Market Insights

Oil & gas industry seeks a gender-balanced workforce

For female employees world over, shattering the metaphorical glass ceiling is as important as getting the job done. There are still some sectors that lack due representation of female employees or have multiple firewalls laden with preconceived notions about their capabilities. The oil and gas sector is one such.

The energy sector has been dogged with reports of improper gender representation at the top levels. A recent report by US-based consultancy Korn Ferry has revealed that only 6% of CEOs in energy companies are women. The numbers of C-level female executives in other sectors weren’t very high – consumer (9%), financials (5%), life sciences (<1%), industries (4%) and technology (5%). Korn Ferry managing principal Peggy Hazard said, “Having more women at the top is a priority for our clients. However, the needle is not moving as quickly as any of us would like to see.”

Despite several studies and research surveys showing that diverse senior teams provide better corporate results, the reality is far removed. “Women are still not making it to the very top spot at the rate they should,” said Joseph McCabe, vice-chairman, Global Human Resources Centre of Expertise, Korn Ferry.

Many believe this skewed representation in sectors, especially in the technical and technological aspects of business can be attributed to basic primary level education. Aida Araissi, founding director of the US-Arab Chamber of Commerce, said, “When the workplace reflects society, it is a healthier environment for everyone.  Things need begin at the K-12 level with encouragement of girls to study STEMS (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). That’s the first step.”

While women attempt to bridge the existing gap in the hiring chain by up-skilling, cultural and social biases threaten to hold them back. Katie Mehnert, CEO of Pink Petro believes that women with children are perceived to have no ambition to progress. She recollects a time when she was asked by a man what “a pretty young lady” like her was doing in a dark dangerous business like oil. She says, “This is a male-dominated industry but there are plenty of opportunities for women and women want to jump in tanks and pop out of helicopters, or run a plant. We need to stop the stereotype of “what is women’s work” and “what is men’s work”. Roles have evolved and our industry has plenty of opportunity for women.”

There are a range of skilled jobs being taken by women in the oil & gas sector such as in geology, geo-science, surveying, engineering, chemical engineering, environmental management, mechanical engineering, database management, software programming, drilling, driving and mobile operations. However, there is little to no way to measure the inclusion of women and consequent diversity in jobs. Last year, Pink Petro collaborated with the World Economic Forum on a Call to Action that was signed by 23 oil & gas companies. Called the HERWorld Connect Forum, the aim of the Call to Action plan was to present to the C-suite methods to encourage companies to take more collective action to increase female representation in energy companies. “It has been proven that diversity and inclusion impacts the financial health of a company. We need strong sponsorship from the C-suite and a relentless focus on developing a healthy pipeline of talent and we need to continue to celebrate the accomplishments of women in industry and get their voices heard through media – not just our trade media but through the mainstream media,” added Mehnert.

Sustained awareness campaigns and extensive employment measures to reduce the gender gap has also caught the attention of companies that are taking notice of a widening gap in their leadership structures.  In a World Economic Forum (WEF) report, companies in nine global industries were asked how they rank gender parity as a leadership priority. Energy companies ranked it highest, citing leveraging of female talent a key concern for leaders.

C-level male executives too are aware of the hiring trends in the sector, and believe that credentials alone should be the precursor to hire a professional. Rajeev Daswani, managing director at Marami Metal Plating concedes to the fact that workplace balance is affected due to improper gender representation. “I do not believe that any one demographic should be omitted, be it gender, race or culture.  The truth is the best teams always have a good mix of all, as that brings in a variety of ideas, strengths and solutions.  The world is increasingly becoming a smaller place, where the integration of people truly has resulted in great advancements of mankind and science and technology continue to grow at a tremendous pace, this could not have been done if everyone had not or does not contribute.  In order for humanity to continue to excel we need to create more opportunity for all, while diminishing the beliefs that there are differences.”

Large energy conglomerates too are now setting examples by hiring women in high positions. In the past few years, Maersk Oil and Occidental Petroleum have announced women CEOs. Duke Energy and Sempra Energy are both led by women CEOs – Lynn Good and Debra Reed respectively. On Emirati Women’s Day 2016, ADNOC announced it is seeking to appoint at least one female CEO within its group of operating companies. It has also set a target to ensure 15% of senior managers will be women, as well as committing to increasing the number of new Emirati women recruits to 30 per cent by 2020, stated the ADIPEC website.

“Even in the Middle East, there is high priority given to supporting women leadership in the energy sector. The CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) announced there would be a subsidiary female CEO by 2020.  Kuwait Oil’s CEO, Sara Akbar, has been a trailblazer the past decade internationally and regionally. But more is needed,” said Araissi.

In addition, efforts are being taken by organizations such as Pink Petro and Women in Energy among others to highlight gender disparity and form ways to bolster employment of women, not just at the C-level but across the organizational hierarchy. ADIPEC, one of the largest oil and gas shows that was held in Abu Dhabi in November 2016, had a seminar titled Women in Energy 2016, which addressed a host of current industry trends through panel discussions and live surveys. Four case studies were highlighted, which examined investment opportunities in the upstream sector, innovative technology in Germany’s E&P sector, how national oil companies (NOCs) are bridging the supply and demand for gas as well as the latest technologies in the offshore and marine sector. In addition, there were three panel discussions that covered the clean energy revolution, innovation in times of downturn as well as positioning women in the global energy industry.

At Africa Energy Indaba in Johannesburg, there was a conference titled 2nd Annual Women in Energy Conference, that discussed how departments within companies can advance their talent agenda and strategize competitive advantage by hiring, attracting, developing, retaining, sponsoring and promoting women in every industry sector.

A large number of industry veterans believe that aside from forming action plans and initiating campaigns, having real-life role models, who can tell their stories on global platforms, are very important.

“Mentorship and role models are very important to young women as they begin to plan their careers. If they look up and they don’t see any women at the top, then could get discouraged and begin wondering if they’re in the right industry,” noted Araissi.

Recently, the US-Arab Chamber of Commerce honoured women from ExxonMobil, Statoil, Aramco and GPIC, who are all veterans in their fields. “Their stories need to be highlighted for the next generation to emulate,” added Araissi.

The future?

Hiring in energy is witnessing a sea-change. From the 1980s, women entered the O&G sector in administrative roles, human resources and legal, but now there is a slow but sure representation of women in sciences such as geology, geophysics and petroleum engineering. Some more are clambering up to procure senior management roles as well, but women like Araissi believe the figures are nowhere near where they need to be.

Following the slide in oil prices in 2014, the energy sector has witnessed a huge amount of layoffs. As the oil prices witness a surge now, there is a possibility to witness a change in hiring trends. Worldover, the industry is focusing on women-friendly programmes through flexi-hours, parental leave or mentorship schemes.

The overall feeling is one of optimism for a balanced workforce and better future. While women trailblazers were exceptions earlier, the industry is slowly moving towards making them the norm.

This story has been modified slightly keeping in mind some post-dated events. This story first appeared in Issue 1 of Market Insights. 

MI Newsdesk

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