Inside Aera
Responsibility, Operations, People of Aera, Community Jan 21, 2020

Aera is way ahead of California’s new ‘woman quota’ law

Driven by our value of embracing inclusion, we’ve been closing the gender gap for years

Aera is miles ahead of a new law aimed at closing the gender gap in California board rooms.

Under a law that took effect this month, publicly held companies based in California must have appointed at least one woman to their boards of directors by the end of 2019 or face hefty fines.

Aera President and CEO Christina Sistrunk (left) accepts the 2019 Distinguished Woman and Petroleum Advocate of the Year award at the Women’s Empowerment Summit last May in Bakersfield. With her is Maria Hernandez of the California Latino Leadership Institute.

By the end of 2021, boards with five members must include at least two women, while six-member boards must include a minimum of three female directors. Failure to comply could bring a $100,000 fine for the first offense.

“We’re not a public company, so we’re not required to comply with the new law, but the number of women at Aera and in senior leadership positions speaks to the kind of company we are,” says president and CEO Christina Sistrunk.

Bakersfield-based Aera already includes three women on its board of managers. Moreover, Aera has been advancing women to top leadership positions for years.

Women hold five of the eight senior leadership positions at Aera. Sistrunk has held Aera’s No. 1 position since 2015, when she became the first woman to lead the company since its 1997 founding.

Other women joining Sistrunk on Aera’s senior leadership team are:

  • Aimee Blaine, senior vice president, technical
  • Theresa Bush, senior vice president, human resources
  • Lynne Carrithers, senior vice president and general counsel
  • Cindy Pollard, director of public affairs

All members of Aera’s senior leadership team attend company board meetings. “When they do,” Sistrunk says, “women outnumber men.”

Inclusion beyond the boardroom

Aera continues to bring more women like geologist Simmie Chehal into critical roles.

In addition to the leadership team, women play pivotal roles in all facets of Aera’s operations, including engineering, geology, field production and logistics. Their presence in traditionally male roles reflects Aera’s commitment to an inclusive and diverse work environment.

“Companies like Aera are going beyond what’s required because they know it’s good for business and they value inclusion,” says Katie Mehnert, CEO and founder of Pink Petro, the Houston-based company founded in 2014 to disrupt the gender gap in the energy industry. It has members in 120 countries and at over 500 companies.

“Values don’t change,” Mehnert adds. “Priorities do. When you value a diverse and inclusive culture, it can transform a company.”

Diversity within Aera’s senior leadership covers much more than gender because fostering inclusion and diversity only makes sense, notes Sistrunk. It builds access to varied thoughts, perspectives, backgrounds and experiences. Those, in turn, generate more innovative and effective ideas and decisions. The result is a competitive advantage for Aera.

‘High time’ for women on corporate boards

Known as Senate Bill 826, the law was signed in September 2018 by then Gov. Jerry Brown, who said it was “high time corporate boards include the people who constitute more than half the ‘persons’ in America.”

At the time, more than 25%, or 117, of the Russell 3000 companies based in California had no women directors serving on their boards, according to California Legislative Information.

SB 826, known in some circles as the “woman quota” law, is not without its opponents. Some dislike the idea of mandating gender parity while others deem the law unconstitutional.

Women like Aera production operator Vicki Day are increasingly moving into once male-dominated energy jobs.

Yet the California Legislature, in passing the bill, noted that without such proactive efforts, “it will take 40 or 50 years to achieve gender parity.”

So far, it appears most publicly traded companies are complying, the Los Angeles Times reported Jan. 6.

More is needed

Advocates for greater gender equality want to see even more done to shift businesses away from male-dominated board rooms and executive roles.

“The California law to have at least one woman on its board, in my view, simply isn’t enough,” Mehnert says. “My hope is we’ll transform our entire industry. As the energy industry is in a big transition globally, we need all forms of energy and all energy at the table.”

Sistrunk agrees. “Over the next several decades, women will continue to lead in this industry,” she says. “They will be part of the effort to innovate, solve our biggest challenges and deliver on the energy future we all want. We need the best and brightest to solve the complex problems in front of us.  We can’t afford to ignore talent because they look or have different life experience than those that have traditionally held the role.”

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