Gender pay reporting in oil & gas: a different perspective
Updated: Aug 31, 2019
This post is a personal reflection on the GPG reporting of the UK oil & gas industry, for the results published for the period 2017 - 2018 (reporting deadline April 2019).
Progress towards gender balance in oil & gas is often described as glacial. For most folks, glacial means slow, but for geologists like me, glaciers are dynamic engines of change, responsible for profound, long-lasting changes to landscapes that were millennia in the making. UK headlines in April overwhelmingly focused on the short-term, and were full of gloomy finger-pointing about the lack of progress between 2018 and 2019. I prefer to take a different perspective, and look for signs of longer-term positive change.
THE DATA: MIND THE GAP
Since mandatory gender pay reporting began last year, the statistic that’s had the most press attention is the gap between median hourly earnings of men and women. That’s true for individual organisations and whole sectors of the economy. Compared with the UK average (9.5%), the median gap for operators in the oil & gas sector (27%) is indisputably high, but I find the variation within our industry far more interesting. If the gender pay gap in the energy sector is mainly caused by a “shortage of women” (as some would have us believe), how is it some operators have a negligible gap, and others a gap of 50%? It can’t simply be a question of the gender balance in the talent pool: the relative success of companies in attracting, retaining and developing women must underpin these differences.
For most operators, the median gap has narrowed between the first and second year of reporting, which seems to be good news. Note though that measures some companies might take to narrow their median gap in the short term (e.g. out-sourcing/off-shoring lower-paid support roles typically done by women) are not necessarily progressive in the long term. Similarly, success in attracting women into graduate and apprentice roles would show up as a widening gap. I personally find it more encouraging to note that most operators have increased the percentage of women in their top percentile in the last 12 months. Tellingly, firms that already had a high number of women in highly-paid roles (typically leadership or niche technical) have seem the biggest increases in this measure, whereas firms that were performing poorly on this measure last year typically have even worse numbers this year.
Legislation requires companies to publish their data – publishing an action plan to address imbalances is voluntary. It’s therefore heartening to see most operators are including action plans in their reports. The UK Government’s equalities office has shared documents to help employers diagnose the reasons for their gender pay gap , as well as evidence-based research on effective actions for narrowing the gap. This year, relatively few operators’ reports share any diagnostics for their gap, and action plans typically cover the full gamut of attraction, recruitment, retention and promotion activities. In oil & gas sector gender pay gap reports in 2020 and beyond, we hope to see a stronger uptake of the actions known to be effective, and ultimately see action plans bear fruit.
In summary, we are starting to see some really positive pockets of action in the energy sector sparked gender pay gap reporting, but there is much still to be done. For some operators, this will be a profound cultural shift. Altering the gender balance of in oil & gas will need sustained effort over many years – there are no quick fixes – but the unrelenting progress of this particular glacier will surely transform the oil & gas landscape for good.
AXIS Committee member