It is a well proven fact that a diverse workforce is good for business and improves the bottom line – but the E&P industry, in common with many others, is not making significant progress in this area. A recent report by the World Petroleum Council and Boston Consulting Group on gender diversity in the energy industry, for example, found that, at 22 percent, oil and gas has one of the lowest shares of female employees of any major industry – an imbalance that transcends seniority, geography and business segment.
To examine how a globally diverse workforce has the potential to transform the petroleum industry, the AAPG International Conference and Exhibition in Cape Town, South Africa in November 2018 included an open panel discussion on the issue, led by a group of geoscientists and engineers from across a range of ages and different cultural backgrounds and perspectives. Co-moderated by AAPG President Denise Cox, the panel of seven women and one man represented a range of countries and ethnic communities.
Can Diversity Affect a Career?
They were each first asked to explain how diversity had – or had not – affected their career. Laura Johnson, AAPG executive secretary and a senior geologist with Anschutz Exploration, for example, pointed out that small companies with fewer employees can find it more difficult to ensure diverse teams. When she started her career, she was the first new graduate her employers had taken on for several years.
South African Lindiwe Mekwe noted that her country has been on an intense diversity journey since 1994. From this she believes they have made a significant discovery: knowing that diversity is important is not enough; equally vital is an understanding of the people and processes involved.
Several speakers directly attribute some of their career success to active efforts to increase diversity and inclusivity. Tolulope Ewherido, for example, has enjoyed a 27-year career with ExxonMobil, which started with her working offshore her native Nigeria, but which has taken her all around the world. She said that ExxonMobil’s robust global diversity talent identification and development policies have been instrumental in her success. Karyna Rodriguez compared her experience at PEMEX, at the start of her career, when she felt the company was isolated and inward looking and therefore lacking diversity, to her present company, Spectrum, where she is director of geoscience. The company, although relatively small, embraces diversity, she said, which is exemplified by the fact that her colleagues come from 15 different nationalities.
Leadership Must Be Engaged
Illustrating the importance of active encouragement from leadership, Rawan Alasad explained how Saudi Aramco sponsored her undergraduate and master’s degree and she is now part of the first cohort of female geoscientists in the company, all of whom graduated within the last ten years. She described how rapidly women have been included in technical roles in Saudi Aramco and elsewhere in Saudi Arabia, and how that inclusion has been growing. Ten years ago, for example, only 30 percent of females in the country went to university, but that figure has already risen to 50 percent, while 38 percent of current STEM students are female, compared to the worldwide figure of 27 percent.
This led to a discussion on the importance of encouraging more women worldwide to study sciences, starting at a young age.
The need for senior management to appreciate the advantages of a diverse workforce was reiterated several times – but how is that going to happen when there is little diversity in those senior ranks? Male leaders need to be advocates of female junior employees, encouraging them through mentoring schemes to take on new challenges and apply for promotions. As Tolu pointed out, you cannot get diversity in the workforce without hiring diversely and by then offering and maintaining workplace policies that encourage equality in areas such as job opportunity and flexibility. A McKinsey report identifies a direct line between gender imbalance, job satisfaction and poor retention of female employees.
A different take on the discussion was offered by AAPG Honorary Member John Kaldi from the University of Adelaide, who described himself as an “OWG,” or “old white guy” – and as such, representative of a large percentage of technical people working in the industry. He enumerated a series of examples quoted to him of harassment in the workplace which he realized that as an older, heterosexual, physically able white male, he has never had to face. This should not be allowed to continue, he said, and it requires everyone in the industry to pointedly call out all instances of harassment and discrimination that they come across and to actively promote and develop inclusivity in their own workplace.
A general question to the panel and the room was: what can the AAPG do about this?
Johnson and Cox pointed out that the organization has been looking into this question and are encouraging meetings such as this one in which the subject is aired, hopefully pushing it higher up the agenda. As AAPG president, Cox said she strives for inclusivity and global, age and gender diversity in AAPG’s leadership nominations, divisions, and committees. It was also mentioned that the organization should be encouraging volunteers from all geographical regions, ages and levels of expertise; it should avoid letting “cliques” form, as that never encourages diversity, and should find an outlet for anyone who volunteers their services.
A good question passed around the floor and panel was, “What exactly do we mean by ‘diversity’?”
One person suggested it was “just being different” – which, presumably in the oil and gas industry, means anyone who is not an “OWG.” Learning to appreciate other cultures is a good step toward inclusivity, but in a global industry such as ours, surely that should be a given? Are we naturally inclusive – or is that learned?
The majority of the discussion in this meeting was about the inclusion of more women in scientific, engineering and managerial roles within the industry, but that ignores many other aspects of diversity and inclusion (for example, the LGBTIQ community) and it is important that future discussions move beyond the gender imbalance, important though it is.
The panel were asked what they thought the value of diversity is in the transition toward a low carbon economy. They all agreed that a diverse workforce is needed; a diversity of backgrounds leads to diverse ideas and thus innovation and creativity, which will be vital requirements both in the energy transition and in the movement toward digitalization.
The panel and delegates at this fascinating open discussion decided that the industry should aim for a workforce so diverse and inclusive in all ways that none of us notice it any more – it will have become the norm. How do we achieve that? The conclusion was that this will only be achieved through the engagement of everyone in the industry in pushing it forward.
Jane Whaley is an AAPG Member and editor-in-chief of GEO ExPro Magazine.
Editor's Note: The opinions and positions stated here are the views of the author and speakers quoted.