Written by Liz Hampton and Sabrina Valley
DENVER/HOUSTON (Reuters) – With Texas officials moving to restrict abortion and promoting Christianity in schools and the state’s power grid swaying upon collapse, oil worker Stephen Peyman and his wife Hayley Hollands decided it was time to live elsewhere.
By April, Beeman had joined a Colorado telecoms company, leaving behind more than a decade in the oil and gas business, and Hollands, a lawyer, soon followed suit, abandoning the state due to its tough politics and increasingly polarization.
“It’s kind of the first time I’ve come across the idea that I don’t think I’ll ever live in my home state again,” Hollands said. She likened the climate that contributed to the couple’s decision to leave Texas to “death by a thousand paper cuts.”
Oil companies have spent millions to confront the ramshackle image of fossil fuels and to hire a younger, more diverse workforce. But the outbreak of political culture wars — over abortion, religion, and LGBT rights — threatens to roll back employment and retention goals, according to interviews with more than two dozen workers and a national poll.
More than half of women ages 18 to 44 and 45% of male and female workers who have a college education would not consider a job in a state that prohibits abortion, according to a survey of 2020 adults in the United States last month by opinion researcher Perry Ondim.
BP (NYSE:), chevron (NYSE :), ExxonMobil (NYSE :), Shell (LON :), and TotalEnergies did not comment on how abortion and culture wars affect hiring and retention when asked by Reuters.
Chart: Workers weighing abortion bans in professional decisions https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ABORTION/zjvqkrdrmvx/chart.png
“It has always been difficult to attract women into oil and gas,” said Sherry Richard, a 40-year-old oil industry expert who was most recently the director of human resources for an offshore drilling company. Transocean Ltd. (NYSE:). “When you create an unfriendly environment for women, it makes it more difficult,” she said.
Richard, 66, who now sits on the boards of two oilfield companies, said she had no plans to leave the country, but would support her son and his family if they moved.
Jonas Kron, chief advocacy officer at Trillium Asset Management, said the risks to employment are particularly high for oil companies, which are already unpopular with graduates of engineering programs. The Boston-based company, which oversees $5.4 billion in investments outside of oil, is asking companies to take action to reduce financial losses for a limited workforce.
“The lack of diversity is not only an issue with financial performance, which they are very familiar with, but it’s also an issue with the company’s values,” Kron said. “This is very worrying.”
Some members of the California Society of Women Engineers (SWE) refused to attend the group’s conference in Houston in October due to the state’s anti-abortion law, which bans most abortions after about six weeks. The only exception is when the doctor certifies that the mother’s life is in immediate danger.
According to its website, after next year SWE will no longer hold conferences for its 40,000 members in states that ban abortion due to “restricting access to women’s health care.”
Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics, a Houston-based startup whose chemical reactors run on renewable electricity, recently said a woman job candidate from out of state would not consider moving to Texas.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has acknowledged that the state is losing workers, but he has no regrets about leaving. “We have an ongoing exchange program. We’re getting conservatives in California. We’re sending them our liberals,” Abbott said in August at a conservative political rally.
Silence on abortion
The five largest oil majors said they support travel for health care by employees in different states. But they did not mention any abortion in their responses, and they did not disclose whether there was internal guidance for abortion care, a concern for staff who have to administer policies.
“The rules are not clear,” said a Texas engineer who is also recruiting for a major US oil company in Houston. He declined to give his name. “Will (an employee) have to tell her manager why for example the trip? I asked for clarification, but got no response.”
Some workers want their employers to take a stand on abortion.
Said a 45-year-old engineer at oilfield services firm Halliburton (NYSE: NYSE: NYSE: NYSE: NYSE: NYSE: NYSE: NYSE: NYSE: NYSE: NYSE: NYSE: NYSE: NYSE: NYSE: NYSE: NYSE: NYSE: NYSE: NYSE: NYSE: NYSE), who declined to be identified for fear of reprimand. “This is hypocrisy,” she said.
Oil companies contribute to politicians who advocate for free trade, tax, and energy policies through political action committees (PACs). This standard fits the majority of Republican politicians who also vote to restrict abortion rights.
An engineer from Chevron in California who is planning to have a baby and who also refused to use his name said he told his boss he couldn’t move forward with a move to Houston.
“We find pregnancy in Texas to be medically unsafe,” he said, adding that his wife is at high risk of an ectopic pregnancy. With doctors in Texas now unable to perform emergency abortions unless there is an immediate risk to the mother’s life, “that’s too close to call me.”
Dawn Seifert, 52, and her husband, an oil company employee, returned to Texas in 2012 and made plans to stay. But with Texas’ anti-abortion law in place, a mother of four is considering moving with her daughters to Maine while her husband still earns full retirement benefits.
Seifert said Texas’ policies “even before Rowe” were headed in the wrong direction. “Public education and the network … are more concerned with personal liberties than with any responsibility to each other,” she said.