The oil, gas, and mining extractive industries have historically been male-dominated at all levels, from leadership roles in major corporations to jobs working in mines and on oil rigs. For example, in the 500 largest mining companies, women make up just five percent of boards of directors while the energy sector remains one of the least gender diverse sectors in the economy, with sparse female representation in technical and field roles.
Representing less than 22% of employees in the oil and gas industry, women account for a significantly smaller share of the workforce than they do in almost any other sector. Growing concern and the urgent need to nip it in the bud was one of the basis for the creation of the Women’s Energy Council at the recently concluded Oil Council: Africa Assembly.
The Women’s Energy Council panel discussion themed, From Encouraging Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Subjects to Balancing the Boardroom: Gender Diversity & Equality in the African Energy Industry’ had representatives from indigenous companies in Africa as well as representatives from International Oil Companies (IOCs). The panelists included Oluseun Solanke, Principal Reservoir Engineer, Oando; Lamé Verre, Senior Regional Manager, Halliburton; Nillian Mulemi, Chief Executive Officer, Petrofund and Taciana Peao Lopes, Co-Founder, MWE (Mozambique Women in Energy).
Speaking on the topic of gender equality, Solanke said: "The industry has begun to appreciate the value of gender balance and how it impacts the populace. We need to see the Nigerian Government taking a more active role in trying to push gender balance as actively as it does local content policies.”
The panelist discussed topics ranging from; how challenges women face in the workplace vary between IOCs, NOCs, and independents; how oil and gas companies can encourage more participation in STEM subjects and entry into technical fields for women; exploring how perceptions and unconscious biases can be influenced and re-educated in a male-dominated workplace, and real life, practical advise for women in more junior positions.
One of the key takeouts from the Women’s Energy Council Panel session is that women’s economic participation is an important ingredient for economic development and growth, these disproportionate employment numbers affect not only women’s livelihoods, but also the well-being of their communities. The loss to the industry is threefold. First, oil and gas companies have a smaller number of highly qualified candidates to choose from when filling positions, especially in the middle and higher ranks, because many talented women either never join the industry or drop out prematurely. Second, these companies miss out on the higher quality of teamwork, diversity of perspectives, and creativity in the solving of technical and business problems that characterize those with larger percentages of female employees. Third, the industry’s relative lack of gender diversity, particularly in the senior ranks, hurts its reputation among women as a career choice. This can create a vicious circle, with the industry finding it progressively more difficult to recruit women across the board.
The session highlighted that women work disproportionately in office jobs; they have a very limited presence both in technical roles, which are often considered prerequisites for career advancement, and in upper management. The upshot: oil and gas companies are failing to fully leverage a potentially sizable and critical pool of talent.
The combined effects ultimately weigh heavily on oil and gas companies’ ability to increase capital productivity, which will be vital as they wrestle with the challenges posed by the potential large-scale retirement of many experienced employees, an ongoing uncertain oil price environment, and advances in robotics and artificial intelligence that could reshape the industry in a host of ways.
Women in the oil and gas industry have taken it on themselves to change this narrative. A typical example is Oando’s International Day of Women and Girl in Science mentorship initiative. In commemoration of the 2019 International Day of Women and Girls in Science themed ‘Investment in Women in Science for Inclusive Green Growth’, Oando led by a delegation of its female engineers mentored female pupils in one of its adopted primary schools, Archbishop Taylor Primary School, Victoria Island, on the role and importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in the world, why they are passionate about STEM and proud to have built successful careers in it. The aim of the programme was to provide a platform for the female engineers to engage female pupils towards considering and embracing STEM subjects for a future career in STEM by sharing real life and relatable stories that would inspire the young girls.
Seun Solanke, Principal Reservoir Engineer, Oando Energy Resources, one of the mentors, advised the girls to be proactive in their research into STEM-related careers, she also spoke extensively on what motivated her to a career in the sciences.
Science-related fields are critical to developing national economies. Unfortunately, most countries are yet to achieve gender equality in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The Oil & Gas Council’s Africa Assembly, recognised as the region’s most influential corporate development, strategy, finance and investment gathering served as a forum to discuss this issue and more.
Companies like Oando are performing commendably better than the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) average for metrics such as ‘women technical roles’ and ‘female executives’. Oando’s percentage of females in the company is 38% compared to the BCG’s average of 22%; Oando’s percentage of entry level positions are held by 52% of women compared to BCG’s 50%; Oando has 21% of women in technical roles compared to the BCG’s 16%; while 28% of women in Oando hold leadership roles compared to BCG’s 25%.
In addition, Oando is one of the companies at the World Economic Forum who endorsed the Call to Action on closing the gender gap in the oil and gas industry. The call to action are; to establish gender diversity and inclusion as a strategic business imperative at all levels of an organization visibly led by the Chief Executive and top leadership; to set and maintain challenging but achievable goals and objectives for gender diversity, to support the development of women into STEM subjects during their formative years in school and university, and their development towards technical roles and careers; to ensure that managers are responsible for reaching diversity goals and objectives and that they have appropriate oversight of strategies and initiatives to achieve them; to review relevant policies and processes including recruitment, retention, evaluation, remuneration and career planning to ensure they are gender sensitive; to recognise and mitigate unconscious biases in selection and retention processes; to create an open and inclusive corporate culture where all genders can flourish; and to develop and communicate clear guidelines on the implementation of gender-sensitive work-life balance policies for all staff.
Giving a keynote speech on the topic, Gender Diversity in the Energy Sector at the Africa Assembly, Pam Darwin, vice president, Africa, Exxon Mobil Corporation, said: “After a 35 year career in the industry, I personally believe that to improve diversity in the energy sector we need to invest in the following 4 E’s; energy in developing resources and widening access to energy; education by investing in students with a focus on STEM fields; empowerment in grassroot efforts to promote women entrepreneurs and employment to tackle the challenges of diversity.”
At the ongoing Nigeria Oil & Gas Conference (NOG) 2019, Ngozi Okonkwo, chief legal officer, Oando Plc commended the organisers of the event for the increased female participation and consideration. She said: "I’m excited that there’s a significant increase in the number of females on the panel I moderated themed: ‘Entrenching Nigeria Content Impact in the Future of the Oil & Gas Industry’. It is very important because it shows that the industry is recognizing the relevance of women because this is an industry that is clearly male dominated. There have been a lot of changes with respect to women in the work place and women are rising. I am happy that as a conference we recognize the importance of women. The views of women are important and the view point that they have should also be shared with the entire industry at a conference like this, so it’s really important and exciting. I encourage CWC, the organizers of the NOG, to step it up, have sessions where women deliver standalone presentations, have other networking forums for women in the oil and gas industry. With women having a stronger voice at the CWC oil and gas level, it will have an impact on the way that many organisations view women in the workplace. When companies see their female employees speak at conferences they will see the perspective they can share and change the views they have of such employees.”
Attracting and retaining greater numbers of women, particularly those with optimal backgrounds and skill sets, will pose challenges for the industry. These include the limited number of girls and women pursuing technical education, structural barriers within the oil and gas industry that make it difficult for women to advance and to balance work and family, and an established male-centric culture that remains prevalent throughout much of the industry. The industry can and must therefore surmount these challenges and close the gender gap if it hopes to position itself optimally for tomorrow.