Racism and Sexism is Why You Don’t Work For the Oil Companies

The U.S. oil industry is trying to find a new generation of workers in a country that is becoming more diverse. But a history of sexism and racism is making that difficult.

The oil industry has struggled to solve its diversity problem despite having some big advantages. It’s a wealthy industry accustomed to taking on complicated challenges (think deep-water offshore drilling and fracking). And oil and gas companies already have decades of experience operating all over the world in various environments. Still, the diversity problem persists.

“The racism in this job, it’s unreal”

In the mid-1980s the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission tried to address one large case of racism and sexism involving a union — Pipeliners Local 798 based in Tulsa, Okla. The union is a big player in the pipeline construction business. It dispatches welders and their helpers to large projects across much of the U.S.


“This was just the most blatant discrimination on a large scale that I can recall seeing since I started working,” says Harwin.

In his decision, Judge H. Dale Cook noted that Local 798 had about 5,200 members at the time but that there were “no black members and there were no female members until the eve of trial, May 1986, when Local 798 admitted a woman into the membership.”

Harwin says union members were willing to testify against their own leadership because “they wouldn’t hire their mother, their sister, their wife — they wouldn’t bring them onto union membership or refer them to jobs.”

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