You only have to look around an EPCA conference session or an EPL dinner to see that it’s a male-dominated industry but for all the years I’ve been going to these events, there have always been plenty of women around.
At the last EPL (European Petrochemical Luncheon) in Bratislava, Slovakia, there were 24 women out of a total of 110 (22%) attending the meeting.
And I see from the delegate list on the EPCA (European Petrochemical Association) website that for the coming conference in Berlin (29 September – 1 October), there are already more than 1,700 delegates, of which a quick scan shows me there are around 200 (12%) women.
Even the “Who’s Moving Where” pages of our ICB (ICIS Chemical Business) magazine usually has at least one tasteful photo of a woman petchem executive.
And you can’t help but notice that women are particularly well-represented in the distribution sector. Why should that be? At the annual Floggers lunch of the CBA (Chemical Business Association) in London in May, you will see hundreds of women. They are buyers at chemical consumer companies, sales managers at producers, and they are in operations and logistics.
And do they stick together? Well, I was once invited along to a meeting of WISTA (Women's International Shipping and Trading Association). It sounded like a good idea, and I went along with my friend Stella, a shipbroker. It wasn't my thing at all. The all-female cocktail party of shippers and lawyers was a big yawn. I lasted about an hour.
Women graduates in the big petchem industry corporations start out quite well-represented but it is clear that they drop out in their late 30s and 40s when they go back to work after starting a family and find that the hassle just isn’t worth it.
I didn’t want to get back to full-time work till my children were seven and at school and I was offered a good enough job to make it worthwhile.
We see women product managers going off on maternity leave all the time, but few of them come back to their same jobs in the front line of buying, selling and reporting chemicals. There are some notable exceptions – Jennifer and Daphne at Shell, Gillian at Sabic, Elvira and Sofia at Peninsula, Linda and Julia at ICIS, Debbie at Kodak, Diane at Sasol, and no doubt many more. Well done to all of us!