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15 Minutes with Joan Eischen

Joan Eischen is the director for advisory services with KPMG LLP, a U.S. audit, tax and advisory firm. She has more than 20 years of experience as an international business development specialist and has traveled to Europe, North and South America selling complex products and services. Now with the publication of “Energy and the City,” a career guide for women offering raw advice from leading female energy executives in Houston, Eischen adds “author” to her resume.

HW: Please tell our readers about your new book, Energy and the City.

JOAN EISCHEN:  “Energy and the City” profiles 31 senior executive women in the energy industry. This book is not an exhaustive study, rather a fireside chat with the women who lead in a male-dominated industry. These corporate pioneers entered the industry at a transitional time —  in the 1970s and 1980s — when women were hardly present in energy companies. The women I interviewed talked about the changes to both the workplace and home front. These brought, for those who followed, better work environments and more personal choices. The book focuses on the challenges women faced as a minority in a room full of men and how they overcame obstacles. Some may think the issue of female career advancement is no longer valid, but the experiences of these women, and my own experience, show that this is not true.

HW: Were there any themes that emerged in  the interviews you conducted?

EISCHEN: Yes, three. Visibility leads the discussion on the first major areas: creating your own personal brand and finding your voice in the shift from team player to leader. Sponsorship is required for advancement. Mentoring is valuable for personal development and networking is essential, but women need sponsors to get ahead. Work/life balance or what I prefer to call “personal choices” is the largest obstacle for career advancement and the women interviewed share their experiences on how they managed career and family. Most of the advice is equal for men and women

HWM: Where did you get the idea for the book?

EISCHEN: I am an international business development specialist who has lived in six different countries on three continents in very male dominant industries like manufacturing, defense and energy. In 2005, I was a managing partner for a global energy magazine. One of my responsibilities was to interview industry leaders. After several months, I realized that I wasn’t talking to any women. I reviewed 10 years of publications that focused on energy, and I saw women were not featured as prominent players. Women are still few in the industry. When I moved to Houston in 2007, I joined Women’s Energy Network and served for over three years as its program director. I started meeting women who were breaking glass ceilings in the energy industry. Even then, we found it difficult to find 18 women each year to serve as role models for our luncheons and special events. 

HW: How did you select the women featured?

EISCHEN: My first interviews were with the women who gave their time to Women’s Energy Network; they came to speak to the organization as role models and mentors for our membership. They recommended other women, and the list got longer and longer. It really took off. Executives like to share their experiences and advice. There are so many amazing and accomplished women working in the energy industry in roles that were once deemed “for men only.” It is very exciting to read their stories.

HW: What is the target audience of your book?

EISCHEN: The target audience is a wide range of young women (and men) —  from high school and university students to new hires and mid-level talent. It is a powerful read for the new hires who are entering the energy industry and needing some guidance, as well as for those at mid-level, stuck in the talent pipeline.

HW: How are you reaching this audience?

EISCHEN: It’s been a mixture of using the book as a discussion platform and mentoring tool. Prior to the book being published, I was invited to Florence, Italy to speak to Valore D’, the Italian women’s group. This group of executive women is leading in some of the world’s largest corporations. Last year I participated in the “Young Women Energized,” a high school program developed by Women’s Energy Network that educates young female students about the industry and the careers available. It is interesting that young women today who are good in math and science are still being guided to study medicine rather than other fields like engineering, math or technology. We are able to provide our experiences working in energy. I presented to the Rice LEAD (Leading through Empowerment Affiliations and Development) group of women, and I will be speaking to a coed group for the new Petroleum Engineering program at the University of Houston. And, of course, I am invited to speak at company woman’s groups’ lunch and learn, internal book clubs and annual women’s summits. I was the keynote speaker for the first inaugural women’s resource group summit for Baker Hughes. That was a lot of fun.

HW: What bit of advice did you receive from the women that stood out the most?

EISCHEN: I learned that senior executives are available, and they want to share their experiences and give advice. What we need to understand is they are very busy and have many demands on their time. If you want their time, you need to have a plan and purpose and provide feedback. In my book, I give examples of how to be a good mentee. One topic that came up that I didn’t expect (and I have included as a main chapter) was “Choosing Your Partner and Lifestyle.” All the married women I interviewed acknowledged the support they had at home.

HW: Where can our readers find your books?

EISCHEN: “Energy and the City” is now available at www. and at Barnes and Noble. Brazos Bookstore on Bissonnet also has the book in stock.

Annette Santos is a journalism major at the University of Houston and intern at Houston Woman Magazine.

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