Women on the Rigs: A Diversity Success Story from Savanna Energy

Through strategic and practical diversity initiatives Savanna Energy is gradually introducing and retaining female well hands. This initiative has required support throughout the organization from the CEO down, and open frank conversations with all staff, including the women who chose to work in a strongly dominated and tough male environment.

This initiative is driven by a tough job market and a desire to increase the worker pool. It is not without its challenges. The rigs are a working environment which require mental toughness, physical toughness, and a sense of humour. It is a fast paced environment too which presents rewarding challenges.

At a Workplace Fairness luncheon diversity coordinator Laura Koronko shared the strategies and best practices Savanna has used to ensure successful hiring and retaining female rig hands.

Education is key, and has focused at Savanna on unveiling and addressing typical assumptions. “Women can’t physically do the work.” “Girls don’t want this job. It is out in the cold.” “We will need to provide female change rooms.”

The assumptions are perpetuated by both men and women, so the education must focus on the rig hands, managers, and the hires themselves. Many of the assumptions have proved without foundation. For example, there are women who see and act on a job opportunity which will mean an improvement for their families, and the change-rooms have not proved to be an issue.

That said, we learned that one reason for Savanna’s success is their willingness to tackle the training in frank language. Women need to be aware of the cultural environment they are stepping into before they are hired and be ready for sexist terminology (nipple up, nipple down) which is not going to change. A sense of humour definitely helps, and specific coaching on appropriate behaviour (for example, not wearing g-strings to work) is critical.

Savanna has developed strategies for overcoming resistance. A mentorship program sets new hires up with experienced female rig hands. When a rig manager objects the diversity group will send in an experienced and proven hand to win him over.

Interestingly, some of the greatest challenges Savanna has faced is with wives. The company gets calls from men who do not want their husbands staying in hotels with women. It is ultimately the rig manager’s call though. “If I bring a woman on this rig, I will lose 3 long-term guys.” This is the rare exception.

With support throughout the organization from the C-suite down, Savanna is slowly meeting with success and changing the profile of the rig crew. They are even learning about some of the benefits coming straight from the rigs: a cleaner work environment and less foul language. Is this perpetuating yet another stereotype? Perhaps, but it is one that is enabling Savanna Energy to expand their job pool and introduce women to a way of life which can be both rewarding and lucrative.