Empowering, advancing female leaders in the energy industry

Katie Smith of Young Women in Energy aims to increase and provide female voice, presence, development and leadership in the industry

Katie Smith is executive director at Young Women in Energy.

Katie Smith: Young Women in Energy: Empowering leadership in the industry
Katie Smith

Calgary’s Business: What is Young Women in Energy and can you give us some background on why and when it was formed?

Smith: Young Women in Energy (YWE) is a non-profit organization established in 2013 with the vision of changing the face of energy. Now in our fifth year, we have more than 4,000 members comprised of professional women working in or for the energy industry across all disciplines, including law, engineering, finance, human resources, consulting, etc.

Despite a heightened awareness around the business case for diversity, progress in increasing the representation of women in the sector has stalled. A recent PetroLMI (Petroleum Labour Market Information) report showed women’s participation in oil and gas still holds at around 22 per cent, less than a one per cent change over the past decade. In leadership, women hold just eight per cent of the top paid management roles on the TSX 60 index.

We believe young women have the power to change the energy industry for the better. And, as such, YWE aims to increase and provide female voice, presence, development and leadership in the industry. We intend to do this through the YWE Awards, where we recognize and reward women’s accomplishments and contributions to the industry, as well as through networking, thought leadership and development programming.

CB: What are your annual awards all about and their purpose?

Smith: YWE’s annual awards program exists to recognize and reward Alberta’s emerging female leaders in energy who demonstrate exceptional leadership, are role models, act as catalysts for change and are changing the face of energy. We want to offer our winners visibility for their accomplishments, with the opportunity to raise their public profile and provide them with the recognition they deserve. With 42 alumni, September 2018 will mark the fifth year of the program. YWE will be looking for the next cohort of women who are going above and beyond the expectations of their job, demonstrating vision and leadership while making a difference both in industry and their communities. Beyond the awards itself, we’ve had the privilege of watching our awards alumni take on exciting projects, receive promotions and advance as leaders in the industry. We can’t wait to profile their continued success.

CB: You have an upcoming inaugural summit? What’s that about?

Smith: The inaugural YWE Summit is an outcomes-driven event focused on empowering emerging female leaders to advance Canada’s energy industry. We intend to offer an immersive experience over two and a half days of keynotes, workshops and thought-provoking activities that will better prepare women to advocate for themselves, and for the industry.

We are inviting 200 young women out to the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge, from Nov. 1 to 3, to connect with one another and develop through the range of leadership development, gender diversity and industry-related content. The summit’s content is still being finalized, but look for compensation negotiation driven by Mercer data, unconscious bias and equity-focused leadership with Next Gen Men, energy efficiency and emissions reduction, trust and advocacy, and geopolitical content. We intend for attendees to leave with a sense of community, a renewed sense of purpose and passion for their chosen profession, and a clearer vision of what they can do to affect change in the energy industry.

CB: How did the recent recession in Calgary and Alberta impact women and careers in the energy sector?

Smith: The recent recession was tough for everyone in the industry. With declining share prices, layoffs and budget cuts, those who still had jobs were left with limited development opportunities to advance their careers. YWE intends to continue to fill the gap that was previously paid for by companies by offering leadership development programs at an accessible price for women looking for that next step.

Now that we’re slowly coming out of the recession, we’ve noticed the industry has realized that business cannot go on as it always has, and that it needs to change and adapt to a new reality. The future of energy will look very different from its past, and future leaders need to be resilient, adaptable and comfortable with change.

I believe the recession renewed a sense of pride for those working in the industry. Alberta is blessed with incredible natural resources that our industry uses to deliver energy to Calgarians, Canadians and the rest of the world. Individuals have started to do their part and advocate on behalf of the industry.

CB: What’s your motivation and reason for being so heavily involved in this organization?

Smith: I have first-hand experience with the unique challenges of working in a male-dominated industry. I have seen what a community of peer support can do when one is feeling isolated, underestimated or frustrated with a lack of progress. I was looking for a community of women to be inspired by, to share best practices with, and to cheer one another on as we continued forward in our professional lives. I get that through every interaction with the YWE community. There are incredible women in this industry who are challenging the status quo and are as hell-bent on helping the industry improve as I am. I’m fortunate to consider many of them now friends.

I’m passionate about being part of the change and empowering women to reach their full potential. I believe women will have a positive impact on the future of the industry and I have enjoyed every part of advocating on their behalf. My vision for YWE is that we don’t need to exist, and what Sheryl Sandberg said in Lean In is true: “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” Until then, YWE will continue to change the face of energy.

– Mario Toneguzzi

Respected business writer Mario Toneguzzi is a veteran Calgary-based journalist who worked for 35 years for the Calgary Herald in various capacities, including 12 years as a senior business writer.


Young Women in Energy: Empowering leadership in the industryThe views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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