The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines “prowess” as “great ability or skill.”
Empowering women to develop those abilities and skills is a key goal of Professional Women in Earth Sciences (PROWESS), an AAPG committee dedicated to increasing the participation and advancement of women in earth sciences and the energy industry, with an emphasis on education, outreach, support, leadership development and retention.
For Marjorie Chan, AAPG member and founding committee chair, PROWESS is a name that empowers women.
“With the long history of women being underrepresented in the earth sciences, the women that do make it often have to show great abilities, skills and perseverance to be accepted as peers,” she said.
Efforts to promote women’s involvement both within earth science and in AAPG started in 2001 during the presidency of Robbie Gries, AAPG’s first woman president.
During her term, Gries started a Diversity Committee comprised of women, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans.
“I thought diversity was something that should be better addressed by AAPG. It was not something that many members thought about, but when it was brought to the attention of long-standing members, most agreed that enhanced diversity would benefit AAPG,” she said.
The Committee held some workshops at conventions, had brainstorming meetings and honored Isaac Crumbly for his efforts with minorities. Eventually, though, the Diversity Committee lost momentum and dissolved.
At about that time, Chan read a publication listing training instructors for the oil and gas industry and noticed that there were very few female instructors.
“I spoke to a key representative of the company who simply said there just weren’t qualified women,” she said. “I felt something needed to be done to raise the visibility of qualified women, and to encourage more women. The best way to do this was through the organization with the most clout in the industry - AAPG.”
The AAPG PROWESS Committee was thus born: with support from the Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG) and from AAPG members and staff, Chan became the founding chair in 2006.
Though she no longer serves on the Committee, Chan said she has enjoyed watching PROWESS grow and develop.
“I have been thrilled to see the Committee and its activities evolve over the last decade as strong women have devoted a lot of time and effort to host speakers, collect data and produce AAPG articles. This PROWESS Committee makes a strong statement that diversity is important to the AAPG membership,” she said.
Current Chair Barbara Tillotson joined PROWESS three years ago when she returned to the United States after spending time overseas.
“I wanted to become more involved with AAPG and thought joining a committee would be great,” she said. “I got on the website and chose PROWESS. I liked the mission statement on helping to develop young professionals in the oil and gas industry,” she said.
Tillotson, who spent several years mentoring high school students in science, technology, engineering and math, (collectively referred to as “STEM” subjects) thought involvement with PROWESS could help her continue pursuing her passion for encouraging young women to study science.
“The percentage of females graduating in sciences is not equal to the percentage of females in the population,” she said. “Additionally, the ratio of women graduating with geology degrees is not the same as the ratio of women pursuing geology careers. We need to work on that.”
Tillotson said she is determined to help women address the issues that keep them from pursuing careers in earth sciences.
“Some issues are women specific. That’s where we can help with the networking. We can talk about how to balance personal/family life, personalities,” she said. “Sometimes women have a little bit harder time being influential or feeling like they have a seat at the table. A lot of times they do (have a seat at the table), but they don’t feel that way.”
Getting women a seat at the table is a primary focus of PROWESS, whose members accomplish their work through six subcommittees:
- The ACE Short Course Subcommittee organizes courses aimed to further geoscience careers, focusing on “soft skills” asking for promotions and assignments and technical skills, including petroleum economics, leadership development and decision-making.
- The Mentoring/ACE Networking Reception Subcommittee helps geoscientists in all stages of their careers to connect with peers and receive guidance from those who are farther along their professional path. The Subcommittee facilitates e-mentoring between young and seasoned professionals and organizes face-to-face networking receptions at AAPG ACE.
- The Nominations and Awards Subcommittee works to identify both AAPG and affiliated society award and leadership opportunities for which PROWESS members may be eligible.
- The Pioneer AAPG Women Subcommittee aims to inspire and promote women in petroleum geology through the many stories of trailblazing women in the energy industry. These stories of pioneering women geologists will be showcased at the AAPG 100th Anniversary Celebration at ACE 2017 in Houston and will be featured in a video and a special publication.
- The International Concerns Subcommittee serves as a discussion and cooperation forum for women working throughout the world and strives to address issues unique to women and to encourage members to develop both technical and leadership skills that add value to their profession.
- The Social Media/ Website Subcommittee aims to use social media to engage, support and energize current and prospective women in the oil and gas industry and to establish PROWESS as a dynamic organization for women in energy.
Still Relevant in the 21st Century
PROWESS leaders note that, although women have made tremendous progress in the geosciences over the past few years, there is still plenty of work to be done.
“Women have come a long way professionally over the last 45 years since Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rulings were initiated in the U.S., but still have some gaps in top-level opportunities,” Gries said. “There are no women CEOs in the medium-to-larger oil and gas companies, and there are several other areas where opportunities are not as available to women. The U.S. still has the worst maternity leave options in the western world.”
Gries added that, for AAPG’s growing international membership - 42 percent of total members in January 2016 - salary discrepancies and promotion opportunities continue to be a challenge.
These global challenges inspired Jeffrey Aldrich, president of AAPG’s Division of Environmental Geosciences, to become involved with PROWESS and the International Concerns Subcommittee.
“I joined PROWESS at the urging of my friend Denise Cox, and the realization that I am currently mentoring, mostly through email and social media, several women geoscientists in many different nations,” he said.
“I have been privileged to have been based in several countries and have witnessed firsthand both societies that generally do not discriminate on the basis of gender (Singapore) and those that regularly do (U.S.A., UK, South Africa),” he said.
“As a firm believer that the professionalism of AAPG is one of the key areas that AAPG truly makes a difference, I found that the goals of PROWESS were the same goals that I was trying to advance.”
Benefits to AAPG
PROWESS founders and leaders note that the Committee has had a tangible impact on both AAPG and its membership.
“Our report on retention of women in oil and gas was well received by the Corporate Advisory Board, and provides a statistical base for future studies on women in industry,” Gries said. “Our programs at conventions have been influential and mentoring has been productive. It is a good think tank for any issue regarding gender diversity.”
Chan affirmed that PROWESS influences AAPG by raising awareness among members of the role women can and do play, and what they add to the fabric of science and technology.
“Diversity can help AAPG and companies achieve more success. This is also why several major companies have been supportive of PROWESS. PROWESS is important in educating current and future generations of petroleum geologists,” she said.
Tillotson noted that PROWESS still has work to do within AAPG.
“Women’s role in AAPG has been improving, and it’s a lot better than it used to be,” she said, “but there is still work to be done.”
She noted that, though women make up 21 percent of AAPG members, not a single woman was nominated for AAPG Honors and Awards in 2016.
“The numbers are not going to be equal between men and women, but the number of women nominees should not be zero,” she said.
PROWESS advocates affirm that the Committee provides lasting benefits to AAPG, to industry and to the members themselves.
For Gries, every committee in AAPG offers an opportunity for members to network, develop friends and enhance their career.
“PROWESS is no exception,” she said. “Women, and a few men, who have worked on projects for this committee have developed lasting relationships and opportunities to know and admire other hard working AAPG members.”
“PROWESS is a terrific way to connect in a proactive way. It is a commitment to make good things happen for AAPG members and their professional development,” she said.
To learn more about PROWESS, visit the AAPG website, AAPG.to/prowess. Contact [email protected] to join and to volunteer for a subcommitee.