The Faces and Voices of Energy

Mary Van Domelen: Learning at Every Opportunity​

Headshot of Mary VanDomelen

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich once said, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” The problem is, “well-behaved” typically means being quiet and agreeable, particularly for women in male-dominated fields and industries. This bias emerges even in things like employee reviews, where women are consistently told to “pipe down” while their male counterparts are commended for displaying the exact same traits. Point-based scales are not immune from the bias either.

The mountains to climb are that much higher for women in leadership roles. Men, including those who are very much for gender equality, still feel threatened by women leaders, and they respond with aggressive behavior.

As women in the industry, we have all experienced the effects of this, but identifying how to overcome it is a struggle… one that’s all too often faced in isolation. It doesn’t matter what we’ve achieved nor what recognition we’ve been given, the bias persists. In the face of this, it’s easy to give up or give in. Many of us do, and we can hardly be blamed for it. Yet, some of us push forward, carving out a path for ourselves and clearing the road ahead for our sisters.

For Mary Van Domelen, one of these defining moments came decades into her career.

Mary Was Singled Out

“My technical work could not be criticized,” Mary explains. Despite 35 years in oil and gas, establishing herself as a leader and an innovator, working for well-known companies in locations all around the world, amassing an impressive track record in the realm of completion engineering, registering eight of her own patents, winning multiple awards from the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), the gender bias still influenced the behavior of those around her, making working conditions and advancement difficult.

These achievements only served as fuel for one of her superiors. “This person challenged my leadership skills in private, though my direct manager, in meetings, and in my reviews,” she says.

She Looks Inside Herself for Answers

Even though the industry is amid a major shift, women must still contend with the existing infrastructure. That means finding ways to overcome bias and, unfortunately, peacefully coexist and collaborate with those who don’t recognize their own biases and detrimental behaviors.

“Rather than considering myself a victim, I chose to closely evaluate my leadership skills to determine what I could learn from the situation,” Mary explains. “I enlisted a private coach and became involved in several mentoring organizations as both a mentor and mentee. I volunteered to be the Mentorship Chair for the Women’s Energy Network of Greater Oklahoma.” She says the role involved developing content for monthly mentoring circle meetings, which helped her understand what aspects of her own leadership skills needed to be improved.

“More importantly, I regained my confidence and developed numerous professional relationships which have helped me to grow and allowed me to share my experiences with younger engineers,” she notes.

Her Humility Has Given Rise to Learning Opportunities

The way Mary handled bias in the workplace is a prime example of her ongoing mentality and commitment to personal and professional development, but she’s not too proud to admit when something lands squarely on her shoulders either.

After working for Halliburton for 25 years, she pivoted to an organization she’d been supporting as a service company engineer—Maersk Oil.

“On my first fracturing treatment, which was executed from a stimulation vessel in the North Sea, I was overconfident and failed to listen to the advice of the crew. Because I was legacy Halliburton, I thought I knew better than the crew how to run the job.”

Mary says this showed in her attitude, and so when she forgot to account for the change in hydrostatic pressure as the proppant was flushed from the wellbore, nobody said a word. “By the time I realized the mistake, it was too late. As I looked around the control room, I immediately realized that the crew was aware of my mistake but failed to tell me because of my arrogance. All I could do was watch as we screened out the well, which is potentially dangerous and very expensive to rectify.”

Still, Mary contends that this was a valuable learning opportunity too. “I got a good dose of humility and learned the importance of listening (and valuing) the opinion of the crew. This experience was invaluable to me when I went to work for a startup fracturing company and was tasked with training the new crews.”

She’s Committed to Helping Others

Mary says some of the most satisfying points of her career have come through her time at Halliburton. “I was involved in the startup of two research centers, one in the Netherlands and one in India. I also managed a start-up product line.” She notes that in all three cases she witnessed her team members grow in experience, confidence, and gain the ability for innovative thinking and problem solving. “It was very rewarding to know that I was able to contribute to the professional growth of my younger team members,” she adds.

Mary’s Still Busting Glass Ceilings and Leading

Never one to be “well-behaved” in the quintessential sense, Mary continues to make history and uplift the lives of others in a myriad of ways. She describes her Senior Completions Advisor role with software startup WellData Labs as “highly-focused on mentoring,” and feels the job is a perfect fit due to their shared belief in celebrating the unique facets each person brings to the table and cultivating a positive culture.

Outside the office, she keeps a pulse on her community and the industry, volunteering her time and resources to charities in Oklahoma City, focusing on organizations which provide food and services to the poor and homeless. She recently celebrated her five-year anniversary as a mentor in the Future Trailblazers Program at the University of Oklahoma and is a member of the Women’s Energy Network of Greater Oklahoma and OKC Women in Technology too.

Her latest frontier is work with the Society of Petroleum Engineers. Although she’s served the organization in leadership, volunteering, and mentoring capacities for quite some time, she’s presently working with a small group of women to launch “Women In Hydraulic Fracturing,” a sub-committee of the Society of Petroleum Engineers’ Women in Energy (WIN). The group aims to create opportunities and encourage women’s advancement throughout the hydraulic fracturing community across a wide breadth of modalities, such as networking, formal mentoring programs, and skill development.

Mary’s ongoing dedication to advancing the industry and supporting others also recently earned her the title of Distinguished Member with the Society of Petroleum Engineers, a distinction bestowed on only a handful of people across the globe each year.

We are proud to know Mary Van Domelen and honored to distinguish her as a GRIT Award winner. Know somebody else who’s got GRIT? Head over to the GRIT Awards page for the most current information or check out Faces of Energy to meet more inspiring people.