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OGV Energy interview Karen Blanc – Network Chair of Axis Network
 

For those who have not heard of AXIS Network, who are you, and what are your key objectives?  

The Aberdeen X-Industry Support (AXIS) Network is a members’ gender-balance network. Whatever your gender, company or role, if you work in the Energy sector and believe there needs to be a level playing field for men and women, then you will benefit from joining AXIS. We are led by a volunteer committee and currently have 800 members from across the Aberdeen area.  

Our objective is to achieve a fair and equal gender-balanced Aberdeen Energy sector at all career levels and in all roles and functions, in order to support a prosperous and sustainable future for Aberdeen.  

We do this by supporting the career development of both sexes and through challenging and educating the industry on the business case for improved gender balance. We also provide and share ideas for best practice on the changes our member organisations and their leaders can make to have the greatest impact.  

 

How and why did you become Network Chair of AXIS Network?  

I took over the role of chair at AXIS this January, having sat in other committee roles for 2 years before that. Our previous chair, Jenny Junnier, had held the role for 3 years, and was ready to step down, back into another role on the committee.  

Jenny asked last summer if I’d be keen to lead the group and everyone was in agreement with me taking the role, so we facilitated a 6 month handover. The timing felt right (My young children don’t need me for every single bedtime now!) and I could see lots of potential to grow on the initiatives that Jenny had led within the group.  

Having worked in the Energy sector for over 15 years, I have found my career hugely rewarding, and I believe everyone deserves to feel this way. That’s not to say it’s not been without its own frustrating challenges, and righting those wrongs for others is also a source of motivation for me. 

So far, I am really enjoying the role, although it certainly has the potential to take over every waking moment that I’m not at work! We have a fantastic committee and extended network of supporters, and I feel we are seeing some real traction in moving towards our goals this year so far. 

 

What are your biggest challenges as Network Chair?  

Sometimes I find that my biggest challenge is articulating the case for change. To me, actively removing all barriers to ensure our workplaces are attractive, fair and inclusive for everyone is just the right thing to do.  

I find I can tend to move inside a circle of people who all passionately feel the way I do (a diversity challenge in itself?!), so when I encounter someone who’s not yet convinced that gender balance and parity is the right thing to do, or even believes that we’ve already achieved it, I can get tongue-tied!  

I do have to remind myself that it’s not my job to convince everyone, that most people “get” it, and that giving some positive encouragement and support to someone who is already motivated gives the best return on investment. 

 

What initiatives are AXIS Network introducing this year to help them achieve their objectives?  

While we continue to build on our already successful networking events and mentoring and role model programmes, our new initiatives for this year are centred around themes of collaboration, transparency, and thought leadership.  

We are working more closely with other local diversity and inclusion networks, such as AFBE-UK, and InterEnergy, and our next event in June will be a collaborative effort with those groups. We are also linking with networks like ours in other locations, such as EQUATE and POWERful Women, to share synergies and increase the pace of change towards our shared goals.  

We have received more requests for support from our member organisations to help drive meaningful change in their gender and D&I initiatives, and we held the industry’s first D&I Champions Best Practice Forum in February to support with this.  

We have just appointed a new committee member to lead our thought leadership program so will be sharing more into this space shortly. Finally, we have really exciting plans for Offshore Europe 2019 including a members’ event in collaboration with O&GUK and the OGTC, but that’s all I can tell you on that for now! 

 

What reaction have you experienced to AXIS Network within the Energy Industry?  

I believe AXIS Network is well supported across the industry, and we are generally well-received by the industry. We take the place of a gender-balance network for companies too small to justify their own network, and we work in collaboration with existing gender-balance networks in large organisations providing them with a much wider peer network. I think the support we offer both our individual members, and the industry’s leaders is acknowledged, and we provide the industry with a level of challenge and accountability.  

Occasionally we still find like-minded people who weren’t aware of our work, and this is something we’d like to change – because if we can all collectively work together on our goals of fairness and equality, then I believe we can accelerate towards our balanced future together. 

 

Are you collaborating with any other Businesses/Networks ?  

In addition to the collaborations mentioned above, we work closely with Oil & Gas UK, and we are delighted to have Deirdre Michie as our network sponsor. We also have links with OPITO, the OGI, the OGA, and the OGTC, amongst others!  

We have a well-established relationship with SPE, and we meet frequently to share synergies and ideas. We work closely with a number of oil and service companies, and our events are always co-hosted events where we work in partnership with a host sponsor company. 

Our most recent events have been kindly sponsored and hosted by the OGTC, Spirit Energy, RGU, and Chrysaor. Finally, our committee is made up of a diverse group, who indirectly represent a cross-section of companies and professions from across the area. 

What message do you have for the leaders within the Energy industry to help Axis achieve their objectives? 

We can do this! Change can feel difficult, and slow, but if we take time to look at how far we’ve come, we are making meaningful change, and I believe we can create a fair and gender-balanced industry in our lifetimes. 

I’d also remind them that this is not just a case of getting more women and girls into STEM. There’s no doubt that we need more women in STEM but that is not the answer by itself, and there are things that organisations can do today to make their businesses more gender-balanced.  

 

We would challenge our leaders to: 

-Be first. Don’t wait for policy to dictate that you should improve, for example, paternity leave. 

-Find ways to involve women – maybe you can’t (or shouldn’t) enforce a gender balance policy on your board, but can you create a gender-representative shadow board to ensure you are building an equal talent pipeline? 

-Challenge yourself – do you recognise and nurture the value of leadership styles that are non-stereotypical?  

-Finally, ask for help – AXIS Network are here to support you. 

 

Published: 29-04-2019
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