Energy Sector Culture
Office culture is a vastly important determinant of interview success and, later, job satisfaction – so you should be careful to take it into account as you pursue jobs in the energy world. People like to hire other people like themselves. For this reason, one standard interview technique is to mimic the body language of your interviewer to set her at ease (crossed legs, eye contact, speech volume and pace). At the same time, the last thing you want is to get hired into an organization that has a very different personality from yours – you are likely to become frustrated and create friction. Ultimately, there is no substitute for self-awareness as to what type of culture you will thrive in, combined with your own keen due diligence during the job exploration and interview process.
Traditional and Conservative?
Asynthesis of how energy businesspeople describe their typical colleague sounds something like this: “a Caucasian male electrical engineer who spent time in the military, took some business classes at night, and enjoys fishing and golf.” Indeed, the energy sector has a reputation for being traditional, conservative, lacking in diversity, and dominated by dry, technical people. That said, however, we’ll tear that stereotype apart by pointing out that in fact many major areas of the energy world reflect great diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity, educational background, and personality. Large oil companies, for example, have a distinct international flavor due to their rotational posting practices that bring employees from all over the world through the home offices in Houston and London. The energy practices of
services firms reflect the highly varied profile of MBAconsultants, bankers, and investment analysts in general. Startups are populated by the kind of dynamic, aggressive young businesspeople who could just as easily be found in high-tech ventures. Any of the change-oriented organizations – advocacy groups, alternative energy companies, investment funds, independent power generators, consulting firms – are more likely to have employees with a younger average age, liberal arts education, and more progressive orientation.
Like anywhere else in the business world, minority candidates are embraced and even eagerly sought after by firms conscious of workplace diversity. Also like elsewhere in business, ethnic minorities in the U.S. energy sector are still underrepresented, relative to the general population. Energy-sector executives tend to feel that this reflects a mixture of minority under- representation in the academic specialties that lead to careers in energy, self-selection in favor of business sectors or other careers with greater existing diversity, and some residual glass ceiling effects. While minority student job-seekers won’t encounter barriers to a career in this sector, they should certainly expect to encounter more Caucasian faces than in some of the “newer” industries, such as high-tech and biotech.
The one group that has not fared so well to date in the energy sector is women. Because the energy world is dominated by people with technical educations, and women have historically not been well-represented in technical degree programs, they are few and far between at management levels. We have, sadly, heard many stories of talented and hard-working women who are pushed out of positions when they become eligible for management promotions, fired when they have children, asked (quite illegally) about their intention to have children during interviews, alienated from business trips involving hunting or gentlemen’s club outings, or simply confronted with skepticism from colleagues and an exhausting upstream swim upon entering the sector.
Like elsewhere in the business world, the proverbial glass ceiling for women is, over time, slowly going away. In the interim, however, if you don’t have the appetite for being a female pioneer, there are certainly relatively welcoming portions of the energy sector on which one can focus a career. Consulting firms in general have been relatively progressive in hiring and promoting women, and the energy practices in consulting firms reflect that orientation. Within investment management, mutual fund companies tend to retain women at senior levels (whereas private equity firms and hedge funds are probably the worst culprits across the business landscape in excluding women). Energy policy advocacy groups, government agencies, and alternative energy companies tend to have the highest percentage of women on staff anywhere in the industry. Most banks, private equity firms, hedge funds, oil companies, utilities, pipeline operators, energy services firms, and manufacturers tend to have very few women anywhere but the entry level.
The best way for women to break into male-dominated energy companies is to enter the interview process armed with superior knowledge about the science, technology and economics of the industry. This applies to anyone whose profile makes them a relative outsider to their desired employer’s culture – ethnic minorities applying to companies with few familiar faces, people with non-traditional academic backgrounds relative to what is most common in a given company, people who are older or younger or more or less experienced than the other candidates interviewing for a particular job. Ultimately, anyone who wishes to enter the exciting world of energy stands the best chance by positioning themselves credibly as someone who (1) already understands the industry and the specific business problems faced by
the interviewer, (2) is passionate about the energy business, (3) is flexible and easy to relate to, and (4) has sincere commitment to the employer’s location, work hours, and business mission.