At a recent local WIOG (Women in Oil and Gas) gathering I listened as a panel of four industry diversity champions called for quotas in the industry. While that news was welcomed, it was very disappointing to hear why they were calling for quotas.
Despite all the efforts by gender diversity champions within the industry, the reality they all admitted was that there are LESS women working in O & G now than there were 10 years ago.
While the companies are doing well at recruiting women in their graduate programs there is an entire demographic of women that are being ignored – the already experienced ones who have worked in the industry, taken a career hiatus to start a family, and then tried to get back into the workforce.
Older women who already have prior experience in the industry have more people skills, more experience in workplace safety culture, and a broad range of life skill sets beyond just their professional vocational skills than any graduate, yet they are largely being ignored. If the person doesn’t have just one particular skill then mentor and teach them that skill instead of wasting all their other experience, which they could also be mentoring to other younger workers.
There are two main reasons why the statistics are revealing an overall decline in the numbers of women employed in the O & G industry, despite attempts to increase the ranks at the graduate level. These are:
1. Thinking you can improve the numbers by introducing quotas only in the graduate programs
While companies are boasting about having equal numbers of males and females in their graduate recruitment programs they ignore the fact that after about 10 years many of these females would have left the workforce to start a family. Where does this then leave the “pipeline”? Exactly where we are now, as explained in the WIOG discussion.
You can’t just employ 50% female graduates and expect that the numbers will stay at 50% for the lifetime of the company. It’s not that easy. Life gets in the way – and it gets in the way a hell of a lot more for women than it does for men. And lets not forget that each yearly graduate intake accounts for only a very small fraction of the entire workforce within the company. The highest percentage of workers will be employed later in their career so the pipeline needs to be filled along the entire length of it, not just at the start of it.
Most graduates are hired with zero practical skills and experience because the companies know they have the knowledge to be able to learn the skills needed very quickly. Why should older and much more experienced women be treated differently??
2 . The operating companies don’t include numbers of external workers in their diversity metrics
From a workforce perspective, commonly the external workers represents between 30% and 50% of the total direct workforce of large oil and gas companies. And these percentages are likely to grow after each subsequent downturn when large numbers of workers are retrenched but will only be open to opportunities to return to the workforce as contractors because companies are reluctant to put on salary staff again.
When the vast majority of upstream workers in their projects are most likely contractors (third party contractors and service providers) these numbers are totally ignored in company statistics - even though it’s the operating companies who directly employ them. The body shops can put forward female workers CV’s but they are ultimately not the ones who employ them on the projects. Only when operating companies recognise that diversity of ALL workers under their control are their responsibility will there be full accountability.
As the resource sector continues to turn to an ever-increasing contract labor force, the overall statistics of women working in the industry will continue to decline if this portion of the workforce is ignored and not included in the company metrics. The operating companies are ultimately the ones responsible for procuring the labor, not the service provider companies. The service providers only provide the people the companies specifically ask for. And believe me, these days they are VERY specific. Unfortunately though it’s obviously not in a gender diverse sort of a way because they know they don’t have to show accountability for these workers.
As I’ve already mentioned, a high percentage of women will temporarily leave the workforce to start a family and the chances are if they return, they will only be able to find employment as a contract worker. And there the cycle of unaccountability continues. Contract staff doesn’t get a look-in when the gender metrics are reported. There goes the “pipeline”!
While big corporates continue to deflect responsibility for contract workers, there will be no overall change in the numbers of females in the industry because they will slip through the cracks of accountability. More women need to be employed in both salary and contract positions and those with any experience should be mentored and trained to fill positions that are well within their capabilities, given adequate training.
There is a huge untapped resource of highly educated female workers eager to get back into the workforce after having a family but they aren’t given the chance to further develop their skills. It’s time the industry leaders stop the myopic stand they are taking and start employing women over ALL of their operations. It’s time to stop the rhetoric and start REALLY doing something.
It’s probably a good time to stop and reflect on the dictionary meaning of rhetoric:
- language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect, but which is often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content.
Yes, rhetoric is definitely the right word to use to explain what we are hearing from the big operators. And the panel of four people who admitted the poor numbers of women employed in the industry worldwide were all diversity champions from multinational oil and gas companies. Come on guys…stop playing political games and start putting your money where your rhetoric is.