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Industry inclusion: A change is necessary

18 July 2019

Workforce diversity and inclusivity are currently major discussion points for industry. For the sector to prosper and remain competitive, a lot needs to change.


Diversity in oil and gas – within the workforce and across ideas – is necessary if the industry is to thrive. Vast changes are anticipated as the industry adapts in line with the energy transition and advances in technology. As a result, the existing skills gap will only grow, unless companies make the changes needed to make oil and gas an attractive destination for professionals and graduates alike.

Diversity is only possible if companies work to create an environment and culture that is inclusive. In practice, this means companies allow for all manner of personal expression from their employees without anyone fearing that bringing their whole selves to the workplace will hinder, target or ostracise them.

“Inclusion [to me] means making the industry open to everyone no matter who you are; what you identify with culturally, religiously; what your ethnicity is; what your gender is,” explains Spirit Energy director for resourcing, talent, D&I and L&D, Susan Grayson. Wireline met with Grayson to discuss diversity and inclusion in the industry and the work Spirit Energy is doing to embody these ideas.

“If we are truly inclusive, we will have diversity of thought; we’ll make better decisions as teams, we’ll be innovative as an industry and we’ll move on. If we have non-diverse and non-inclusive teams the industry will not keep up with other industries and we’ll lose talent.”

Encouraging diversity

Across the industry, diversity is appearing more frequently in company manifestos and as a talking point at events and conferences. Many organisations are striving to make the changes necessary to encourage greater inclusiveness. For many, however, not enough is being done – evidenced in recent comments made by Energy Institute president Steve Holliday, who remarked that: “The oil and gas industry is appalling. Absolutely awful. It’s pretty much the worst sector for diversity in terms of gender and ethnicity.”

Energy Voice reports that, overall, figures for the number of graduates and women joining the industry are declining and, more generally speaking, the industry performs badly when it comes to ethnic and LGBT diversity. The University of Aberdeen also reported that the oil downturn has had a negative impact on the number of women entering oil- and gas-based higher education. These numbers only highlight the choice that many young people are making in light of the downturn and the energy transition.

There are fundamental shifts that need to be made in individual perspectives and by companies as a whole; attitudes towards diversity and inclusion need to change. Some companies have already taken steps toward addressing their lack of diversity and creating a more inclusive work environment by looking at hiring practices and introducing support and development programmes for existing employees.

“If we are truly inclusive, we will have diversity of thought, we’ll make better decisions as teams, we’ll be innovative as an industry.”

Achieving diversity

There are a number of different interventions a company can adopt to improve diversity and inclusivity at their organisation. In a paper published in the journal Work Occupation in 2014, titled ‘Corporate diversity programmes and gender inequality in the oil and gas industry’, the authors interviewed female geoscientists to explore the effectiveness of different corporate strategies that exist to address the issue. Their findings also give insight into not just company attitudes to diversity, but also how recipients of diversity intervention programmes feel about them.

Hiring programmes

In some organisations, specific goals are set for the hiring and promoting of professionals from minority backgrounds, and an individual or committee is given the responsibility to oversee the achievement of these
goals. This kind of strategy has proven most effective in increasing the number of women in management but is generally met with some resistance – both from those not targeted by the programme and those who stand to benefit.

Grayson alludes to this in her own experience: “In 2013, when I worked for Centrica, our SVP Collette Cohen set up the first Women’s Network. At first, I thought: ‘Gosh, do I really want to get involved?’ Then I thought, if I could have had the help and advice from myself at this age starting out in my career it would have been easier.” This hesitation and resistance is understandable.

People can be reluctant to join anything that might set them apart from their colleagues and this specific intervention can open avenues for other people to question a person’s right to be at a company, degradingly referred to as a ‘diversity hire’. It is therefore important that people understand how diversity is also an issue of inequality, and that in order to work towards a level playing field, many systemically disadvantaged minorities need to be given a ‘leg up’, and offered space and support that they’re denied in society.

The paper’s authors report: “By holding an entity accountable for the achievement of diversity goals on-the-ground, this policy aims to subvert both organisational inertia and wilful resistance from frontline supervisors.”

“Corporate diversity discourse often frames diversity as ‘individual or group differences’ rather than addressing issues of structural inequality, like sexism and racism.”

In an industry characterised by an incredible lack of diversity, powerful measures are needed to alter the reality. One such way is for companies to embrace this unpopular measure of legally enforcing equal opportunity by, for example, targeting women for promotions and hiring black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) professionals.

“It’s not one solution fits all. You tackle the problem from school, university, graduates, and then within your organisation and working environment and then [by] bringing and retaining talent,” Grayson adds.

Mentoring programmes

Traditionally, mentoring programs exist to pair a junior employee with a more senior employee who can share their experiences and offer technical and career advice. Career progress can be hindered for individuals who do not have access to advisers that provide support and advocate for them, so many organisations choose to implement mentoring programmes to assist underrepresented employees.

Research shows that such programmes are only moderately successful at increasing diversity at the leadership level. However, this does not take away from how valuable it can be for an individual to feel supported by having the option of mentoring available to them and working in an inclusive environment. In this study, the female participants expressed that formal mentoring in their first five years at an organisation was invaluable and many missed having a mentor after this period.

Diversity training programmes

Many organisations organise compulsory training programmes to their employees, including seminars and webinars, as part of their diversity and inclusivity efforts. These are devoted to enhancing cultural sensitivity and teaching employees about issues such as unconscious bias, protected characteristics and what behaviours fall into discrimination and harassment. The goal of these training programmes is to teach individuals about the types of diversity that exist and how to be more inclusive, in the hope that participants will change their attitudes and behaviour in response to the training, paving way for a more inclusive environment.

Affinity groups and networking programmes

These groups provide a means for employees to gain social support by joining up with fellow employees that they share a common interest with or a demographic trait. Companies introduce affinity groups on the premise that these networks can help employees combat feelings of isolation. Though they have very little impact on increasing the representation of minorities in management, they do serve an individual and personal benefit by providing a safe space, emotional support and encouragement. Groups are typically open to all employees and may organise informal gatherings for socialising or formal events related to professional development.

Corporate diversity discourse often frames diversity as ‘individual or group differences’ rather than addressing the issues of structural inequality, like sexism and racism, that underpin the lack of representation.

As a result, interventions such as those described above can have the unintended consequence of absolving employers from any discriminatory intent by not addressing existing structural barriers and attitudes that reinforce inequality.

For those reasons, greater research is needed into ethnic and racial diversity within the industry. Grayson says that while there has been success in setting up affinity networks for women and for Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) professionals, others have proven more difficult to establish. “One thing we are trying to set up in Spirit now is an LGBT network. I am finding it harder for people to come forward. There is a fear of being noticed or connected with something that is important, but people feel might not be doing them any favours.”

Countering cynicism

There are individuals who are critical of the increasing emphasis that the corporate world is placing on diversity. Some deny that there is a problem at all, while others feel excluded and, though incorrectly, discriminated against. This is an unfortunate but unsurprising obstacle that leaders and those working to address diversity and inclusivity issues in an organisation have to deal with. “One of the feelings that have been building around men is ‘What about me?’ Instead of leaving them out [of the work], what Spirit has done is try and engage with that group and bring them onboard, saying: ‘Here’s what you can do to help and be a part of this’,” Grayson explains.

For International women’s Day 2019, the company’s EVP technical & operated production Neil McCulloch, penned an article for Energy Voice on the value of gender equality for businesses and how efforts to achieve gender balance are not an attack on men. “Viewing gender imbalance as a women’s issue and leaving it to women alone to ‘fix’, means that any failures will rest at the feet of women instead of being identified as systemic deficiencies. The fact is that in most businesses both the human and financial resources are controlled by men,” McCulloch wrote.

In 2016, OGUK introduced a new award category for ‘Diversity and Inclusiveness’ at its annual industry awards. The award, last year sponsored by Spirit Energy, ‘recognises a company that drives improved business results through recognising and promoting the value of diverse teams and inclusive behaviours.’ The most recent winner of this award was BP, whose efforts in this area have been extensive and led to real improvements in its workforce.

At the heart of this effort are its Business Resource Groups (BRGs), employee-led business groups that raise awareness, educate employees and initiate policy changes on everything from ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation to more flexible ways of working. Crucially, each network has an executive sponsor to help them grow and line managers support staff who want to get involved in a BRG alongside their day job.

BP is deeply committed to creating an environment where diversity and inclusion are valued, celebrated and integrated within its business strategy – and it’s working. Around a third of BP’s North Sea employees are actively engaged in one or more BRGs. It was also the first company in the North Sea to support Grampian Pride.

In the US the company has introduced recruitment, development, advancement and inclusion programmes to achieve specific ethnic minority recruitment goals. BP’s gender balance is also steadily improving, with women representing 34% of BP’s global population in 2018, up from 32% in 2015. This kind of work never stops but what BP has achieved so far deserved recognition.

One step organisations can take to hold themselves more accountable and be more attractive to women is by being transparent with their employee pay scales. Both BP and Spirit have made their gender pay gap figures public and are actively addressing this discrepancy.

Ultimately, the ‘argument’ for diversity and inclusivity in the workplace is not up for debate. “There’s no competition in this for the industry, we’ve all got to do it because we have got to attract people to work in our industry and if we don’t do that, we fail,” Grayson states. It is equally important for executives and leaders to display their commitment making diversity and inclusivity a priority. “Leadership need to be visible and ‘walk the walk, talk the talk’. You need to be authentic, immersed and engaged in the issue.”

Spirit Energy employees celebrate Grampian Pride

Spirit Energy employees celebrate Grampian Pride.

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