’ work, they find it more difficult because, even if we have the support of partners at home, which I do, we still are over-achievers because we want to be the best moms and good at what we do in all departments. So, if you are an ambitious woman, it might be a curse! There is a lot to do.

[Monica]: Another sweeping question. I know ambitious men and I know ambitious women.

[Gloria]: No. I have seen the best and worst in both men and women. I can only speak for myself and consider myself very ambitious but then I enjoy what I do and definitely have the full support of my husband.

What percent of your workforce is female?

[Karen]: At Quarry we have 3 women and 3 men. So that is 50%. Maybe we’re beating the odds there <laughter>.

[Elaine]: I don’t know the actual numbers at all, but I can give some generalized observations. At the top, there’s one female VP – corporate services, IT stuff. In my division, which is onshore North America, there are 10 VPs. Of the 10, two are female – one in HR, and one is an engineer. She’s the only engineer at that level. When I look further down at the technical level, I find there’s more women in geology. I have adjusted to working in a world where I am a true minority. I’m very comfortable with that, it’s fine. I’m not sure if men are ready to have an equal number of women, or more women in our workforce or in management – I just don’t think they’re there yet. I think there is, in fairness, a shortage of women who are interested and willing to take the extra step into leadership roles.

I think the end result of a disproportionate number of men or women working together in any group is often a less than optimal situation for the minority. To approach a more balanced situation, there are some really good things that can happen, because both genders have a lot to offer.

[Monica]: We have two female group leaders of out about 10 groups, and 20% of all our processors are women.

[Gloria]: At ISS we have seven women and one man. This is working quite well contrary to the norm.

A general feeling aired by some men is that women managers are shrews and more ‘male’ than men themselves. What is your comment on that?

[Karen]: I have heard that. And I have been in a company that had one of those. Yes, it happens. I myself have been forced to get a thicker skin and perhaps have become a bit hardened. I like to think I haven’t lost my sense of being a compassionate human being. I think all managers have different responsibilities – sometimes they have to be a little hard. I wonder if women are generally less likely to have that demeanor and so it is just noticed more when a woman is like that in the workplace?

[Monica]: When I first started working, there were some women in the industry who hurt us more than they helped us by being of this mold. Perhaps, back then, they felt more pressure to be “one of the guys”. And, to them, that translated as being “shrewish” to use your word. I would like to think that this has changed – that women no longer have the attitude that they have to behave like bitches (my word) in order to progress up the management ladder. Again, I think that this is still an individual personality issue. I very much doubt that a woman (or man) who behaves like a tyrant at work goes home and is warm and cuddly. I do think you take your personality with you wherever you go and don’t turn into a different person when you walk into the office. The problem is, because there are so few women in upper management especially, when you have one or two like this they tend to stand out.

[Gloria]: Looking around at some of the female managers in our industry, I have heard varying remarks about their management skills or lack thereof. Again, on an individual basis, I think that success comes hard to women in management and possibly our “trying harder” is perceived as a threat to some.

Do you think a management degree proves helpful to a manager?

[Karen]: I haven’t done one, so I am not sure. For me, though I have the title of a VP, I am managing myself. I kick my own butt if I don’t get my job done and I don’t need a masters for that. I do have an individual who I guess works for me but I really see myself as another member of my team. So for me, a course on management is probably not a prerequisite. I have looked at it, thought about it, I might even do a course one day, but as far as learning to manage people, I have learnt the most by being in situations that are difficult – learnt about how I handle myself and how I can handle a situation better next time.

[Elaine]: I think a management degree can be extremely useful – I know a few geophysicists who have one, and while I don’t think it is imperative, it seems to lead to more confidence and a broader perspective in analyzing problems. Right now, I am a technical person; my role is technical, not managerial. I actually like that. In a geophysical role, it’s rare in our company to move into management. There’s one senior VP in our entire company who’s a geophysicist. Even at the team leader level, very few geophysicists. In terms of finding oil and gas, the triangle is made up of the geologist, the geophysicist, and the engineer. In my mind, it’s kind of a triangle positioned horizontally, with each of the corners sitting at the same level. But it’s my perception that it’s the engineers who tend to move up to higher levels on the organizational chart. We’re a development driven company. In an exploration driven company, it might be flipped, with the geologist on the top.

[Gloria]: A management degree may be beneficial to some, but without drive and ambition, I feel it means nothing. I don’t have a degree but I’m able to use my ambition and basic people skills to manage effectively.

It is said ‘Success and management are bought at a huge cost’. It is very lonely at the top. You get more reserved and think carefully about whom you can trust. What is your comment?

[Karen]: I think there is some truth to that. It can be lonely at times. Most of us like to be friendly with the people we work with. Maybe 30 or 50 years ago there was this idea that you don’t mix with people you work with – you do your job and go home. These days there are usually alliances and friendships that are built out of teams we are on. So if you are a manager within a team like that, it might be harder, because sometimes you’ll have to put friendship aside and say I am doing my job and taking my responsibilities seriously. Having said that, I think the successful people at the top do not isolate themselves. Regardless of their title, they also have close friends, confidants, and within the company they have people they can rely on, talk to, and trust. So I don’t think it always has to be lonely, but you are right it can be that way at times.

[Gloria]: I would agree with your comment more based upon my experience with a large company. However, with the close-knit company I have created, I have eliminated a lot of the politics and inherent problems that come with it.

As we’ve discussed, men and women differ in the way they communicate and make decisions. As a woman, have you experienced difficulty in making yourself heard in the decision making process?

[Karen]: No, not much anymore. I don’t usually avoid arguments or conflicts. I believe in what I call ‘fearless communication’ and I try to be respectful in any disagreement. I actually believe that a healthy team or organization needs to have people being willing to disagree. As soon as you get a team within a company agreeing all the time, I don’t think it necessarily leads to the right decisions. So, I think we shouldn’t always agree. I believe that team success is always greater than any single individual success. I’ll never forget a workshop exercise I did a few years ago. We were in groups of 12 and were given a questionnaire were we had to fill in the answers first individually and then as whole team. As teams, every single group consensus came up with much more correct solutions than any of the teams’ individuals! I am a big advocate of that and usually naturally make myself heard. As long as there is respectful, fearless communication, you don’t always have to agree initially and in fact that probably will facilitate more consensus and better decisions in the end.

[Elaine]: That depends on how passionately I feel about the point, how much money would be involved, how important it is from a business point of view – those sorts of things. There is certainly a lot of intimidation when sitting in a room and my point of view is opposed to the majority of the other people’s. The way I handle that? If I can anticipate it, it’s no problem. I basically stick to the facts, and make my case. But what I find happens, however, is that I almost have to become not myself – I become more serious, more assertive. My regular self just isn’t going to work. That’s difficult, because then you’re perceived to be a bitch! I’m sorry to say that, but that’s really what happens. I have to strip everything that’s some sort of female part of me away. I think what I mean by female in that sense is any kind of emotion.

[Monica]: When I first started dealing with clients, I found it very hard to voice my opinion. It took me probably five years or so to get the confidence and conviction. But that is me and is, perhaps, not related to gender as much as to experience level. Now I think most people would tell you that I have absolutely no trouble speaking my mind!

[Gloria]: I believe men and women are very different in their communication styles, but I have learned how to adapt my way of communicating in order to be heard. Being heard doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing and for a woman we can be seen as overpowering. I have found over the years that in the same position, a man would be applauded for handling a situation while the woman would be criticized for overstepping her bounds.

How do you feel about making concessions for people who want to combine family and career, like flexible working hours?

[Karen]: Regardless of whether they are women, moms, dads or students trying to finish a degree, I would always support flexibility. It is so important. We hire people that are qualified and adults, and we must give those people our trust that they can get their jobs done, whether they fit that time in between 8 and 5, or 7 and 4, or whatever. So flexibility is key. If I find the right person to work with, then that is what matters most. I have worked flexible hours for years so I know it can be done successfully. It takes commitment and attitude. A lot of managers can really get uptight about giving flexibility. I think the perception is that it’s is a harder thing to manage. And I’ve seen a lot of workplaces still pace ‘visibility’ above ‘productivity’. But as long as everyone agrees to some core hours, meetings can be attended, and the work still gets done.

[Elaine]: I would try to be flexible, with hours, or working from home if I was in the managerial position, but on the other hand, I don’t want women to be considered special or different. I think that holds us back. It gives men a reason to say, “Oh, we’re not going to put this person in a managerial position – she’s working from home, she’s coming in late.” We’re just feeding the fire.

[Monica]: I think flexible working hours are one of the smartest things a company can offer. We ALL have lives outside the office doors that often just won’t wait for us until 5 p.m. I personally feel that people respond very well when there is a recognition of this from management. Geo-X has always had a very good attitude towards working hours and I think it pays off in the long run. Responsible people remain responsible whether they work a strict 8 to 4:30 or not. And that is the key – being responsible for the work you have to do and what goes with it, be that meetings, client calls, deadlines etc.

[Gloria]: As long as we are all aware of a person’s flex time (for whatever reason) being small, we have the capability to cover for one another. It seems to work well here and at home and I will always support flexibility. I think it is very important.

[Helen]: I believe in equal opportunity – that means I think flexible working hours should be available to all employees, not only women. You would have to be careful that the system wasn’t abused, though.

In your experience, have the men around you taken your capability seriously or did it take time for the respect to develop?

[Karen]: I have had a few situations where I didn’t feel I’m taken seriously. But I think for the most part I have been received with respect. Some see me as a specialist even though I sell myself as an explorationist and not as a specialist. I have done a lot of work on AVO, given a paper, and continue to apply it in any play where I think it is appropriate. Because of this, people tend to view me as a specialist, which I think brings some respect. Ironically, I like AVO because I want as many tools as possible to do my job better and an explorationist’s job is to find risky things but keep the risk as low as possible. But I have been viewed as a specialist before, because North Eastern BC is an area I worked for a long time on and off through the years. I had a couple of years when I started to think, jeez, maybe I am being pigeon-holed in NE BC and maybe I need to get away from that. But I don’t worry about that any more.

[Helen]: There have been a few chauvinistic types but I have always found that intelligent men will respect another’s work for its quality regardless of the sex of the person. Male students at the university have no problem coming to me for help.

[Monica]: It takes time for respect to develop for anyone but I certainly have always felt my abilities were well accepted and appreciated.

[Gloria]: As with any new venture, respect takes time regardless of gender. The realization of my time “spent in the trenches” gave me some credibility and respect on a going forward basis. I still had to prove myself but people recognized my abilities.

Apart from analysis of data, exploration also involves fieldwork. Do you think it’s appropriate for women to be involved in fieldwork, or only in behind-the-desk jobs?

[Karen]: No! Hard hats fit women too! I think it is imperative that everybody, male or female, get out to the field and see what is going on out there, whether it is acquisition of seismic programs or drilling a well. Find an opportunity to get out there in the field a couple of times a year. It is amazing the things we forget when we sit behind a desk. Everybody says that. It is almost a cliché in our industry. Yet it is so true. We should get out and see. It allows us to do our job better. Yes, I try and get out to the field but because I have a lot going on here, it is hard to get away.

[Elaine]: I can only speak from my own experience. When I started my geophysical career, I was in mining, and I was actually working in the field. I replaced another woman who had been working with a team of men. So from my own experiences of 20 years ago, no it’s not impossible or impractical in any way to see women in the field. In any role in geophysics for that matter – I don’t have any mental block regarding that. I think the only thing people get concerned about women is are we going to get married and have children and not be able to work anymore. Those concerns would be even bigger when you’re talking about a field position I would think. Alternatively, one situation I’ve seen with a wellsite geologist is that her husband cared for the children.

Personally, my time of working in the field is over! That’s because my natural tendency is to want to use the computer for finding solutions to problems. I like the puzzle aspect to it. I don’t enjoy the physical aspect of fieldwork nearly as much; I really get my enjoyment from the thinking part, which tends to be more suited to office work.

[Monica]: I have been out to the field several times. I think a processor can greatly benefit from seeing how seismic acquisition really works. As for working out in the field, why not? If a he or a she can do the job and they are fine with being away from home, then the opportunity should exist. “Appropriate” should be an individual assessment.

[Gloria]: I think it is invaluable for both males and females to have a “hands-on” perspective of seismic acquisition. From my own experience, the occasional time spent in the field allowed me to appreciate the work that goes into obtaining the seismic information. It gave me a clearer understanding of all aspects of seismic, instead of just reading about it.

[Helen]: At the University, all geophysics undergrads have to go to field school. Boys and girls work alongside each other and when they go out into industry I hope they carry their experiences of equal opportunity with them.

Now that you have reached this position, what next?

[Karen]: Quarry is currently for sale so I want to finish my job here. Then I think I would like to do this again. Pull a team together. I would take my time picking the people because the team is critical. I also would like to, as I am interested in art, contribute to the arts community more. I just see that we get so much personal benefit and personal growth in seeing a play, or listening to music, or just looking at an amazing painting – and yet the art community is so under-funded. I am on a board right now and it’s frustrating, because I don’t have the time I want to give to them. So, I could see myself, when I get (more) grey hair, doing some philanthropic work. But that could be 10 years away. Then again, maybe I’ll buy a winery in New Zealand and move there! <laughter>

[Elaine]: Do you know, I wonder this myself – and I wonder in typical female fashion why in heaven’s name would someone want to write an article on my views??

And then I think about it for a second and I realize how far I have come personally and professionally since I started on this career path. I hear in my mind the comments that individuals have made to me on how I might have changed their paths for the better, or helped them to believe in their own strengths because somewhere at sometime I have said something about my experiences or my beliefs that they have connected with. I feel like I have a lot left in me to give, both professionally and personally. I hope to continue practicing geophysics for as long as the industry and I are willing – I also have an intense desire to give back, pass on, mentor, encourage where I can, because otherwise what has all my learning been for?

[Monica]: My lack of ambition is about to show! Or perhaps that is just recognizing a good situation and being happy with it. I like where I am and what I am doing. More 3Ds would be nice though ...

[Helen]: Oh, I was threatening to retire at 50 but now I suppose it’ll have to be 55…

What are your other interests apart from science?

[Karen]: I have a very strong interest in Art; lately in Picasso (if I could buy one I would) and hand blown glass. I love many kinds of music. I am also very interested in people, I am very social and I love being with my good friends and meeting new people. That is a very strong part of my life. I also have had a lot of interest in personal growth, yoga and meditation, introspective type of work to grow as a human being. I like reading but I don’t have time. I also have had a lot of interest in technical analysis on the stock market. For a while I was intensely involved in it. As for new interests, I also now have an electric bass guitar, so who knows…

[Elaine]: One of the downsides of the job I do is that it’s all encompassing. It’s a bit of a struggle to achieve a balance with other interests. But I try to keep my body healthy, so I run and pursue karate. I find that helps me to focus on something other than work. And of course my family life with my husband and children occupies a lot my time and interest, and it’s very important to me. Outside of that circle there’s way more that I should be doing but I’m not, because that takes up all of my time.

[Monica]: I am an avid cyclist. In 1998, I rode a bicycle from Seattle to Washington D.C. The event was a fundraiser for the American Lung Association. The idea was to have 1000 riders and make the biggest cross-country bike ride in history. We started with 750 riders and I was one of only 7 Canadians. Luckily I was able to fundraise in Alberta and the money I raised stayed here. We rode 5300 km in 7 weeks and what I wouldn’t give to be that fit again! It was a huge challenge both physically and mentally but I would do it again tomorrow if I could. When I can’t be on my bike, I have a wonderful cabin in Montana, like to do stained glass work, read voraciously, golf sporadically, and can also do nothing at all very effectively!

[Gloria]: I was about to say, “Just work,” and then I thought, oh my goodness, I have become my Dad! But looking back, I’d say I have been obtaining more balance in my life, and I’ve done that through my love for travel. It’s become very important to me. I enjoy meeting new people and exploring their culture. It has been a very rewarding experience to date. In the fall of this year, I plan to make a trip to Kenya to be a part of a two week mission project with our church.

[Helen]: I’m interested in all sorts of things. I wouldn’t let work interfere too much with my real life. I am passionate about music. I have sung in the Calgary Philharmonic Chorus for nearly 17 years and I take private voice lessons. I also cross-country ski, help organize the Lake Louise Loppet and volunteer at other ski races. In the summer, I like to work in the garden and go hiking and I can wield a mean power drill. I also dabble in art, history and birdwatching. I researched my family history – Salt Lake City was good for that – and they were all agricultural labourers or blacksmiths from Lincolnshire, which I suppose explains the gardening and power drill stuff.

What advice would you give to women who are trying to enter the geophysical profession?

[Karen]: I would say, don’t doubt yourself. And don’t demean yourself. When I was a kid – and I still see that happening with some of my daughters’ friends – it was fashionable or common for girls to pretend that they are not as smart as they really are. So I would advise girls to step up to the plate if you have the ability, talent and intelligence, then let it shine. There is nothing to be ashamed of in being a smart girl. We have two girls. We encourage them to be proud of the fact that they are smart kids. I think a lot of young girls like to hide that. That will be my number one advice for girls growing up. I guess the other thing girls are trained to do is be polite, not speak their minds bluntly. I would say respectful, fearless communication is an important thing to learn early on in your career. I feel a lot of discrimination can occur when we allow it to happen. It is up to us to be our own, and others, advocates.

Elaine]: The main thing is to have confidence in yourself. There is an intimidation component when dealing with men. Earlier in your career one tends to doubt oneself, and what I’ve found is that if I’m able to push through that, 90% of the time what I’m thinking is usually right. Push through those walls of intimidation, without alienating those around you. Have confidence, don’t be intimidated, and don’t be afraid to speak.

So for women who are young geophysicists, nothing should hold them back. They should do anything – behind a desk if that’s what they want, or out in the field if that’s what they want!

[Monica]: The same advice I would give to anyone. Watch, listen and learn. Always take responsibility for what you do, right or wrong. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” And, conversely, don’t be afraid to speak up when you have something to add. Don’t tolerate bad behavior from anyone should you encounter it. Ultimately, I would like to believe that our work speaks for itself. This is a wonderful profession and offers huge opportunities in many different areas.

[Gloria]: I can only speak from my field of experience: “Go for it!” But understand it takes patience. From a brokerage standpoint, don’t come into the industry and think you are going to go gangbusters. It is one step at a time. I usually tell new brokers, men and women alike, give yourself at least six months of knocking on doors.

[Helen]: Go for it and ignore people who try to deter you by telling you women have a problem. I believe the dinosaurs in our industry are dying out and the younger men you will be working with are much less chauvinistic than some of those I have worked with. Talk to women in the industry and get first hand stories.

Do you have any female role models?

[Karen]: Yes, Julia Roberts. <laughter>. Seriously though, professionally, I wish I could say yes but I don’t know many women in my field, and of those I do know, I haven’t worked closely with any of them. I don’t know if I really have any role models, but personally, I do look up to my younger sister for her insight and wisdom.

[Monica]: My mother is a source of inspiration. After my father died in 1972, my mother was left as a 50 year old woman with a (small) oil company and no geological or business background. She was treated terribly by the men around her. Chauvinism at its finest. But she had a good business mind, stuck to her guns and did, ultimately, very well. Seeing her make a success of herself in a difficult environment was both an eye opener and an inspiration for me.

[Gloria]: Although I credit my mother for instilling integrity and a strong work ethic in me, my role model, whether she knows it or not, is Alison Jones of Cequel Energy. She has a reputation as a strong taskmaster, and as a person who wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything she wouldn’t do herself. She’s excelled in her chosen profession. Thank you Alison.

What makes a broker successful?

[Gloria]: The success of a broker depends on the rapport they develop between their clients and themselves. Once that rapport is developed, constant follow-up to ensure that their geophysical needs are being met is an on-going requirement of maintaining the relationship.

Do you get involved in volunteer work?

[Karen]: I’m currently on the board for Lunchbox Theatre. And I’ve done all sorts of things in the past. I have always tried to give some volunteer time to a community in which I have an interest.

[Elaine]: Working on various committees has given me the opportunity to prove to myself that I had far more skills than just technical ones. I have good organizational skills; I can get a team of people working together in a meeting. That has been important for me. Often the opportunity for a geophysicist to prove that at the workplace is limited.

One thing I find about being a volunteer is that people don’t ask what your qualifications are. You want to run this committee? Go ahead! I like that. At work, there’s far more screening that goes on.

It’s also very important for me to give back to our geophysical community. Is that because I’m female? No. It’s because I feel very passionately about certain things that are right and wrong, and I do think that I’m quite willing to stick my neck out to set an example. For instance, being involved with APEGGA. I know there are a lot of people who have a lot of issues with APEGGA. A lot of them are right on – there were things that happened in the past that shouldn’t have. But without people, like myself, getting involved, if we just rail against the system, it will never change. I feel very strongly about that. If people aren’t happy with something, and it influences their lives, they should try to give a little extra and make it better.

[Monica]: Only to a very small extent and I regret that I have not been more involved with the various appendages to the CSEG.

[Gloria]: I have volunteered on CSEG Convention committees, and I found that very rewarding. It also made me realize my potential as an organizer, and I met new friends and clients. I think it is very important to give back to our geophysical community. Everyone should try it!

[Helen]: Oh God, all this Ski Club stuff – I help organize the Lake Louise Loppet and the New and Used Ski Sale and help at other races, such as the K-45, Alberta Winter Games and races at Canmore and of course the hours I have devoted to the Philharmonic Chorus for very little thanks, I might add. I used to work at Rockyview Hospital but had to give up that time commitment. Oh, and then there’s the CSEG – how could I forget? – I was on the executive recently for two years and I usually help out with the convention. The Outreach and RECORDER committees take up time, especially the RECORDER.


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