Two of Aera’s female manager of operations share their thoughts on stereotypes, public perception and the role of women in a changing oil industry.
After wrapping up a summer internship at Aera Energy, Erin Larner was seriously considering a career in the oil industry. Her father, who worked in the industry his entire life, discouraged her from following in his footsteps in what he believed was an unstable industry.
Fast forward 15 years, Larner has built a successful career in the oil industry where previously few women ventured. In early 2019, Larner became the first female manager of operations at Aera’s Belridge field, marking a first in Aera’s history. Larner is now the first female manager of operations at Aera-Ventura, overseeing a field with 79 employees. The industry has long been changing and more women are building successful careers in oil and gas. Now it’s time for an update of public perceptions and stereotypes.
“Sometimes the public may think of oil field workers as big buff men slinging pipe wrenches around,” said Larner with a laugh. “And there’s some component of hard manual labor involved in what we do, but if you look at our operations there’s so much more to the technical side now. We’ve made so much progress in the last 15 years in how we do work and the diversity of the people we work with.”
At Aera Energy, women have played pivotal roles in all facets of Aera’s operations for many years, including engineering, geology, field production and logistics. Women currently hold four of eight senior leadership positions at Aera. Their leadership in an industry where those roles were typically held by men, reflects Aera’s commitment to an inclusive and diverse work environment. The company values a culture that encourages varied thoughts, perspectives, backgrounds and experiences to generate innovative and effective business strategies.
“We’ve had so many women at Aera in leadership positions and they really paved the way for us,” said Ali Zauner, who in March 2021 became the manager of operations for Aera’s San Ardo and Coalinga fields, where she oversees 62 employees.
Zauner grew up in the small town of Eureka, Montana near the Canadian border. As a teenager, she babysat for a family that owned their own oil company, and it piqued Zauner’s interest. She always envisioned herself going to the United States Coast Guard Academy but instead ended up getting a scholarship to Montana Technological University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering. She was introduced to Aera Energy at a career fair and was hired straight out of college as a production engineer at Aera-Ventura.
Zauner moved through the ranks as a drilling engineer and took on several supervisory positions before becoming a manager of operations. She never imagined herself joining the ranks of leadership.
“I am really enjoying it. The diverse perspectives of all of our staff help us to focus on problem solving and we’re getting better and better every day. As a woman, I believe that I bring a different leadership style than some of the other managers of operations. Our teams are smart and talented, so I provide behind-the-scenes support and guidance. But I’m also ready to give them that ‘nudge’ when they need it. So far, it’s working well,” Zauner said.
Both Zauner and Larner say that at Aera they have always had a seat at the table and never felt out of place in meetings. They never waver from their commitment to putting the health and safety of employees first, while managing the daily operations of their busy oil fields. The work is hard and involves long hours, but neither regret choosing a career in the oil industry.
“My dad and I now laugh about his career path warnings. He’s glad it has worked out well for me. This is a career I’m passionate about and I love. I’ve been able to successfully climb the leadership ladder as a female and look forward to a long career. Ali and I are proof other women should look at this industry. Our roles should show everyone that the industry has many opportunities, no matter your gender,” Larner said.