AXIS, OGUK, and The Oil & Gas Technology Centre inspire hundreds of delegates to make the shift from analysis to action.
On Thursday 5th September, 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.
First to speak at the event was Deirdre Michie, CEO of OGUK and sponsor of the AXIS Network. Deidrie pulled no punches, saying “Our industry is challenged by lack of diversity in multiple dimensions and enough is enough.” She explained that the sectors’ 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 on D&I, led by Wood’s Craig Shanaghey.
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 fair-trade 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 otherwise.’’
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 female leaders as role models is a massive Catch-22 situation. (Copies of Katy Heidenreich’s book “The Oil Industry’s Best Kept Secret” were on each table which explores this issue in detail).
Jo also 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” and consequently 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, Jo 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.”
A panel discussion followed Jo’s inspirational speech, facilitated by Colette Cohen (CEO of 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 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, which was 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.
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 get 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.”
If your business would like to sign up to the AXIS pledge, please visit: www.axisnetwork.co.uk/axis-pledge