Guest Post: Women working in the male dominated oil and gas industry

A guest post by Gary Lindsay:

I once got in a lot of trouble at work for saying “don’t put your hand where you wouldn’t put your cock.”  Before you jump to saying things like “that’s totally inappropriate for work” or “what were you thinking” I will put it into some context.  It was at a toolbox meeting (the daily prestart safety meeting) in the oil and gas industry in Queensland and it was during a discussion about hand placement brought about because two geologists in my team managed to get hand injuries that week.  I was repeating something that I had heard several years earlier from an old guy in a similar meeting.  The only differences from when I first heard it on a rig in New Zealand as a green mudlogger in 2005 was that it was in 2012.

A lot has changed in workplaces in the 11 years since I got my first “real” job, particularly in the drilling industry, and even more in the 19 since I got my first job, working in a dairy after school.  One major change is that there are now many women working in the oil patch, mainly for service companies doing jobs such as rig geology, mud doctor, MWD/wireline logging, mudlogging and as safety officers – i.e. there still aren’t that many doing the hard jobs of offsiding/roughnecking, or drilling.  One of the consequences of their presence is that talking dirty, swearing, and general coarse language is now banned, but in reality still happens when the precious types are not present – you just have to suss out what your co-workers are like before you open your mouth.  Because of that a lot of rig culture has had to change.  I don’t really have a problem with the pressure sensor being called a pressure sensor instead of a donkey’s dick (which it resembles), or many of the other name changes that have taken place.  One area where it is detrimental is safety.

Men on drilling rigs used to have lots of different sayings about keeping safe, with the one I mentioned above being one of the cleaner ones.  There was a definite use for them.  You’re way more likely to remember something a bit lewd than something like “be careful with hand placement.”  You’ll have a laugh as you back away from putting your hand somewhere stupid instead of crushing your fingers.  I have anecdotal proof of this – if you ask any of my former colleagues what lesson from a toolbox meeting they remember the most it will be the one where I said “don’t put your hand where you wouldn’t put your cock,” with no exceptions.  It is a good way to get a message through to people.

Similarly you used to get yelled at for doing unsafe acts (I remember one instance in particular where I took a shortcut underneath the v-door, where drill pipe is hauled up from the ground to the drill floor – a big no-no since getting hit by falling drillpipe is a good way to get yourself killed).  You can’t do that now either, because the powers that be have decided that people not getting their feelings hurt is more important than people not getting killed in an industrial accident.  Instead it is all softer discipline, where you get stood down, you have to answer to a committee, and can be run-off or sacked, and of course it must be documented (which is in itself dumbing down safety but that’s a different rant).  Firing a keen but green worker for doing something dumb doesn’t make the industry safer.  If he gets another job he won’t have learned his lesson, since he probably doesn’t understand the danger behind what he did, and if he doesn’t get another job then the industry has lost someone who may have made a good worker.  But it’s OK because at least he didn’t get his feelings hurt.

There have been a few things come up in the last week or so that have prompted me to write this.  The biggest and most obvious one is the incident where Chris Gayle asked Channel 10 presenter Mel McLaughlan out for drinks during a sideline interview.  For god’s sake, if you’re paid good money to interview people who your company talks up as a ladies man and you are a reasonably attractive woman then of course he’s going to play up to it.  That’s part of her job and if she can’t handle it then hire someone who can.   You don’t hire a 50 kg scrawny weakling to haul bags of cement, although at a different job they did hire small women as lab assistants and then had to design an apparatus to help them move around core (sticks of rock) so nothing would surprise me.  The whole thing has been blown out of proportion by people who are on a moral crusade but are actually doing more harm than good.  Is that what we’ve been reduced to?

I might be old fashioned but I don’t think I am.  A man used to be able to support his family on a single wage, and there was no need for women to get into traditionally male dominated roles.  That is no longer the case – some women want a career and to a certain extent it is expected by society.  I have no problem with that, but I do have a problem with workplaces requiring change to accommodate it.  There is a reason why drill rigs are rough places, and that’s because it can be a dangerous job.  As well as helping to keep workers safe, it helps promote working together as a team and get the job done efficiently, and it helps guys cope with working in an uncomfortable environment (particularly in Australia) far from their families.  A definite command structure isn’t optional, it is necessary.  I haven’t ever been in the military, but I gather that it is the same there and they are having similar problems.  Put another way, males don’t go into a female dominated industry and expect the incumbents to stop their girly gossiping etc. which I think is much more destructive to a company (my previous employer mentioned in the first paragraph is a case in point).  Women should be able to work in oil and gas.  But things are done the way they are for a reason.  Please don’t use that as a reason to change something that was working.  And please don’t take my comments at anything but face value – I have worked with plenty of women who are as bad or worse than I am, and I have worked with plenty of men who are pussies.

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