Jessica Higgins, COO of Gapingvoid Culture Design Group, has never worked in the oil industry. But she knows it well.
Her father worked in oil and gas, and when Jessica was growing up, he’d come home from long trips out on the rig and tell her about the way the men he worked with treated the few women on board. He never sugarcoated it, and for good reason: He was teaching her to be tough by showing her what women face — not just in energy, but in just about every industry around the world.
Although she never went into oil and gas, Jessica has maintained a profound passion for helping women succeed — and helping businesses build a culture that embraces inclusion and innovation. That’s why we are thrilled to have her join us on May 1 when Pink Petro presents “Energy in the Age of Inclusion,” an afternoon featuring two panel discussions focused on inclusion and disruption across the industry. (Register for tickets here!)
“I think energy is the most important industry that can benefit from the movement toward diversity and inclusion, and it can have a huge impact on our culture and our society because you guys are the American gold standard for what we are as a country,” Jessica says. “If we could create a more level playing field there, in the real America, a place most people don’t see, that would be very impactful.”
Jessica is in the business of change. As the COO of Gapingvoid, her work centers on helping companies such as Zappos, Microsoft, VMware and L’Oreal transform their corporate culture to embrace innovation.
“Diversity is the key to all innovation,” Jessica explains. “And innovation is becoming a business imperative: You either have to adapt or you have to suffer the consequences.”
Jessica has seen that firsthand.
Early in her career in management consulting, she traveled to San Bernardino, Calif., one of the poorest cities in the country. The government had decided to hire private consultants to work with the businesses in San Bernardino and help them change that statistic. Jessica was one of them.
In four months, her work created 1,924 jobs. (PS: If you're looking for a great careers check out the jobs we have on Experience Energy.)
“You never forget a number like that,” she says.
And she got there not just by helping her clients improve their existing processes and strategies, but by helping them think up entirely new ways of growing or reshaping their businesses.
“Innovation is a different type of growth and requires a different type of management structure and skills,” she explains. “You can’t tell people to be innovative; you have to create the social contexts and structures to allow for innovation.”
That means fighting against our biology in some cases, she explains. Our brains are hardwired to watch what other people are doing so we can do the same. We avoid new experiences that take us out of our comfort zones and make us feel uncomfortable, or even unsafe. That’s why the push for diversity has been a long slog — our first instinct is to fight change, even when it’s exactly what we need.
But we can get there. Jessica has helped it happen.
“If you give people information, you trigger people with new ideas and new ways of thinking,” she explains. “You have to seed people with ideas that allow them to go down a new path.”
That said, it does require commitment on the part of businesses and executives. To that end, diversity and inclusion need to be line items on every company’s budget, she explains. One token board member isn’t going to cut it to see real, valuable change across industries.
“What we have is an opportunity to reframe an issue and get it in everybody’s mindset and budget and frame of importance. How do you leverage the women in your company who may be underrepresented?” Jessica says. “So we’ll see this shift happening: The businesses that survive and thrive will be the ones that are by nature more diverse. More diversity brings more innovation.”
And the opportunity to bring that insight back to her hometown of Houston and the industry she grew up in is bringing her a whole new level of excitement.
“I have never been more passionate to work with a group of women in my professional career. You have to be the strongest, coolest women in history to sign up for a career in energy, and I’m beyond excited to hear everyone’s story,” she says.