Hard Hats are Women’s Wear

MelindaTraynor056-214x300Melinda Traynor is the President and CEO of Ayuda, LLC. Her company provides hands-on, personalized operator qualification training for people in the oil and gas industry. AYUDA’s crew goes directly to construction and pipeline sites to ensure that contractors are following safety and environmental regulations. Melinda’s name hit the industry headlines when she secured a contract to train pipeline operators for Pemex, Mexico’s state-run oil company. Since then, Melinda has expanded her business around the US and has also started training government workers in Peru on pipeline safety standards for oil and gas extraction.

I have the privilege of working with Ms. Traynor. I’ve maintained her website and social media accounts since 2008. I have learned so much from her about the oil and gas industry; leadership; how to be a woman business owner; and how to mentor others. Melinda marked some time out from her very busy schedule to chat with me about what it “women’s work” means to her.

1. Before you were working in the oil and gas industry you were a military nurse. What was your motivation to leave nursing and get into the oil and gas industry?

One had nothing to do with the other. I left nursing “due to burn out.” At least that’s the official line. It’s a pretty common thing for hospital nurses. Twelve-hour shifts always turned into 14-15 hour shifts with emergencies and charting. Truthfully, though, I would say I left nursing because it emotionally drained me. I never was quite able to leave my patients at the hospital. They were always in my head, I carried them with me everywhere.

Why did I get into the oil/gas industry? I was introduced to the compliance side of the oil and gas industry through a previous position I held. It had a learning curve, but once you got your head wrapped around it and were able to assist those who did not have the in-house resources to wade through all of the regulations – I was always the hero. I love that feeling. Much the same as I felt in nursing, but fewer people actually die on you.

2. Why did you start your own business?

I started my own business because I was mad as an old wet hen at my previous employer. I had been presenting and presenting and pitching the idea for ort then business model to expand into oil and gas and I just kept getting shot down time and again. I had done the research, the client base was there, the need was there, the revenue was there but it just kept getting summarily ignored. I don’t take that very well. I’m hard-headed. If I know I’m right – then you had better listen. LOL

I hauled off and opened my business in January 2008 to prove them all wrong.

Apart from THAT satisfaction, this work is very rewarding. It honestly takes a team to haul folks in and out of all of the oil and gas industry regulations. I imagine an old time covered wagon, stuck in the mud just as it is trying to make a successful run up the bank. Mired there in the mud, it’s all-hands-on-deck to get that wagon, and all of its precious cargo up that riverbank.

When we finally get it up on dry land, we are all exhausted and feel an enormous sense of accomplishment and pride. The mud represents all the regulations and barriers to working in the oil and gas industry. The “all-hands-on-deck” is just that. From the team of individuals that own the business, to those of us pushing from the back: it takes us all working together. That “precious cargo”? People, and jobs, and product, and dreams.

3. What challenges have you faced as a woman business owner in a very male-dominated field?

Wow…lots. Primarily in two areas 1) From Clients, Peers: How could a woman know anything about the oil and gas industry? 2) Banking/Financing: We can’t loan money to a woman opening a new business in the oil and gas business.

Having said all of that, I really was able to work around or through any obstacles. You just have to be good at what you do.

4. How you define leadership?

Gosh, so many good quotes.

Leadership, for me, is knowing that my team members have strengths and weaknesses. I know what motivates them. I know the manner in which they learn or process information. I also know how to effectively train all of them. The diversity of my team’s skills has built a sort of “Iron Man” of Operator Qualification. Each person is a part of that creation.

My husband was in the military, so we moved A LOT. I have held many varied positions over the years, all of which prepared me to be a small business owner. I have also had many supervisors, bosses and managers. I was always acutely aware of when they “mis-handled” the “working soul” of the people in my office. It was painful to watch and yet, I always watched and made mental notes. Couldn’t they see every time they managed without conscience, it would cause recoil of sorts on behalf of that employee and they put a teensy bit less of themselves into the job each time. It was so counter-productive. I don’t know, it was just always so clear to me.

5. What advice would you like to give to women who are thinking about opening their own business?

I would love to say follow your heart, but all you will get in the end is a heart attack if that is the sole basis for your decision to open your business. The heart is important; it is what drives your passion. That is incredibly important.

However, DO YOUR RESEARCH. Know your local market, and know your industry. Do they need another supply distributor? What is the potential customers’ motivation (personal, business-related) for those seeking to purchase your product or services? What related extras could you offer along WITH your original idea? Is your business venture part of a trending product or service that might pass, or is it a more stable long-term venture? You need to think this through before you go whole hog.

After you do the research, make some spreadsheets. Make worst-case scenario financials, make best-case scenario financials. Treat your investment money like Vegas money. Take and spend ONLY what you can afford to lose. I’m not saying your are not sad to see it go, but it wont bankrupt you. Be realistic, the odds against your business lasting one year are staggering. When you pass one year, the odds of you making it to 5 years is also not that great. Know that.

Finally, scalability is key. Don’t go all out straight out of the gate. Plan your way into your business. Start with the ONE thing you are sure will. Make sure that you are can provide it. Once you get a little success under your belt, add another product or service, etc. Let your business grow at its own organic rate. No need to rush.

Ms. Treynor is an amazing woman. Melinda was one of my first freelance clients. She has been a tremendous mentor and client for the past seven years. I am proud to follow in the footsteps of strong women like Melinda. She has been both a teacher and a friend. That is a big part of what “women’s work” means to me.



  1. This: “I hauled off and opened my business in January 2008 to prove them all wrong.”

    A quote I can relate to.

    Thank you for this interview. I love seeing women making it in any field. I’m sure that Ms. Treynor had to work twice as hard to make it in the oil and gas field.

    Carol Stephen

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