Women in energy industry take spotlight

Business School hosts event to help women advance careers

March 13, 2017
HERWorld forum
Audience members at the HERWorld Energy Forum, hosted by the Business School’s Global Energy Management Program.

Susan Morrice knows what it takes to succeed in the energy industry, whether you work in Denver or drill wells in Latin America. Morrice knows how to take risks and overcome doubters. She knows how to build a company—and she knows how to do it all in a male-dominated industry.

Morrice, the founder and chair of Belize Natural Energy, shared her story about finding oil in the small Central American country during her keynote speech at the HERWorld Global Energy Forum. The University of Colorado Denver Business School’s Global Energy Management (GEM) program hosted the event on March 8.

Helping women build careers in the energy industry is an important part of GEM’s mission, said Sarah Derdowski, GEM’s director of strategic development and operations. Those who attended the forum had the chance to hear Morrice talk about thinking big, and panelists discussed how to launch businesses, win promotions and navigate the corporate world. More than 50 women had the chance to make connections and get advice from experienced peers.

“We want to promote women in the industry, and we want to advance this cause,” Derdowski said.

Increasing diversity

The energy industry, which includes oil, natural gas and renewable energy, has historically been a man’s world. Around 20 percent of the workforce is female, and programs like GEM are doing their best to help change that, Derdowski said. About 25 percent of GEM’s students are women, which is disproportionally high compared to the industry as a whole. While the Business School is proud of that, it wants the number to grow.

That’s why GEM partners with organizations such as Pink Petro, a professional development organization for women in the energy industry. Pink Petro hosts the main HERWorld forum in Houston, and CU Denver was one of four satellite conferences that livestreamed speakers from Houston and held local events. This is the second year GEM has participated.

The forum also enabled GEM to showcase some of the program’s key players in the panel discussions. GEM panelists included current GEM executive in residence Julie Blunden, founder of Julie Blunden Consulting, and GEM alumna Kimberly Rodell, president of Upstream Petroleum.

The conference was on International Women’s Day, and the lineup of speakers and sponsors included companies that span the globe, such as Shell Oil. Pink Petro’s worldwide reach pairs well with GEM’s scope and ambition, Derdowski said.

“GEM is global, so we’d like to bring in as many people as possible to showcase who we are, what CU Denver does and what our women are doing,” she said.

Inspiring careers

Morrice’s career has spanned the globe. She was born and raised in Northern Ireland and now lives and works in Denver. In addition to the U.S. and Belize, she has business connections to the United Arab Emirates.

Susan Morrice
Keynote speaker Susan Morrice

She said the entrepreneurial mindset was something she had to learn after coming to America, and her advice was to nurture the inner self-reliance and determination pioneers had when they settled America.

Her resilience was tested when she and her business partner decided to explore for oil in Belize. Major international companies such as Shell, Mobil and BP had drilled dozens of wells in the country that came up dry, and about 40 companies turned down Morrice’s business plan. She said her faith in her research and vision kept her going after all the rejections.

She acknowledged there were tough times, but she realized much of the pressure was self-imposed. “The first line of attack against any idea is our own fear and doubt,” Morrice said.

She also shared a lesson she learned from working with Texas oilmen back when it was rare to find women in energy companies. Morrice learned to quickly and laughingly turn around awkward comments or jokes and focus on business.

“Humor is a huge thing for us to keep in our armory,” Morrice said. “It was disarming. It’s terribly important not to get your bristles up, and to use humor and your love of life to move forward.”