The HERWorld Energy Forum at Rice’s Jones Graduate School
Bridging the gender gap in business has been an increasingly hot topic in recent years. As evidenced by the Fearless Girl statue facing off against the Charging Bull on Wall Street, and the women’s marches that took place across the country earlier this year, both women and men are speaking up for equality in the business world. The recent HERWorld Energy Forum is yet another example.
HERWorld Energy Forum
Men have historically dominated the energy industry, which includes oil, natural gas and renewable energy. In fact, less than 27 percent of the workforce is female. And that’s just one reason behind the HERWorld Energy Forum.
The Forum, sponsored by Pink Petro and hosted by Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, took place on March 8, 2017. A hybrid of in-person discussion and digital simulcast, the Forum addressed the intersections of business, workforce, innovation, policy interest in the energy industry and promoted the idea that the future of the energy industry needs to be accessible to everyone.
For the 2017 Forum, Rice Jones Graduate School welcomed more than 5,000 attendees (in person and online), and twenty speakers who hailed from all parts of the world and industry. The panels and keynotes covered such topics as diversity, innovation, technology, policy, business and the key issues and challenges facing the energy sector and its future.
Speakers at the HERWorld Energy Forum included:
- Johnna Van Keuren, Vice President, Wind Operations and HSSE, New Energies – Royal Dutch Shell
- Vicky Bailey, Chairman of the Unites States Energy Association
- Michelle “Mikki” Hebl, Rice University Professor of Psychology and Management
And sessions covered such topics as:
- Leaning into the Energy Transition
- The Impact of Digital Technology and The Fourth Industrial Revolution on Energy
- Join in: Owning the Energy Conversation
In a press release, Katie Mehnert, Founder and CEO of Pink Petro, said, “the evidence of dramatic change is all around us, and it’s happening at exponential speed. The global energy industry is entering the dawn of a new era, and for the workforce, that’s exciting.”
As for the decision to hold the Forum on the Rice University campus, it was a natural choice. The economy of Houston is primarily based on the energy industry (particularly oil) with more than 3,000 energy-related establishments located in the city. And the Jones Graduate School shares a similar vision and focus to that of Pink Petro: the development of women in the energy industry.
To get a more in-depth perspective about the HERWorld Forum, we spoke with Peter Rodriguez, Dean of Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business.
Why did Rice decide to host the HERWorld Energy Forum this year?
I think that our goals are very closely aligned. We don’t exactly do the same things, but we’re very wedded to the outcomes of graduates in our program and their development, and HERWorld is really focused on ensuring the rapid development of women in the energy industry.
We both have gaps to fill that we need to partner on to be successful. For us, we have too few women that feel like the MBA is the right degree for them. Similarly, in the energy field, jobs are heavily dominated by men and engineering grads, and while the opportunities are great and income improvement is high, I think that they struggle to recruit women there too. So, we’re really well aligned in trying to foster the same things: good career channels for women in the energy field.
What was one of the most interesting/best parts about the Forum?
I think that the best part of the Forum was the questions from the participants in the sub forums and smaller sessions around the country. It was one of the most engaging conferences I’ve been to. We had dynamic panelists. We had experts, business leaders, CEOs, etc. It was chock full of people who had a lot of great things to talk about.
But the connectivity that made the Forum’s goals come into clearer view came across from women who were already in the field and were facing a particular question about, “Do I dive more deeply into training so I can excel in this field?” or “How do I overcome the perceptual or realized barriers between me and where I’d like to go in energy?” These questions were successful because most everyone had a comment that was very well received by both the panelist and the people in the audience.
Secondly, I was really happy with how many men were there. They certainly were not the majority, but many men were there both to learn about the experiences of their colleagues and/or to support someone they had sponsored in the program. I think that was really important [for them] to be present and listening. There was an open acknowledgment from the men that we’re not doing well enough here.
What do you hope attendees took away from the event? What did you take away?
I wanted the attendees to take away a renewed belief that they could have all the success they wanted within the energy field. I also wanted the attendees to see that Rice Business is an ally, and the Jones School has a deep interest in being the best part of this eco-system that we can be by providing good education opportunities, and that we had a lot of people in the audience that they had used the MBA to accelerate their career.
What other energy industry events/programs/clubs does Rice offer students?
We host the Rice Energy Finance Summit every year. It’s usually a grouping of Fortune 500 and 100 CEOs within energy who come to speak about the contemporary challenges in the energy industry and career growth. We also have the largest chapter of the Society of Petroleum Engineers in the world.
What else is Rice doing to help promote women in business, particularly energy?
We try to make sure that women have more and more opportunities each year to become engaged. One of the most important things we do is to support the strong women leaders we already have, and they’ve been successful at crafting programs that meet the needs of the women in our program.