Jessica Lacher joined Trafigura, one of the largest physical commodities trading groups in the world, at the end of 2016. Based in Houston, Texas, she is tasked with leading the delivery of the global HR plan for North America, but already she can see that the trading industry, which she is new to, has a challenge when it comes to attracting women.

Originally published March 2017

“This is definitely a heavily male-driven industry,” says Lacher, “when you look at it overall. I don’t know if that’s something where women go to school and say that’s not for me, or they divert their careers in different ways later on, but it’s certainly a challenge. We participate in some career programmes for junior people looking for trading roles out of college, and it really is heavily male even at that point, although there are a good number of females applying.”

It’s likely the industry as a whole needs to work on its image, she says, while pointing out that many of the perceptions of trading are way out of date. “People thrive on misconceptions,” she says. “They think there’s not a great work-life balance in a company life Trafigura, and that it’s hard to be a woman and have children while working in this industry. It’s an industry seen as not having great hours, and not treating women well.”

In fact, her experience could not be further from that view: “We do a lot here to accommodate women and make sure they are treated well and respected. People really do care,” she says. “This company wants people to have a work-life balance – both males and females – and to have time with their families. Honestly, I would say we are going through a lot of staffing processes right now, and whichever women we have been talking to have been interested in joining the company at various levels.”

She can already see marked differences between the environment working in a trading operation and that of an oil and gas business, where she was previously employed. Lacher spent four years with Occidental Petroleum, one of the largest oil and gas exploration and production companies in the US, as a senior HR adviser, and before that worked at ConocoPhillips for six years, latterly as the HR business partner for the upstream business.

“It’s a very different environment here, compared to the places where I’ve worked before,” says Lacher. “With upstream oil and gas, people are very much doing the roles that they’re assigned, and focused on doing X, Y or Z. Here, everybody says that if you have a good idea, you should go ahead and do it.”

She adds, “There’s not the red tape here. People come in and have a great passion for doing things, because they can see that they can do things and make changes straight away.”

The workforce is incredibly diverse, with teams including participants from all over the world, with all sorts of backgrounds and experiences. “It’s just such a cool place to work,” she says, “because the people are exceptionally smart, and everybody has passion, wants to succeed, and knows that they can make a difference.”

Her own role sees her providing project implementation support to the global head of HR, as well as partnering with the regional management teams to ensure HR is part of the planning process. The company has close to 5,000 employees in 61 offices in 36 countries around the world, and Lacher oversees the North American operations, out of Houston, Calgary, Stamford, Midland and Burnside, Louisiana. That part of her role alone requires to keep abreast of labour laws in five states.

She may only be three months in to her role in a company that sources, stores, transports and delivers a vast array of raw materials to clients around the world, but Lacher has hit the ground running, and is already keen to start addressing any outdated views of the industry that might be deterring women from signing up.