07 Mar “Women in the pipeline: advancing careers in energy” POWERful Women panel at IP Week, 28 February 2019, with Saudi Aramco
Gender diversity was on the agenda at International Petroleum Week this year when POWERful Women teamed up with Saudi Aramco for a lively panel discussion. “Women in the pipeline: advancing careers in energy”explored how to tap the female talent pool to benefit both women and the industry, essential considering women currently make up only around one-fifth of the oil and gas global workforce – a significantly smaller share than in almost any other sector.
On the panel were: Nabil Al-Dabal, Reem Al Qahtani and Amjad Al Qahtani of Saudi Aramco; Colin McGill of BP; and Pippa Jones of the Energy Institute’s Young Professionals Network, PfW Board Member Francis Gugen and Louise Kingham, CEO of the Energy Institute.
The current state of play
According to the World Petroleum Council, only around 20% of the global oil and gas workforce is female and these women work disproportionately in office jobs with very limited presence in technical roles. While men and women start out on an equal footing, women rarely reach the top of the organisation: just 7% of board members and 1% of CEOs are women according to the UK’s Oil and Gas Technology Centre. At the same time, recent studies have shown that the oil and gas sector faces a serious skills gap.
However, there are benefits to greater gender diversity, Louise Kingham told the audience: “If you don’t work on diversity issues there will be impact – a smaller pool of talent to choose from, businesses missing out on higher quality talent, and stakeholders concerned about their license to operate.”
What good looks like
And many companies already recognise the value. Gender diversity is an area of focus for Saudi Aramco because “wherever there is diversity, companies have more innovation and performance is better”. In fact, they found that 170 out of 300 of their technical patents have been registered by women. Nabil Al-Dabal described how Saudi Aramco is sponsoring women to attend university abroad and supporting their development into leadership positions. They have worked on providing the right policies and environment within the company, ensuring women’s needs are heard and providing, for example, day care centres. They have also worked with the government on policies to allow women to work in the field to gain technical expertise.
Amjad Al Qahtani told the audience about the support she received to study Chemical Engineering, develop a career strategy and go on to do a PhD. Being encouraged by her mentor to “make mistakes” and challenge herself was invaluable, leading her to try a new position. Reem Al Qahtani talked about the pride she feels when she sees women working across the company and moving up the ladder.
So what else needs to be done?
There was broad agreement on the panel on the importance of focussing on inclusion and process to bring about cultural change, with Francis Gugen reminding the audience what has happened with seatbelts and smoking. Highlighting how the industry needs to wake up and do something about the skills gap, Pippa Jones of the EI Young Professionals Network emphasised that the right culture is key to helping women excel and also advised aspiring women to “recognise your strengths and ‘invite yourself’ – don’t wait to be asked”. Others noted the importance of role models with diverse and unique experiences, the value of high level targets and having clear rules and accountability around, for example, job descriptions and shortlists.
As Francis Gugen said in summing up: “We need to start thinking about being inclusive in general, as well as diverse, and it’s great that we are now talking about what we are proud of. I task you to ‘just do it!’”