Blog & News

Towards Diversity and Inclusivity

Mon 28 January 2019

Category: Community, PETEX, Reviews

Towards Diversity and Inclusivity

Jane Whaley, Editor in Chief, GEO ExPro Magazine


As we embrace a new and hopefully revitalised oil and gas industry, can it be diverse and inclusive as well as profitable? This was the question behind an innovative session at the 2018 PETEX meeting in November, which aimed to discuss how individuals, both employees and employers, can take positive action in their workplaces to promote them as inclusive environments for everyone, since a diverse workforce has been proved to be also a more profitable one. I found it an interesting and thought-provoking afternoon, and the following is my personal thoughts and ‘take-out’ from the session.

The emphasis was on discussion and sharing ideas, so although the session, which was chaired by Sarah Peers, Deputy President of the International Network of Women Engineers and Scientists, had an invited panel of speakers, their main task was to facilitate discussion. Each panel member was first invited to introduce themselves and explain if and when they have felt themselves to be disadvantaged in their career by not fitting into the industry stereotype (sometimes described as ‘male, pale and stale’). This was followed by a general discussion between panellists and delegates; because the event was held in a relatively small room, everyone present felt close to the speakers, and from the start it was easy to interact and join in discussions, so a lively and interesting debate ensued.


Leadership Crucial

Jay Surti studied Civil Engineering in Dundee, where she was one of only a handful of female graduates – a situation that, 25 years later, remains more or less unchanged. She felt uneasy in that environment and subsequently became a lawyer, and she now works with the UK Women’s Engineering Society to help young female engineers reach their potential. As she and other speakers pointed out, it is important that leaders and managers in the industry actively encourage diversity and promote role models, so those lower down the ranks can see “people like me”, and aspire to those roles. This was emphasised by Exploration Manager Nicola Adams, who has worked for BP since graduating. Initially, she found she fitted in well and was treated the same as all her peers, but as she moved into leadership roles she began to notice that “the faces around me changed and there were less women in my peer group”, although she also noted that BP has made significant progress in this area. The culture we create as leaders is important to make everyone, no matter what background, feel included,” she added. Mentoring; ‘returners’ programmes; diverse interview panels: all these and many other schemes have a part to play in encouraging a more inclusive management structure – as does seeking out successful diverse organisations and finding out why they work well.

Joshua Atkins from Energy UK chairs Pride in Energy, the LGBT+ network for the energy sector, which encourages companies to embody diversity values and working practices through workshops and other initiatives. The oil industry is a hard environment for this community; it is estimated that a third of gay engineers in the industry have not ‘come out’, at least as far as business colleagues are concerned. That is a disturbingly high percentage and would appear to be an issue which is not being properly addressed. As Joshua pointed out, the wide geographic range of the oil industry means that it can be difficult to increase diversity across an international company, particularly for the LGBT+ community. Once again, the importance of leadership was stressed, including encouraging LGBT+ people in management positions themselves to be more open.

Bani Norouzian came from Iran to the UK to work in the oil and gas industry (she is Energy Analytics Sales Director for HIS Markit) and was surprised by the inequalities she encountered here. As a result she has set up the networking and advice organisation Strive Excellence to promote gender diversity in all industries. She asked why more women do not, for example, put themselves forward for promotion and pay increases. While there are many factors involved, everyone must recognise the need to take control themselves to increase diversity and help raise the diversity profile by actions such as speaking up at team meetings or becoming prominent ‘thought leaders’ through blogs and presentations.

Someone Else’s Business

All credit to the PESGB for putting on this event and encouraging people to attend, and also doing their bit by ensuring that there was at least one woman chairperson at every conference session.

But: out of over 3,000 Petex delegates, why did fewer than 20 people consider this topic important enough to attend the session? There are always conflicting demands at these events, and I’m sure everyone had their reasons and alternative priorities, but the topic of inclusivity and diversity affects us all. It is not a ‘special interest’ group, and it is not just about gender, as tends to be assumed. Even during this session, there was very little said about inclusivity for people from black and minority ethnic groups, who are poorly represented in the UK oil industry, or about those with disabilities.

As Nicola pointed out, society is changing and will soon be holding the oil and gas industry to account for its poor reputation for inclusivity and diversity. In fact, why are we still having select gatherings in small rooms to discuss this important matter which is vital to the progress – and profitability – of the oil and gas industry?

Why is diversity and inclusion, to so many people, ‘someone else’s business’?