Commentary: Perseverance prevails for one African-American woman

Commentary: Perseverance prevails for one African-American woman
November 09
03:52 2017

“What you do today matters and influences your future. Don’t wait to start building your foundation for success,” counsels Telisa Toliver, vice president for Chevron Pipe Line Company during an interview to gain her perspective on careers for African-American women in the oil and natural gas industry.

Her advice is especially compelling as the oil and natural gas industry faces the retirement of scores of skilled industry workers over the next decade. This is widely expected, so much so that the industry calls this “the great crew change.” Many of these jobs could be filled with women and minorities, including African-Americans, according to a recent IHS study (

Toliver is a model of what can be achieved with this focus, and can testify to the opportunities that the energy industry offers to African-American women. She started as a college intern with the oil and gas industry some 25 years ago, and is now a business unit vice president for the United States’ second largest oil company, managing business development efforts for their transportation of oil, gas, natural gas liquids and other products.

She describes her career path as “more opportunistic than linear,” noting that she “always took advantage of opportunities” to broaden her knowledge base, so she could “fully understand the industry and be positioned for growth within the company.”

Of course, when she first started out, there weren’t as many opportunities for African-American women in the energy industry as there are now. Nevertheless, convinced that her reputation was her “best weapon against any obstacles,” Toliver concentrated on “seizing opportunities” and “producing good outcomes” and “didn’t worry too much about the perceived hurdles.”

“It’s a shame that most female students give little thought to careers in energy,” Toliver said. ”I know from personal experience that the oil and gas industry is an incredible place to work. Students should not be too shortsighted or limited about where job opportunities can be found. Don’t wait and expect for things to come along. We are all competing on a global scale, so don’t think narrowly.”

Toliver rejected the idea that there was too much of a barrier presented by the fact that oil and gas companies typically recruit at engineering-based universities. When asked whether that may put students at historically black colleges and universities at somewhat of a disadvantage, Toliver said that should not be viewed as an obstacle.

”It didn’t deter me when I was a student at Tuskegee University,” Toliver said. “On the contrary, I realized that I needed to be more assertive, and landing an internship was the first step in launching my career.”

“The oil and gas industry is committed to diversity and is actively recruiting minorities and women. We are expanding our network of schools and colleges to educate students about the potential opportunities, and promoting the importance of STEM education.  But as many recognize, more can be done. Universities must carefully think about the needs of the industry,” she advises, “and align programs effectively.”

With the coming “crew change,” America will need talented and dedicated people to continue our energy renaissance. As Telisa Toliver is a testament, individuals who persevere will fill that pipeline and drive America’s energy leadership through the 21st century.  They just need to understand, “Whatever you do today matters.”

Algenon Cash is the managing director of Wharton Gladden & Company, an investment banking firm, he is also a national spokesperson for the oil and natural gas industry.  Reach him at

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