North Dakota’s Shale Boom Brings Opportunity for Women

While men dominate North Dakota’s shale-oil industry, women in the region are starting complementary service businesses ranging from oil-well geology to occupational testing to day-care and medical clinics.

“There are great opportunities for women,” says Kathy Neset, 57, president of Neset Consulting Service. “Whatever skill you have, we need it in western North Dakota.” Neset and her husband founded the geological services company in 1980 in Tioga, which is in the northwest part of the state. More than one-fifth of its 180 employees are women. Neset regularly gives presentations at elementary and middle schools in the upper Midwest, encouraging girls to pursue careers as geologists, where salaries range from $80,000 to $140,000 a year.
At 3.3 percent, unemployment in North Dakota is the lowest of any state, and less than half the 7.5 percent national rate. Many of the men coming to work in the oil fields are either single or have left their families behind in other parts of the country. That’s led to a worker shortage in service industries and opportunities for the region’s women. “When [the men] just come by themselves, you no longer have a teenager to work at McDonald’s ( MCD), or a spouse that might be a nurse at the hospital,” says Ward Koeser, mayor of Williston, about an hour from Watford City.
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