By Carissa D. Lamkahouan
June 2, 2020
Flipping Oil & Gas Gender Stereotypes Upside Down
As a woman working in the oil and gas industry, Rachel Kernion is accustomed to being amongst men. However, she was a bit surprised when, years ago at the start of her career, a male colleague made a joke at her expense when she and other oil industry professionals had gathered in the field to discuss a project.
“We were all there to talk about the plan to drill the well, and I remember walking into the trailer and a guy saying, ‘Oh good, I’m glad there’s a woman here to cook,’” she recalled.
Kernion, now a senior reservoir engineer at Trinity Operating with nearly 25 years experience to her credit, took the crack in stride.
“At the time it was funny because he was old and that’s what old people do,” she said. “He was harmless.”
However, she stressed she’d handle a similar situation differently if it happened today, although she doubts it would.
“With the younger men working now, those in their 20s and 30s, they would never say that to me. That comment was completely generational,” she said. “If it did, though, I’d probably have a talk with him, but that’s never going to happen. Everyone is so respectful.”
That seems fitting, considering Kernion’s path to petroleum began with a boy and his father. However, the hard work and accomplishments along the way have been all her own.
As a student at Louisiana State University in the 1990s, Kernion had her sights set on medicine, hoping to become a doctor someday. However, she can admit her motivation to practice medicine didn’t spring from a deep-seated need to help and to heal her fellow man.
“I just wanted to make money,” she said.
Because she wasn’t married to the idea of becoming a physician, she was able to be persuaded to pursue petroleum engineering when her boss suggested it.
“I was put on this path because I was dating the son of the chairman of the petroleum engineering department at LSU,” Kernion said. “He offered me a job in his department as the receptionist. I was answering phones and doing work for the professors, but (my boyfriend’s father) kept telling me how smart and meticulous I was and that I should join his department.”
Eventually the advice stuck, Kernion enrolled in engineering classes, and her path was set – even though she didn’t know it at the time.
“I really liked it, but I said to myself, ‘I’ll just do this now, and then I’ll think about going to medical school,’” she recalled.
In the end, however, it was the work that hooked her. During her first internship after graduating, Kernion worked offshore in the Gulf of Mexico with Taylor Engineering. It marked a turning point in her life.
“I loved it! It was so much fun, and that’s when I knew I wasn’t going to go to medical school,” she said.
Now, nearly a quarter century into an international career that’s spanned several large companies including Texaco, British Petroleum and Nextera Energy, Kernion still thrills to the job.
“I love the oil industry. It’s high risk, it’s high dollar; it’s exciting!” she said. “I really enjoy taking a project from exploration all the way to production.”
Petroleum Engineering Opportunities For Young Girls Exist, Now Is The Time To Take Advantage
Kernion’s enthusiasm for her vocation is one she’s shared with young girls. While working with W&T Offshore, she had the opportunity to mentor young, female high school students who were considering careers in the sciences. She called the experience fulfilling, particularly as she was able to coach and encourage the girls, helping to build their confidence and develop and sharpen their skills.
She recalled the time the girls, as part of the program, were required to make a presentation about their work “in a big board room with a bunch of gray-haired men, including the billionaire CEO,” she said.
Kernion worked with her group, practicing with them, coaching them and encouraging them to just relax and do their best. “They ended up doing great. That was one of the coolest things I’ve done, to see how I could really influence these young women to believe in themselves.”
Though she said the industry is still dominated by men, Kernion said there’s no reason why women can’t become a larger part. She said programs like the one she was involved with are an effective way to make it happen, saying young girls’ early introduction to the field is crucial to piquing their interest.
What’s more, in her experience, Kernion’s female coworkers have demonstrated they are more than competent in their roles and should face “no barriers at all” to working in the energy industry.
“Women tend to take care of things and get it done right the first time without egos getting in the way. They also tend to work a little bit harder,” she said. “Every woman I’ve worked with has been very competent.”
Carissa Lamkahouan is a freelance copywriter and magazine/newspaper journalist based in Houston, Texas. She has 23 years of experience covering business, oil & gas, government, the arts, fitness, and religion for publications in the U.S. and abroad. Additionally, she creates marketing content for companies in the finance, wellness, and oil & gas sectors. She also spent a year living in and blogging about Marrakech, Morocco.