Untapped Reserves: Bridging the Gender Gap

Blog Post created by katie.mehnert Champion on Jul 12, 2017

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.


It starts at the top.


Like mother, like daughter.


We have a whole slew of phrases in our language to convey the simple notion that the people in charge set the tone for the people who look up to them.


The oil and gas industry is no different and the data seems to be getting worse.


A new report released by the Boston Consulting Group and the World Petroleum Council at the World Petroleum Congress in Istanbul today found that when it comes to fighting gender imbalance in the industry, CEO commitment makes all the difference.



I spoke with Ivan Marten, vice chairman of Boston Consulting Group’s energy practice and a co-author of the report, about the findings, and he called the perceived commitment of the CEO on gender issues “the most relevant factor determining its importance within the organization.”


What does that mean, in hard numbers?


“Of men who think their CEO considers gender diversity very important, 86 percent consider it important or very important. But this percentage drops to 34 percent when men think their CEO considers gender diversity very unimportant,” Marten said.


For an industry that ranks just about dead last (okay, 2nd to to last, but really who is counting) when it comes to the number of women in its ranks (22 percent, according to the new report), that means a whole lot is riding on the feminist tendencies of an executive who is – let’s face it – more than likely a man.



But really, it’s not about feminism (even though I wholeheartedly believe the bumper sticker slogans that feminism is the radical notion that women are people and women’s rights are human rights).  It’s about logistics, safety and profitability.


First, there’s the sheer fact that three-quarters of oil and gas employees are 50 years of age and older, according to the report, which came together after extensive interviews with more than 60 senior industry executives (both male and female), a survey of 2,000 male and female professionals from a variety of companies and countries and data from all major international oil companies. That will leave a lot of holes to fill in just a few short years. If and when the energy industry rebounds, the need for human capital will increase even faster. I can guarantee there won’t be enough qualified men to satisfy the need. Hiring and promoting qualified women will no longer be a choice; it will be a necessity.


Then there’s the question of safety. The report ties an increased number of women in the industry to improved problem solving, greater creativity and lower-risk decision-making. For an industry where safety records are judged publicly and harshly, those qualities are critical.


And then there’s the matter of pure dollars and cents: Past research has shown that an organization with 30 percent female leaders can add 6 percent to the bottom line.


 So the report solidifies the business case for CEO buy-in. And Marten is optimistic that more C-level industry executives will come around to the cause.


“I have seen genuine commitment to address these issues in the vast majority of the conversations with CEOs,” Marten told me.


But how does that trickle down to the rest of these organizations?


The CEO might set the tone, but after that, it comes down to accountability in the lower ranks. Middle managers need to be judged in part on driving cultural change and attracting, promoting and retaining qualified female leaders.


Ulrike Von Lonski, director of communications for the World Petroleum Council, agrees.


“If a CEO clearly demonstrates their commitment to supporting women — and other minority groups — in their employ, this will set the standard across the ranks,” Von Lonski told me. “This a responsibility that CEOs have to take on more and communicate to their employees and stakeholders.”


In the study, opinions differ on gender diversity's importance to supervisors and the CEO.



The report makes several recommendations along these lines. To attract more women at the entry level, for instance, the authors advocate establishing clear recruiting targets for men and women and developing KPIs for attracting and retaining women. To keep women from jumping ship mid-career, the report suggests insisting that “every executive and senior manager take at least one talented female employee under his or her wing.” And at the senior level, the authors recommend “talking shop” with women, rather than focusing career development on softer topics.


I've got an idea.


In addition to changes on the HR front, why not issue public scorecards – scorecards that drive bonuses for senior executives – that measure diversity and inclusion, rather than just safety and environmental impact? After all, what’s measured gets managed and, eventually, transformed.  


That’s what the authors of the report are hoping, too. For their part, they have made a commitment to conduct this assessment every three years going forward. That will give us an industry-wide view of our progress – or lack thereof.


“A lot of companies do not yet have a detailed breakdown of their female employees and we hope to encourage more to start assembling and monitoring these data points in order to get a clearer picture of their workforce,” Von Lonski told me.


I couldn't agree more.  We need to boost these numbers.  




We really have our work cut out for us and it's bigger than I expected.  With industry reputation, culture and the talent gaps we have, the time for action is now.  I know this industry, and I know its people.   I know we are capable of the change we need.  Let's go do it!


Get the details here:  Full report  | Infographics