To read this content please select one of the options below:

The Gender of Layoffs in the Oil and Gas Industry

Precarious Work

ISBN: 978-1-78743-288-8, eISBN: 978-1-78743-287-1

Publication date: 19 December 2017


Professional careers have become more precarious in recent decades. Corporations today engage in downsizing even during profitable times, a practice that impacts workers throughout the labor force, including those with advanced degrees. Using a case study of women geoscientists in the oil and gas industry, I investigate how the increasing precariousness of professional careers reinforces gender inequality. The compressed cycle of booms and busts in the oil and gas industry permits an investigation into how women fare in precarious professional jobs. Extending gendered organization theory, I argue that three mechanisms are built into professional careers today that enhance women’s vulnerability to layoffs: teamwork, career maps, and networking. I illustrate how these mechanisms disadvantage women with in-depth portraits of three geoscientists who lost their jobs during the recent downturn in oil prices. Their personal narratives, collected over a 3-year period of boom and bust, reveal how a particular multinational corporation is structured in ways that favor the white men who dominate their industry. The rhetoric of diversity obscures the workings of gendered organizations during good times, but when times get tough, management’s decisions about whom to lay off belies the routine practices the reproduce men’s advantages within the industry.




I am grateful to editors Arne Kalleberg and Steve Vallas for their interest, feedback, and support. This chapter benefited a great deal from the criticisms I received from the external reviewers. I also thank my co-researchers Chandra Muller, Kristine Kilanski, and Amanda Boskey, who helped to develop the ideas discussed in this chapter.


Williams, C.L. (2017), "The Gender of Layoffs in the Oil and Gas Industry", Kalleberg, A.L. and Vallas, S.P. (Ed.) Precarious Work (Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 31), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 215-241.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018 Emerald Publishing Limited