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Oil Companies Dig Deep To Attract And Retain Minority Workers


American oil companies are trying to recruit a younger, more diverse workforce. But a history of racism and sexism in that industry is making this difficult. Here's NPR's Jeff Brady.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Commercials for big oil companies these days show what the industry wants to become.


BRADY: This ExxonMobil ad shows a string of mostly women and minority workers wearing hard hats and holding signs that tout the benefits of the industry. But across oil companies, government statistics show women and minorities are severely underrepresented compared to the U.S. workforce as a whole. The industry is trying to change that, says Rhonda Morris, vice president of Human Resources at Chevron.

RHONDA MORRIS: Staffing our workforce for the future is a priority. And we actually start focusing on our talent pipeline with kids as young as 5 years old.

BRADY: Chevron and other companies spend millions promoting science and math to kids around the world, in part hoping that will lead to a more diverse workforce. Those companies recruit women and minorities and offer them mentoring programs. And for existing employees, there are programs such as unconscious bias training. Ray Dempsey is the chief diversity officer at BP America and says this is good for business.

RAY DEMPSEY: There's data that you can find from many, many sources that talk about how much difference a more diverse and a more inclusive workforce can make in your fundamental business outcomes.

BRADY: Dempsey says executives already embrace diversity. The focus now is on middle managers, where the hiring and firing happens. But he says there are other things about the oil industry that are difficult to change, like where the oil is located, often in remote places.

DEMPSEY: Versus the urban centers, where minorities, communities of color tend to be and, frankly, where people from those communities tend to want to live and to work.

BRADY: Dempsey says the industry needs to do more to make rural places welcoming to women and minorities, people like Rod Hinton, an African-American attorney who moved to eastern Ohio to work in the oil business.

ROD HINTON: Here, you got to live in the white man's world. It's pickup trucks and Confederate flags, you know, Trump signs everywhere. That'll turn a lot of minorities off.

BRADY: Hinton says he makes a good living, but he's considering a career change. After a decade of work securing titles for drilling rights on private land, Hinton says he still doesn't get invited to the golf trips and dinners that are a part of moving up in the oil business.

HINTON: I won't say there's overt racism - as a more good ol' boy network - understood code. I mean, you look out for your own. I'm not their own.

BRADY: Changing that culture in the U.S. is proving difficult, despite all the industry's wealth, expertise and the fact that it already operates around the world. Even when there are signs of progress, all that can be wiped away with one bad experience. That's what happened to a welder who recently graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Technology.


BRADY: Stephanie Puckly seems at home in the school's welding lab, where sparks fly. The summer after her freshman year, Puckly took an internship with a Texas company that builds offshore oil rigs but never got a chance to use her skills.

STEPHANIE PUCKLY: The male interns were out, usually in the field all day, while I was in the office.

BRADY: And how did you feel about that?

PUCKLY: It made me a little upset because I knew what my skill ability was, especially with going to school and getting the experience.

BRADY: For her next internship, Puckly says she found a more welcoming environment in the automotive industry. Now she intends to pursue a career in that field instead of oil and gas. Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.