Heightened creativity. Enhanced problem-solving and decision-making. Improved risk management.
These are just some of the benefits of diverse workplaces, according to panelists for “Bottom Line Benefits of Diversity,” a special session held at the AAPG International Conference and Exhibition (ICE) in London late last year.
The session highlighted how diversity benefits both industry and research organizations, providing skills and creativity leading to sounder economic decisions and enhanced scientific inquiry.
For Liz Schwarze, general manager of exploration for Chevron Africa and Latin America Exploration and Production, diversity makes good business sense.
A first-generation American born to German immigrants, Schwarze moved frequently growing up. Her ability to adapt to different cultural environments served her well when she joined Chevron in 1990.
“From my first day at Chevron I reaped the benefits of diversity in the workplace – diversity of education/technical degree, diversity of experience level and gender diversity,” she said. “Two of my first three team leads were women and one of our senior managers in the location was a woman, so I never saw any barrier to being successful and moving up in responsibility as a woman. That was empowering from the beginning.”
Schwarze’s talk, “Better Together: the Role of Diversity in Decision Quality,” was about how Chevron’s institutional commitment to diversity and inclusion benefits the company and its more than 50,000 employees.
“Our progress on diversity and inclusion is driven from the top,” she said. “Our chairman recently stated via LinkedIn that the business case for inclusion is simple: if the full spectrum of talent we’ve hired isn’t put in a position to realize its full potential, the company won’t achieve its full potential.”
One third of Chevron employees in the United States are people of color. Women represent 26 percent of the workforce, and 32 percent of leadership positions worldwide are held by women and non-white males.
Schwarze said this diversity helps Chevron maintain its license to operate and to manage risk.
“Our long-term business success is not just how we build facilities, devise processes or make products, but also is tied to what happens in diverse communities and countries around the world because of our working there and after we leave,” she said.
“Risk management for geotechnical and petroleum engineering staff previously centered on technical or ‘below-ground’ issues, such as estimating the quality of reservoirs or accessing and developing resources, which we still do, but today the non-technical or ‘above-ground’ factors increasingly influence the energy landscape,” she added.
Schwarze said it is important for employees at all levels to understand how diversity and inclusion benefit the company, and most employees have diversity action plans as a part of their annual evaluation.
“What started with geopolitics now encompasses managing diverse perspectives on everything from limited access to resources, complex fiscal terms, challenging infrastructure needs, supply chain complexities, and a vast array of expectations, local content requirements and human capacity,” she said. “We need all of our staff, including subsurface, to be aware and participate.”
For Chris Jackson, a professor at Imperial College of London, professional associations like AAPG should follow the lead of companies like Chevron and take diversity more seriously.
His presentation, “Recognizing and Rewarding Excellence without Blinkers: a Close-to-Home Case Study,” focused on the limited recognition that professional societies give women and minorities.
Jackson, a son of immigrants from the West Indies, grew up in the industrial town of Derby in the United Kingdom. He studied geology because he liked dinosaurs, earthquakes and being outside, crediting a large part of his professional success to the work ethic his parents instilled in him as a child.
Jackson worked and studied in North Africa, South America, Europe and the United States, and he became involved in the Geological Society of London and AAPG. He noticed early on that there are few other black geologists in his professional circles.
“I go to many of the major research conferences typically held in Europe and North America, and there aren’t very many people who look like me,” he said, “Fortunately, I’m fairly thick-skinned and don’t get intimidated by it, with my interactions with fellow geoscience being invariably positive.”
Jackson increased his involvement with AAPG, participating on several committees and serving as senior editor of the Bulletin. In 2013, he toured the United States as a Distinguished Lecturer.
Though Jackson appreciates the opportunities AAPG programs provide to him and others, he sharply criticizes their homogeneity and has recently let his membership lapse.
“In my opinion, the Distinguished Lecturer (DL) program has an appalling record at recognizing diversity. When I looked at the historical record of DLs from the 1940s on, of the 670 awardees less than 10 percent have been women, with the first female recipient seemingly being in 1982. I can’t even bring myself to work out how many minority recipients there’s been. Why is that? Why does AAPG have such a poor record of recognizing excellence amongst all of its diverse members?” he asked.
“In fact, the same criticism could be leveled at the list of AAPG Honors and Awards. You could just say there’s not that much diversity out there, such that the awardee list reflects reality, but that’s just not true,” he said. “There’s an issue here. We are not recognizing everyone.”
Jackson said that while many AAPG members recognize the problem, some appear unwilling to do anything about it.
“AAPG needs to self-recognize this is an issue and make concrete plans to address it,” he said.
Jackson suggests publishing a list of all Distinguished Lecturers and all honors and awards recipients and identifying how many women and minorities have been selected.
“We can use that list to motivate people to think more broadly,” he said.
Because nomination forms do not, for example, ask about nominees’ race or sex, he said those who nominate candidates might consider highlighting that nominees come from a population historically under-recognized by AAPG and other professional associations.
Jackson emphasized that recognizing people with diverse backgrounds provides an impact far beyond the individual recognized.
“Think about what those awards mean for people, not just the awardees themselves but to the communities they represent,” he said. “You can argue about whether an award means you are good or not, but it helps you to serve as a role model for others.”
Jackson said professional associations should add diversity to their ethics and code of conduct. He also suggested putting out a position paper on where the Association stands and where it wants to go.
He applauded AAPG’s special interest group Professional Women in Geosciences (PROWESS), which highlights that key role that women play, but he emphasized that there are many types of diversity
“We have a strange view of diversity,” he said. “To make a diverse group, we often say we need a woman and someone who is not white. What about disabilities? Or sexual orientation? Or socioeconomic status?”
Different Life Experiences
Finding new ways of thinking was the focus of the presentation offered by geologists Linda Lerchbaumer and Chloé Asmar, who work together at OMV Upstream in Vienna. During “Diversity in Central/Eastern Europe as Seen from both the Inside and the Outside,” they discussed perceptions and realities of life in Central Europe and the Middle East.
Lerchbaumer grew up in a small mountain village in the south of Austria. Despite having a long tradition in tourism, the town had little exposure to people from different cultures. She first started to think about the different world outside as a child in the early 1990s when refugees who fled from the Yugoslav Wars came to her hometown.
“I remember realizing for the first time that there’s another world out there that’s probably not as beautiful as the world I’m living in. At the same time I was curious and had more sympathy for them than being afraid about these foreign people being around,” she said.
During her doctoral studies in an international research facility in Germany, Lerchbaumer worked with people from other parts of Europe and Asia and learned the benefit of actively interacting with them.
“When you are working with people from different backgrounds you have to spend time together, talk to each other to understand the different ways of thinking, working and living. Soon, things become easier and even amusing: you do not only share your different experiences and start to look at scientific problems from more diverse points of view, you also share dinners and introduce your cultures to each other,” she said.
Asmar’s earliest exposure to different cultures started at a young age while attending an international school. Her real multicultural experience started during her undergraduate studies in her home country of Lebanon. She later had the opportunity, through OMV, to pursue her graduate studies in earth sciences in Vienna, where she then started her career in the industry.
“Austria was never on my radar,” she said, noting that historically, Lebanon has more ties with France than with Central Europe.
“When I made the decision to move to Vienna, I had to familiarize myself with Austrian culture, beyond the Waltz, Mozart and the clichés we hear about back in Lebanon,” she said.
Upon arriving in Vienna, Asmar said she was surprised about how little Austrians knew about Lebanon and the Middle East.
“I thought people would be as curious about my country as we are about Europe in general,” she said. “Our education is oriented toward the West. I expected that people here would be a lot more exposed to Middle Eastern history and economics further than the current state of geopolitical affairs. Many times I would get a lot of interesting questions such as: ‘being a woman, are you oppressed back home?’ I would hear stereotypes that I didn’t expect, especially not in the globalized world we live in today.”
Encountering stereotypes motivated Asmar and fueled her determination to help promote the understanding of Lebanese and Middle Eastern culture.
“I want to demystify some of the things that you see on the news,” she said, “I want people to appreciate me for being Middle Eastern.”
Lerchbaumer noted that she too thinks that it is important to see the individual instead of stereotyping people.
“I simply want to be myself, Linda, not the female Austrian geologist from the countryside,” she said.
Both women recognize that their education and profession give them an appreciation for diversity that others might not have.
“We’re in an industry that gives us the privilege to work in diverse environments,” Asmar said. “Currently, diversity is being challenged worldwide. Countries are dealing with pressing issues on immigration and asylum seeking. Where we are is almost an exception to the world. We need to share what we have learned.
“Our industry has been diverse for a long time, but we are also in a different socioeconomic level. We cannot really compare it to, for example, small family run businesses in Austria. It’s just not on their agenda. They have different worries and problems,” she said.
Lerchbaumer also recognized that overemphasizing diversity could backfire.
“As soon as you start pushing on being diverse and saying that we have to include this or that group of people, we artificially categorize people and make them sound and – even worse – feel different,” she said.
Asmar said the best way to avoid resistance to diversity is to be pragmatic.
“Diversity should not be addressed as a philosophical topic. We should be emphasizing the important role of all diversity topics, as a good business decision,” she said.
“We should reach a stage in our industry, when the need to talk about diversity would not be something special. People are different, and differences often pose challenges. Nonetheless, the beauty in that is (that) it allows us to keep expanding our horizons, improving and staying curious about the world we live in, especially in the times ahead,” she said.
Asmar noted that the understanding of diversity should ultimately go beyond society.
“We are not just talking about nationality or culture or gender. It’s the way you think and communicate. Those are key points to keep in mind. In a scientific field, if you don’t make sure that you cover all perspectives, you are not doing your job as best you can as scientists. This comes through interacting with people. If we are not actively embracing our differences, we may miss out on information that’s very relevant and important.”
Diversity Breeds Innovation
Gretchen Gillis, a geologist and panel co-chair and longtime AAPG Member, agreed.
“I have witnessed the benefits of diversity at every stage of my career, starting with diversity of thought among those educated in different universities in my first exploration job,” she said. “Later, at Schlumberger, I experienced the benefits of an extraordinarily diverse workforce in terms of nationalities, cultures, educations, and experiences working together on multidisciplinary assignments.”
Gillis currently works for Aramco Services Company (ASC), the U.S. subsidiary of Saudi Aramco, based in Houston.
“My colleagues represent a broad spectrum of age, culture, and educational backgrounds, including Saudi Aramco employees on assignment,” she said. “My job involves travel to Saudi Arabia, where I see increasing diversity in the workforce – many young women are choosing careers in geoscience, engineering and computer science.”
Gillis noted that workplace diversity goes beyond gender, race and ethnicity; age and life experience are important factors as well. She noted how Saudi Aramco developed its Young Leaders Advisory Board to develop dynamic teams with different backgrounds and cultures.
“At Aramco, we find that diversity leads to innovation, and innovation provides a competitive edge,” she said. She added that organizations find more rigorous solutions when diverse teams address exploration and production challenges.
“Senior geoscientists who have worked in many petroliferous basins are able to apply their knowledge of analogs,” she said. “Young geoscientists are familiar with the newest concepts in science and can be fearless in applying new technology. Diversity breeds innovation and diversity makes good business sense.”
She noted how a quote from Chris Jackson published in a recent article published in The Guardian caught her attention.
“(Jackson) stated that he knows of ‘no other black, full-time, earth science academic in the UK – or in fact, Europe or the U.S.,’” she said. “I find that distressing because our science is missing out on the talents of a large group of people, just as it did when there were so few women in the mix.”
Jackson said he enjoyed the panel, though he disagrees with the use of the term “bottom-line benefits.
“You shouldn’t have to sell diversity to people. I think it’s odd that we have to have this conversation around the financial driver for it. We should embrace diversity because we want to be decent human beings,” he said.
Asmar said she is looking for hope for the future.
“We have to reach a stage where we don’t talk about diversity anymore. I would like to see if other speakers have had an experience where it was just part of their daily life to be in a diverse environment. That’s the goal,” she said.