Women can save oil and gas – If they're given the chance

9 September 2019
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AllAfrica InfoWire (Washington, DC)

Oil and gas are suffering from a skills shortage and lack of innovation, women can fix both

A report earlier this year showed that oil and gas professionals felt that their industry was in the throes of a skills crisis.

Forty percent of respondents to the Global Energy Talent Index survey said the crisis had already started, and another 28% said that it will hit the industry in the next five years.

In my latest book, Billions at Play: The Future of African Energy, I ask a simple question: “If you truly want your nation to thrive, why wouldn’t you do everything in your power to help half of your population participate in one of your most lucrative industries?”

The solution to the skills crisis is simple: gender equality.

Here is the bleak situation women who work in oil and gas find themselves in:

  • Women represented about 22% of its global workforce in 2017, and participation dropped to 17% at senior and executive-level roles. Only 1% of the CEOs in oil and gas were women.
  • A study released at the 2016 World Economic Forum, “the Future of Jobs,” reported a 32 percent pay gap in the oil and gas industry globally.
  • A 2018 study by the University of Massachusetts found that oil and gas had the highest rate of sexual harassment charges of any industry in the United States.

No wonder then that there is a skills shortage. Oil and gas are competing for the same kinds of people as technology firms and the renewable energy industry. Both of these sectors are new, exciting, dynamic, and above all, are associated with progress and progressive values.

To stand any chance of recruiting and retaining top talent, oil and gas must present itself in a similar way and that process starts with a genuine commitment to gender equality and women empowerment.

The oil and gas industry can take actions all along the chain, from supporting programs encouraging young women to take part in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, to increasing the visibility of women in senior positions so women apply in the first place, to implementing mentoring and work-life-balance schemes, to ensuring women are given the same chances to be promoted as men.

In a survey carried out by the accounting and consultancy firm EY, 98% of respondents said the oil and gas industry was undergoing a time of monumental change, and 94% agreed that diversity of thought and experience is key to navigating this disruption. Diversity of gender brings different perspectives and life experiences that in turn lead to innovation and new, creative ideas.

Focusing on Africa specifically, there is even more that the oil and gas industry can do. As I write in my book, in addition to promoting women within the industry itself, oil and gas can support women in the local communities their companies are active in: “The oil and gas industry is missing a golden opportunity to empower women by partnering with and purchasing from female entrepreneurs, who could provide a vast range of services and goods, from logistics to engineering to food services… One of the most glaring examples of the oil and gas gender gap is the industry’s failure to work with local female-owned micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as supplies, service providers, and partners.”

The problem facing the oil and gas industry is clear and present, but so is the solution. The skills crisis and need for greater innovation can both be solved through genuine gender equality. What is lacking is will. And this is someone no one can, or should, instil in the oil and gas industry. It must come from within – and soon.

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