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Men As Change Agents Series: Ollie Folayan

Updated: Mar 3, 2023

Let's adopt Ubuntu: Dr Ollie Folayan, Chair of AFBE-UK Scotland and Principal Process Engineering Consultant, outlines how workplace culture is key to achieving gender balance for the AXIS Network’s Men As Change Agents series.

Two ideas were reinforced when I attended a very memorable diversity and inclusion lunch sponsored by the AXIS Network in September.

1. No underrepresented group is homogenous.

2. Real change only comes about when we all get involved.

An Nguni Bantu word “Ubuntu” translated as “I am because we are” encapsulates these themes perfectly.

The anti-apartheid activist, Desmond Tutu said:

“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are”

Ubuntu is vital if we are to achieve our goals of increasing gender participation.

Energy regulator Ofgem recently set a 50% target for gender equality across all levels of the energy sector by 2025. This is however not going to be easy to achieve. RGU Oil and Gas institute director Prof Paul de Leeuw noted that if we assume equal balance for those joining the sector from 2019-25, gender balance is only likely to shift from about 25% females in 2019 to 30% by 2025.

The key determinant of behaviours is leadership-driven company culture; culture that recognises that there is diversity among women and that we all have a role to play, an Ubuntu culture.

So how do we introduce Ubuntu into our companies?

We can:

1. Make diversity a core competency: Competencies are qualities tested at recruitment and in appraisals. If the championing of diversity (e.g. through STEM programmes aimed at girls) is a criterion against which employees are appraised, men will take it seriously.

2. Call out and challenge regressive views and attitudes: We can develop empathy if we put ourselves in the position of our female colleagues.

3. Develop a plan: Leaders can do this by being mindful of social contexts or conversations that exclude others. They can ensure that each team member is in on important information shared e.g. down the pub on a Friday.

4. Support long-term retention:“Back to work” schemes are becoming popular and at AFBE-UK’s Transition programme, we have mothers who attend in order to return to work; some have succeeded in securing new jobs.

Finally the best thing men can do as change agents is actively listen to our female colleagues, resisting the temptation to explain away their experiences. Companies must not mistake the absence of evidence as evidence of absence when concern is expressed; non-verbal cues and sudden changes in behaviour or performance are important. Some people in the workplace will never come forward to complain about a bad situation, they just decide when it gets too much to leave their job.

Ubuntu perfectly models the culture we need and could pave the way to greater equality in our industry by 2025.

Dr Ollie Folayan, Chair of AFBE-UK Scotland and Principal Process Engineering Consultant.

For more information on Men as Change Agents, The AXIS Network recommend the Women’s Business Council’s report: ​


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