Energy’s #MeToo moment: Ex-Anadarko employee alleges culture where women treated as ‘sexual playthings’

Soon after Robin Olsen left her job in the Denver office of Anadarko Petroleum Corp., she drafted a letter with her lawyer’s help.

“Anadarko has a culture of treating women as sexual playthings who are present at work merely for men’s sexual gratification,” it said.

Olsen’s 2017 letter to Anadarko went on to describe a toxic culture in the satellite office, where 550 of the company’s 4,700 employees work, and where she said sexual harassment wasn’t punished and women who complained about it were.

Anadarko, which agreed last week to be sold to Chevron Corp. for US$33 billion, vigorously disputes Olsen’s characterizations of the company.

Even as the #MeToo movement — and the backlash against it — rolls through the corridors of power, the energy industry has largely escaped the scandals that have ensnared scores of prominent men in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Washington and beyond.

Interviews with six former employees of Anadarko’s Denver office paint a detailed picture of a place where life can be particularly difficult for women. The ex-employees spoke on condition of anonymity because they still have dealings with Anadarko or aren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Loutish Behaviour

Allegations include loutish behaviour, such as the supervisor who joked that women seeking to advance their careers should be prepared to provide oral sex.

They include talk about stunted careers, how the women became stuck in their jobs while the men they complained about moved up the corporate ladder. About how men were promoted while women with comparable experience weren’t — such as the company announcing that the three male graduates of a leadership-training seminar would get better jobs than the three females in the same class.

Olsen’s letter to the company alleges that two high-ranking executives had sexual relationships with subordinates, an account corroborated in an affidavit, reviewed by Bloomberg, from Olsen’s former supervisor, Christopher Castilian.

Changed Company

Women’s complaints changed the company. After the behaviour was exposed, Anadarko said it launched a formal sexual-harassment training program.

Woodlands, Texas-based Anadarko’s Denver office oversees operations in Colorado and Wyoming, where nearly half the company’s onshore acreage is located.

For its part, Chevron “has a zero-tolerance policy, and any form of workplace discrimination — gender, racial or otherwise — is unacceptable,” spokesman Kent Robertson said in an email.

In the oil and gas industry, just one of every five employees is female. At Anadarko, less than one-quarter of employees worldwide are female. Women account for two per cent of industry chief executives, compared with five per cent for S&P 500 companies. One of Anadarko’s six executive officers is a woman.

Derisive Nicknames

“We have our problems in our industry, whether it’s the hanky panky you hear about, the inappropriateness you hear about after hours, or whatever,” said Katie Mehnert, the founder of women’s energy organization Pink Petro who has worked at Royal Dutch Shell Plc and BP Plc. “But the culture is going to evolve quicker now, because you can’t hide anything. There aren’t four walls anymore. There’s just a glass door.”

The culture is going to evolve quicker now, because you can’t hide anything. There aren’t four walls anymore. There’s just a glass door

Katie Mehnert, Pink Petro founder

Two of the former Anadarko employees spoke of a supervisor, known for joking that female employees should provide oral sex to get better jobs, who was promoted while the women who complained about him were passed over and eventually left the company.

One woman said her supervisor gave her derisive nicknames, publicly joked about her presumed sexual activity and cut her annual bonus when she complained.

Inclusive Environment

Jennifer Brice, an Anadarko spokeswoman, said in a statement to Bloomberg that the company has taken steps to address complaints, including launching sexual-harassment and unconscious-bias training, increasing awareness of Anadarko’s 24-hour anonymous hotline, and strengthening its policy on retaliation.

“We strive to create a work environment that is inclusive for all of our employees, and have acted on the concerns we’ve heard,” Brice said. “Each case involving specific claims and concerns was investigated once received.”

The company has reinforced its zero-tolerance policy for retaliation, and over the last year has trained more than 2,900 of its employees in a program called “Speaking Up Creates Change,” she said.

The woman who described the leadership-training class — where the company announced the three male graduates would get better jobs than the three females — said she complained to human resources. She said she received a bump in pay but not a change in job title. After that, she said, she was passed over for promotions.

Pay Equity

“Pay equity is something we take very seriously, and our Code of Business Conduct and Ethics expressly states our commitment to diversity in recruiting, hiring, developing, compensating and promoting employees,” said Brice, the Anadarko spokeswoman.

Anadarko’s general counsel annually reviews pay practices and provides advice on avoiding discrimination on the basis of gender, Brice said. “Management is routinely reminded and trained on the Code’s requirement to make decisions about pay, promotions and other employment-related actions without regard to gender or any other protected category.”


The logo for Anadarko Petroleum Corp. appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Richard Drew/AP Photo

Olsen’s letter alleges that Brad Holly, who oversaw the company’s Rocky Mountain assets, and Scott Moore, who supervised marketing, carried on sexual relationships with female subordinates. Olsen said she frequently heard the executives having sex with the women behind closed doors in the office, the letter said. When she complained, Holly and Moore stopped speaking to her and gave away plum assignments that were part of her job description that could’ve led to career advancement, according to the letter.

Policies Strengthened

The claims of inappropriate relationships involving Denver-based officers of the company “were promptly and thoroughly investigated,” Brice said. “The individuals referenced are no longer with the company.”

After the complaints about Moore’s behaviour, the company held sexual-harassment training in the Denver office, former employees said. The seminar gave real-world examples of employees who had violated the company’s policies on hostile work environments.

Brice said Anadarko has strengthened its policies “to specifically prohibit any officer from engaging in an intimate relationship with any employee, regardless of the reporting relationship.”

Olsen, who signed a nondisclosure agreement as part of her settlement with the company, said she resolved her differences with Anadarko. She declined to comment further.

Denver Office

The women allegedly involved in the trysts left the company. Anadarko gave two promotions each to Holly and Moore within two years of the women’s departures.

Moore, who left the company in 2018, declined to comment, saying personnel matters should be addressed by Anadarko.

“I have always been a strong advocate for equality, inclusion and mentorship and am proud of my record for advancing the careers of talented professionals in our industry,” Holly said in a statement to Bloomberg. “I certainly never engaged in any discriminatory or retaliatory conduct, and any allegations that I engaged in inappropriate behaviour in the office are categorically false.”

One woman described gender problems in the Denver office to Holly in an email reviewed by Bloomberg. She warned Holly they would lead to an exodus of talent.

“While I do not recall the specific email referenced,” Holly said, “I believe that clear protocols and processes are vital to an equitable and respectful work environment and would have referred any reports of discrimination or retaliation to the Human Resources department for investigation.”

In May 2017, after Olsen left the company, Holly was promoted to executive vice president of the Rockies Region, the highest-ranking executive in the Denver office. He left the company five months later.

After Holly’s departure, Anadarko’s chief executive officer, Al Walker, visited the Denver office. He asked employees at a town-hall-style meeting if any of them had experienced retaliation for complaining about inappropriate conduct. That’s when at least two women told the CEO their stories, the women said.

Brice said that Anadarko investigated all cases brought to Walker’s attention and that steps were taken to address the concerns raised.

Holly is now the chairman, president and CEO of Denver-based Whiting Petroleum Corp.

Whiting declined to comment.

Bloomberg.com

Published at Tue, 16 Apr 2019 15:43:01 +0000