Prove your humanity

The oil and gas has a diversity problem, and in some cases, a racism and sexism problem. That’s the conclusion of a months-long investigation from NPR reporter Jeff Brady who covers the energy industry for the network.

Among those Brady interviewed for his report on racism and sexism in the industry was Charles Simpson, an African-American man who worked for about three years as a welder’s helper for a pipeline company based out of Oklahoma.

“The racism in this business…it’s unreal,” says Simpson. “It is unchecked. And I believe it’s designed to discourage individuals.” 

LISTEN: “The Diversity Problem in the Oil and Gas Industry”

Simpson told Brady that multiple times he saw nooses placed somewhere on the work site for him to find.

“In reporting this story, one thing that really surprised me is how often it comes up that African-American workers find nooses at their work sites,” says Brady. “It shows up over and over again in discrimination lawsuits.” Racial epithets were common, too. In the case of Simpson, “he saw nooses multiple times that were placed multiple times on the work site for him to find.” Simpson’s conclusion was that it was meant to intimidate him and scare him away from working in this very lucrative business.

“In the end, it worked,” says Brady. “There were a couple of instances where there were physical confrontations, and he was afraid for his life. And so he decided ‘this is not going to be the business for me to work in.’”

Charles Simpson quit working for Pipeliners Local 798 after experiencing racism on the job. Now he spends time searching for work on the free computers at the public library in Lexington, Ky. Photo: Jeff Brady / NPR

There have been cases of racism and sexism in the industry in Pennsylvania, too. Last year, the Post Gazette reported a story about a black man working in the oil and gas industry in northeastern Pennsylvania who found a noose at his work. And a video surfaced last year of a white oil and gas worker repeatedly using racial epithets against a black videographer who was taping a protest in Butler County.

Brady says he got a lot of explanations from people about why this behavior occurs so frequently in oil and gas, starting with where the jobs are concentrated. “It’s mostly in southern states and places where there’s a pretty clear history of racism in those communities,” says Brady. “Also, the work is often done in rural areas, where people may not feel comfortable living if there are a bunch of, as one person said, Trump signs and confederate flags all over the place.”

Brady says the leadership of oil and gas companies say they are committed to fixing this problem. “They say this is a priority,” he says. Companies are spending money to recruit women and minorities. ExxonMobil has a new advertisement showing an oil and gas workforce much more diverse than it is in reality. Many companies offer things like unconscious bias training to try to change the culture. “But it’s really entrenched, and it’s really hard to change,” says Brady. “It’s just going to take a lot of work and a lot of time.”

>>You can read and listen to Jeff Brady’s full story on racism and sexism in the oil and gas industry here.