HR Discussion

Addressing the Needs of Dual-Career Couples

Dual-career couples are increasingly common among young professionals (YPs) in the oil and gas industry. This terminology refers to either two partners with the same company or couples who have careers with different companies/industries. An SPE survey on dual-career couples was conducted (Chadud et al. 2007). We looked at how engineers chose companies where they can have a successful career, when their spouse also has a professional career, and how these couples deal with relocation.

To bring about industrywide change, we need to develop a compelling business case that the needs of dual-career couples must be addressed. Part of the case is that to prepare for the “big crew change” (Tealdi et al. 2006), employers should address factors that reduce work productivity or contribute to attrition. This survey shows that SPE YPs consider the challenges facing dual-career couples to be important issues.

SPE Survey Demographics

The survey targeted a random sample (50% US/ 50% non-US) of approximately 25,000 SPE members, excluding students. Approximately 11% responded, which is considered good in survey response rates. The results of this survey should be representative of the sample population at a 95% confidence level.

In an overwhelming indicator that this is not a “women’s only” issue, 70% of the responses came from men. Of those responding, 80% indicated experience with dual-career challenges. The most typical response came from male, North American engineers, between 45 and 55 years old, working for major oil companies, and married to a spouse not working in the oil and gas industry.

Dual-Career Management

“How easy is it to manage the dual careers of you and your spouse/partner working in the oil and gas business?” The answers to that question are represented in Fig. 1, grouped by demographics.

Fig. 1—How easy is it to manage dual careers in the oil and gas business? (by age group, job type, marital status, company type, and size).

Given this situation, “What are the most difficult challenges to overcome in managing dual careers?”

According to 48% of the respondents (Fig. 2), it is necessary to sacrifice the personal ambitions of one of the partners.

Fig. 2—What is the most difficult challenge to overcome in managing dual careers? (by work status and gender)

“Do you feel that you have been constrained in your career because of your dual-career status?” Forty percent answered yes.

When asked if they had considered leaving their company because of its handling of dual-career couples, one-third said yes. The differences in perspective between YPs and those older than 55 is dramatic (Fig. 3). We cannot tell from this survey whether the older respondents have altered their perspectives over their careers.

Fig. 3—Did you consider leaving your company due to their handling of dual career couples? (by age group and company size).

Personal Priorities Today

One question was phrased this way: “You have been asked by your company to move to a new assignment in a country that is considered risky. The position is challenging, and the salary is appealing. Your spouse/partner has a job in your current location. Would you accept the new assignment?” Overall, 42% said, “Yes, but only if my spouse/partner is willing to come with me.”

Age and working experience are important factors influencing one’s willingness, in a dual-career setting, to take a high-risk/high-return assignment. While two-thirds of the youngest respondents would accept such a risk, the older respondents are less inclined to do so (Figs. 4a and 4b).

Fig. 4—Would you accept a high-risk, high-return assignment to fulfill your career objectives? (by age group, SPE survey 2007)

Missing family events because of a rotational assignment or a job with travel is a consequence that 53% would be willing to accept to fulfill their career objectives. The results are shown in Fig. 5.

Fig. 5—For each of the following, in order to fulfill your career/development objectives,
would you be willing to accept the risk of . . .

It is primarily family happiness, an interesting job, challenging work, and work/life balance that motivate the respondents.

Career vs. Private Life

Only 20% have quit their jobs for personal or family issues.

Mobility was considered by 65% to be important for career progression, and 31% saw it as moderately important (Figs. 6a and 6b). According to many respondents, declining a transfer has slowed down their career progression, and 40% feel they were limited in their career because of their dual-career status.

Fig. 6—How important do you feel that mobility is for career progression? (by work type and by age).

The largest single factor that has affected people’s job choices regarding mobility, mentioned by nearly 25% of respondents, is the lack of career options for the spouse/partner in the new location. Safety/security/quality-of-life considerations ranked second, cited by more than 20% of those responding (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7—Which ONE factor has most affected your job choices with respect to mobility?

Because more engineers are part of a dual-career couple, companies must learn to deal with the added challenges. is a group of companies working together to post jobs for spouses/partners in other locations. This issue of finding jobs in the same location was cited frequently.

Travel causes strain on marriages and families. The question on “coordinating and balancing the opportunities of both our careers” provoked many comments.

Company Attitudes and Policies

On a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (good), E&P companies scored 4.7 on how dual-career couples are handled. Contractors and service companies got the lowest scores (Fig. 8).

Fig. 8—Does your company have adequate policies to handle dual-career couples?

Suggestions From Respondents

  • “Recognition that dual-career couples exist and help with work visas/position seeking for partner to make overseas postings more worthwhile. If only one good job is available, staying put will be the most financially rewarding option.”
  • “Clearer guidelines on remuneration, more support and forward planning, and transparency of job-assignment processes.”
  • “Currently, dual-career couples are seen as an inconvenience. However, if a company employs a dual-career couple, that actually means they need to pay less for housing, etc.”
  • “Provide more . . . access to jobs when dual-career spouses relocate. There simply isn’t enough knowledge of what’s available to a relocating spouse.”

The situation is comparable to the women’s glass ceiling. The point at which a couple must decide whose career takes precedence appears in many cases to arrive too soon. Companies must understand that better handling of dual-career couples’ issues has large upside business value.


Chadud, N., Tealdi, L., Howes, S., and Sprunt, E. 2007. Managing Dual Careers While Working in the Oil and Gas Industry: A Critical Element in Attracting and Retaining Talent. Paper SPE 110051 presented at the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, Anaheim, California, 12–14 November.

Tealdi, L., Kreft, E., and Donachie, J.M. 2006. Developing Young Exploration & Production Professionals To Solve the “Big Crew Change.” Paper SPE 99924 presented at the SPE Intelligent Energy Conference and Exhibition, Amsterdam, 11–13 April.

Natalie Chadud is a reservoir engineer with Sakhalin Energy, Shell. She won the SPE Netherlands Young E&P Professional of the Year Award and the North Sea Region Outstanding Young Member Award in 2007.

Loris Tealdi is a reservoir manager with Eni Congo. He served on the TWA Editorial Board from 2005–07 and won the SPE Young Member Outstanding Service Award in 2007.

Susan Howes is manager, Horizons Program, Chevron Global Upstream. She is director, Gulf Coast North America Region, SPE, and an SPE Distinguished Member. She won the society’s Distinguished Service Award in 2005.

Eve Sprunt is manager, University Partnership & Recruitment, Chevron. She served as SPE president in 2006 and is an SPE Distinguished Member.

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