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Putting inclusion centre-stage as our industry transitions

Updated: Jan 13, 2022

AXIS, OGUK, and The Oil & Gas Technology Centre inspire hundreds of delegates to make the shift from analysis to action

This week, nearly 400 people representing over 40 separate institutions joined forces at Offshore Europe to hear leaders discuss what’s working well, what needs to change and crucially, commit to action to improve gender balance. At just 22%, women account for a smaller share of the oil and gas industry’s workforce than they do in almost any other sector. We all know that businesses where talented women thrive are more profitable, and yet progress towards gender parity in our sector is glacially slow. Just as people see the facts on climate change, but don’t promptly change their habits to be sustainable, businesses know that attracting and retaining diverse talent is critical to their future, but don’t swiftly change their workplace to be inclusive. Karen Blanc, committee chair of the AXIS Network, addressed this need to stimulate action by inviting businesses to sign the AXIS Pledge. This visible commitment to analysis, action and transparency is already signed and supported by 20 organisations in our sector.

Karen Blanc launches the AXIS pledge

First to speak at the event was Deirdre Michie, Chief executive of OGUK and sponsor of the AXIS Network. She pulled no punches, saying “Our industry is challenged by lack of diversity in multiple dimensions, and enough is enough.” She explained that our continued competitiveness relies on embracing diversity and inclusion, and thereby making our sector a great place to work for everyone. She called for “bold and public leadership” on this issue, before announcing the launch of OGUK’s All Energy Taskforce, led by Wood’s Craig Shanaghey.

Deirdre Michie opening the event, and launching the OGUK taskforce on D&I

Next on-stage was Jo Fairley, co-founder of the multi-million pound enterprise Green & Black’s Chocolate. She began by sharing her earliest motivation to succeed: the desire to prove wrong the teachers who doubted her. She talked of trusting your instincts (do you think her product would be ranked cooler than Prada if it bore the moniker EcoChoc?), playing to your strengths (killer press releases were always accompanied with a product sample, because “every square of chocolate is worth a thousand words”) and realising your biggest supporter can come from the most unexpected quarter (in her case, an army of vicars deluging supermarket buyers with daily letters urging them to stock Jo’s fairtrade chocolate). Addressing leaders in the room on the topic of risk, she suggested that avoiding decisive action is sometimes the biggest risk of all, stating ‘’If you don't do it, you'll never know what would have happened if you had.’’

Jo also touched on the importance of role models in her own life, such as Body Shop founder Anita Roddick, before acknowledging the lack of positive women leaders as role models is a massive Catch 22 (copies of Katy Heidenreich’s book “The Oil Industry’s Best Kept Secret” were on each table). She advised young people in the room to find a mentor and find their own, authentic voice. “People aren’t made with a cookie cutter”, she said, “those who work too hard to fit the mould ultimately really struggle with imposter syndrome. They also make terrible role models”. Indeed, rather than encouraging people to fit in, Jo instead encouraged employers to change the environment of work. “The macho culture of 18-hour workdays isn’t a game many women want to play, and it appeals to fewer and fewer men.” Citing a recent study by Henley Business School on the business and societal benefits of a four-day working week, Jo emphasised the need to focus on results not hours.

In closing, she shared a lesson she learned from Martha Stewart – that in business we all need two tools: a microscope and a telescope. She explained that the OE19 D&I lunch was an opportunity to use that telescope and look at the bigger picture. “Day-to-day, women in oil and gas may feel like lone salmon swimming upstream, but today realise in fact you are a shoal all pushing in the same direction.”

Jo Fairley inspiring the crowd to take bold action, and create a human-centred work culture.

A panel discussion followed Jo’s inspirational speech, facilitated by Colette Cohen (CEO The OGTC) and featuring panellists Ariel Flores (BP), Jo Coleman (Shell), Gretchen Haskins (HeliOffshore), David Isaac (PinsentMasons, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission) and John Pearson (Petrofac), in addition to Jo.

Colette first invited speakers to share actions they believe make a difference. Panellists from Petrofac, Shell and BP highlighted the importance of visible and committed leadership: each individual leader advocating for diverse talent in their business, then transmitting that through policies and their own behaviours. They were particularly encouraged to see several companies had sent their most senior leaders to this event. Gretchen and Jo Fairley also stressed the importance of upward coaching – an essential tool that lets senior leaders re-connect with the view from the floor. Colette Cohen agreed that mentoring relationships can be pivotal, and alerted the room to The OGTC’s mentoring app, also being launched at Offshore Europe, and developed in collaboration with AXIS Network. David Isaac emphasised the need to engage everyone in this collective endeavour: not just women, people with a protected characteristic or men with daughters.

David further noted how legislation such as mandatory gender pay gap reporting has triggered action plans with a sense of urgency. He believes this radical transparency needs to be extended, and calls for ethnicity and disability pay gap reporting. Reflecting on his experience in the early days of Stonewall, David described how collaboration increased momentum, and strong belief produced drive: “it is easy to be audacious when you know it’s the right thing to do”.

The panel also picked up on the topic of flexibility, raised earlier by Jo Fairley. Ariel Flores noted “it’s irrational to trust people to make decisions that could cause or avoid a major accident hazard, but not trust them to still get their work done if they need to leave 30 minutes early for some reason”. Jo Coleman and David Isaac stressed that access to flexibility needs to be “a level playing field”, with neither men nor women getting flak for asking for shared parental leave for instance. Drawing on her years in the press, Jo Fairley noted that the media is hungry for stories of companies making work-life balance a reality. She encouraged companies to leverage the phenomenal power of the press to associate their brand with a human-centred work culture.

Colette then asked the panel to reflect on what works “Fix the women, or fix the environment?” Gretchen Haskins was plain: “Human factors engineering tells us if you want people to perform better, you change the environment. First you agree what good looks like, then you figure out how you get there”. We need targets for gender balance in oil and gas, and evidence-based plans to reach them. Jo Coleman asserted that ‘fixing people’ is an offensive idea that leads to in-authentic leaders who make terrible role models.

The final question to the panel came from the floor, “Women are not a homogeneous group. Can we get gender balance in oil and gas without understanding intersectionality?”. John Pearson agreed the full spectrum of different experiences and different ways of thinking are what we need in our industry to be supported by society. Emphasising inclusion, Jo Coleman pointed out that “decisions in a mono-culture are faster and easier, but when different voices get heard, decisions are better”. Jo Fairley built on Jo Coleman’s point, stating that organisations like organisms benefit from hybrid vigour: putting different things in the mix makes things “stronger, more resilient and able to adapt to a changing world”.

The last word in the panel discussion went to David Isaac: “Here in this room, I sense we violently agree. We are good at diagnosis, but this challenge requires a quick response and we don’t do enough fast enough. Consider using positive action when making appointments – it works." Galvanising those present to action, he said we “simply need to be braver and push harder against the boundaries.”

Panellists (L-R) Jo Coleman, Jo Fairley, Ariel Flores, Gretchen Haskins, David Isaac, John Pearson

Deirdre Michie and Colette Cohen (centre) with AXIS Network Committee members L-R Caroline Lawson, Susan Gordon, Elizabeth McAlpine, Susan Grayson, Karen Blanc (chair), Eva Hagan, Denis Pinto, Sarah Clark, Erica Kinmond (vice-chair) and Katy Hardacre.

AXIS member Ollie Folayan receiving his reward for asking the best question, on the topic of intersectional diversity.

September 2019 event write-up

Katy Hardacre, AXIS Committee member



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