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  • Writer's pictureaxisaberdeen

An Uphill Battle for Diversity and Inclusion

Updated: Jan 12, 2022

Peter is a Diversity & Inclusion advisor and coach. With over 40 years’ experience in the energy sector. His expertise includes D&I, Leadership Development, Science and Technology.

Peter was BP’s Director of D&I (EMEA) from 2015-20 and navigated the complex fields of gender equality, racial bias, LGBT+ and disability/accessibility. This included developing and empowering employee-led D&I networks, engaging leaders and collaborating with a range of companies. He is a Petroleum Engineer, a Mechanical Engineer, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and a Fellow of the Energy Institute. This article was is published in full here.

Recently I was a guest speaker at Subsea 7’s International Men’s Day (IMD) event; a roundtable with leaders from their Offshore Resources and Pipeline Group divisions and a diverse international audience. It was a thoughtful and insightful event. Over 60% of the audience were previously unaware of International Men’s Day but were highly engaged and valued the session. It reinforced Subsea 7’s commitment to D&I and their values of dignity, respect, fairness and equal opportunities. I wish more organisations would step-up as I see Subsea 7 doing.

International Men’s Day is not new – it’s been around since the early 1990s and has evolved from a focus on men’s physical health (e.g. testicular cancer) and mental wellbeing, into a more nuanced opportunity to reflect on men’s role in today’s society. Like International Women’s Day (8th March), it's an opportunity to consider gender equality and men as equal contributors and supporters of a more balanced and inclusive society – and that seems the right thing to do.

I have to say that when I first heard of IMD, I was sceptical and scoffed at the idea that men would need their own ‘special day’. It felt like another bandwagon, along with the multitude of other ‘international days’ (try Googling it!). Some might say ‘men already have enough privilege without putting another spotlight on them’ and many would rather not have to talk about men’s issues at all – they would rather talk about work, or sport or anything!

A sign of our times

It’s also a sign of our times – society is changing (fast) and the role of men is changing too, whether we like it or not! Many of you have seen the changes during your careers – the energy industry today is very different from the 1980s/90s and far more international and culturally diverse.

It does feel different in the workplace today - There is less sexism, and outright discrimination of women and minorities, but let’s be honest, it still happens. My wife worked offshore in the North Sea in the early 1980s (one of the first women in BP working as an offshore production engineer), so she saw some of this first-hand – but women working offshore or in operations today can still face challenges and casual sexism which would not be tolerated or happen if they were men.

As society changes and as the role of women in the workplace becomes more equitable, so (some) men feel threatened. It’s interesting that when the media talk about ‘gender equality’, what they generally mean is ‘women’s gender equality’. As James Innes-Smith noted in his article in The Spectator[1] (July 2021), men in BBC programming are gradually being airbrushed out and ‘having a pop at men is fashionable (Radio 4 Women’s Hour)’ This highlighted casual misandry as opposed to misogyny[2].

“Is it any surprise that research carried out by the corporation for its annual report found that more than a quarter of men feel that the BBC 'no longer reflects people like me'?”

But this trend can hardly be blamed on the BBC. Innes notes that it is a cultural trend that is rife across society. But this can lead to an ‘Us and Them’ mindset – where views are polarised; ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ and, ‘if you don’t agree with me, you’re harassing me’.

The uphill battle

Last year I ran a workshop (at the POWERful Women Conference[3] in the UK), on Engaging Men and why it is the biggest challenge in D&I. I was subsequently contacted by several people, noting that engaging men is actually getting harder. Just when we need men to step-up and play their part in gender equality, they seem to be stepping back or even side-stepping the issue.

It’s understandable; many have often ill-founded perceptions that all the promotions are going to women (or minorities), “it’s not worth going for a promotion because a woman will get it”.

In an EY Study[4]; One third of men felt excluded at work, two thirds felt D&I had no business significance, the majority felt men were being overlooked for promotions, nearly half felt men were excluded from D&I programmes and many felt excluded from training and mentoring.

The reality is often different – as demonstrated by the low female representation seen at most levels of management – and in our Energy Industry, only 24% of Board seats are held by women[5] and the representation across the Energy Sector as a whole is worse (estimated to be ca 22%[6]). So whilst we hear encouraging news about fairer recruitment and promotion practices, women are starting from a much lower base and statistically more roles go to men. Diversity and Inclusion still has a long way to go - and its often an uphill battle.

How can we get more men to step-up?

Surprisingly, when we spoke to men in a number of organisations, the majority said they wanted to help and support women in the workplace, but felt that they did not have a voice and were not listened to. Some women reading this may be thinking – ‘well that’s what happens to us all the time’, but the irony in terms of equality, diversity and inclusion in our energy sector is that men albeit the majority, do not have a voice.

Inclusive Culture

Research tells us that the majority of D&I initiatives fail[7]. There are many reasons, but two stand out;

a) Initiatives are often focused on a minority (e.g. High potential women) but exactly because they are focused on the minority, they leave the majority behind; and nothing changes.

b) Initiatives (like Unconscious Bias training) are seen as mandatory, so can quickly be seen as box ticking. People may do the training, but it washes over them and makes no lasting impact.

We have to find ways to create a culture where everyone is valued and respected.

Your role as a leader

As a leader, you get the culture you create or the culture you deserve. This is particularly important in operational roles, like offshore, construction and engineering, where the representation of women can be lower and where there is often a culture of banter. So if you don’t like the culture you see, change it.

People may feel that banter is good natured and friendly and when it is taken for granted, can be commonplace, but a person who is offended may not be in a position where they feel they can speak up or challenge it. It’s all too easy for what someone thinks is ‘just a bit of teasing’, to drift into something hurtful of malicious. In the UK: Yorkshire Cricket and the London Metropolitan Police have both seen the damage that this can cause (whether it is malicious and intended to hurt or just thoughtless and ignorant).

Banter should be tackled. Like Safety culture, this can be done in a way that is supportive rather than confrontational. “I heard you make a comment that someone else might not have appreciated”. Or “I noticed in our team meeting that <name> didn’t get a chance to give her view”. By calling it out, or highlighting the issue, people may think more carefully about what they say and how they say it.

Inclusion for all.

Create an environment where everyone is valued and respected. That’s not to say everyone has the same job or seniority, but people are valued for what they bring.

Ask yourself – am I inclusive? and is my team inclusive? According to CTI and EY: “Inclusive Leadership employees are 3.5x more likely to contribute to full innovation potential and 39% more likely to be engaged[8]. It’s about respecting and valuing everyone for what they bring and not judging people based on first impressions or your own mental models.

So if not, why not? and If not now, when?

The key to building an inclusive culture is allies – to support change and to support others. IMD talks about better relations between men and women – in fact its better relations between everyone. When people don’t trust each other, it breeds secrecy, distrust, in-groups, exclusion and poor performance. Get to know people - reach out to those you don’t usually speak to or know. Build trust and respect.

The nature of work is changing – for many of us, the way we work, the place we work and the style of work is becoming more flexible and fluid. For men (and women) these changes can be positive, but removing some of the rules and norms of how we work can lead to working longer hours, increased family or caring responsibilities, less time for relaxation/sport/socialising and sleep being reduced or disrupted. Take time to stop and reflect – is what I am doing really necessary? Can we do it a different or better way? Do we need to do it at all? Talk to your colleagues and manager – there may well be a better way.

Subsea 7[9], get this – its embedded in their D&I statement and Sustainability Report: and John Evans, Subsea 7’s CEO is a member of Powerful Women’s Energy Leaders Coalition[10], which comprises sixteen of the leading CEOs from the UK’s energy sector who have collectively made a public declaration to improve gender diversity in their companies and in the sector as a whole.

“We believe that everyone has the right to be treated fairly, with dignity and respect, and to have equal opportunities in a supportive, friendly and inclusive environment, free from all forms of discrimination, harassment or bullying”. Subsea 7, 2020.

Finally, as a guiding principle:

Respect everyone. To quote a former colleague, his mother used to say

“Treat everyone as you would like to be treated”

- or in my view, better still,

Treat everyone as they want to be treated’.

Let me know what you think. As with everything we do that relates to people, none of us has all the answers and there is always more to learn!


[2] Misogyny and Misandry - defined as the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or men is still pervasive in society, though the term misogyny is often used to define wider discrimination and sexism.

[7] [7] Harvard Business Review, Dobbin & Kalev, 2016 Why Diversity Programs Fail (


Peter Duff, Diversity & Inclusion Advisor and Coach, Pronouns: he/him/his Proud to be an Ally

You can connect with Peter here



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