September 25, 2021
Marlette Dumas, PMP, senior project risk management engineer, bp, and Chris Dao.

What Power Means to Me

“Perception is reality.” This was the very first career pep talk I heard, as a freshly minted petroleum engineer graduate in 2015. At the time, I had no idea how much power this sentence would have over me. Power can mean a lot of things in our oil and gas industry – from electricity to the terms of a corporate joint venture or the dynamics of office politics. What does power mean to you?

Those three words instantly filled my mind with dread and self-doubt. “What if I don’t belong? None of the leadership looks like me at all. Where would a professional of color, as well as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, even fit in here?”

That pep talk forced me to realize the reality of how unbalanced the power dynamics are in our energy industry, inequitably excluding women, people of color (PoC), LGBTQ+ and other minorities. We often feel like we don’t belong and, sadly, often feel forced out of the energy industry.

As I chatted with my peers in our oil and industry, I noticed a pattern. When I spoke to peers who were minorities, or even multi-minorities, they still felt a sense of powerlessness and lack of belonging. They told me about how it felt like they were continuously “working for the same boss, just a different face.” There was no diversity in our industry and there definitely was no inclusion. This was both my wake-up call and my “aha!” moment.

I suddenly realized what power meant to me.

To me, power means that there are other minorities out there who haven’t found their voice and that it’s my civic duty to help them find it. It’s why I continue to advocate for allyship through various positions on the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) committees, by empowering others who haven’t found their own voice yet.

Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I too “have a dream.” I dream of a better future for our energy industry, a more inclusive future and culture. I want an energy industry that doesn’t just tolerate our differences, but an industry that celebrates them.

That is why when I served on our SPE Hiring Event Planning Committee, I immediately looked at our list of partnered professional societies. I wanted to see how I could help enable more minorities to feel that they belong at our SPE hiring event and, in turn, our energy industry. I wanted to be able to say that I had made a difference in someone’s life and our oil and gas industry, once it was time to gracefully step down.

I served as the Social Media Coordinator and the Media Coordinator for our SPE Hiring Event Committee Board for nearly two years. During that period, I stubbornly advocated for more diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and I can proudly say that it was a success! We were able to include the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SASE), Oilfield Christian Fellowship and GeoLatinas in our SPE Hiring Event.

This is what power means to me: I will continue to use my voice to help professionals who are women, Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), LGBTQ+, neurodiverse and other minorities to feel a sense of belonging in the oil and gas industry and to see and hear through example, “YES. YOU BELONG. There are people who look just like you!”

Headline photo: Marlette Dumas, PMP, senior project risk management engineer, bp, and Chris Dao.

Author profile

Chris Dao is a graduate from UT Austin with a bachelor’s in petroleum engineering. He started his career at CB&I in facilities. Dao has also worked in upstream with Stryker Directional in the Permian Basin. He’s well experienced in project management, data management and financial data analytics. Dao enjoys providing his skill sets and leadership through volunteering for professional societies. Current committees he serves include:  SPE Intl. D&I, SPE Gulf Coast Section Business Development, Houston National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA) and more. Dao can be contacted at chrisvdao@gmail.com.

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