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Why diversity and inclusion need to be a priority in energy sector

Diversity and inclusion are increasingly important when it comes to attracting and retaining the best staff.
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The Pride in Energy team in action at London Pride 2018. Picture: Pride in Energy

While many sectors are putting it front-and-centre of their business priorities, how important is it in the energy industry? If you were summing up the industry’s efforts to be more diverse and inclusive anecdotally, the summary would be ‘a good start but more hard work is needed’. 

While the major players like BP, Total and Shell have been working on it for a long time, a pathway for everyone to work to and an accurate way of measuring this activity is needed, along with support for the industry as a whole. 

Where do you start? In a sector where data is king, an accurate survey was needed to pinpoint the progress towards creating a diverse and inclusive workforce, and how to achieve it. 

Enter Oil & Gas UK (OGUK), which wanted to take a snapshot of views within the industry to build on the data and research process. 

Alix Thom, OGUK’s diversity and inclusion lead, said: “We had produced good case studies, run webinars and set up a resource centre, and it was a case of what next? Cross-industry, we did not have anything to measure ourselves.”  

Alix Thom Credit OGUK

These findings shaped a survey to give a baseline and something for the sector to work from, initially highlighting five action points which will be priorities over the next 12 to 18 months. First off was an inclusive and diverse leadership and culture.  

Company culture and respect was highlighted by disabled employees while those who are LGBTQ+ felt it was hard to be open about their life outside work. Inclusive recruitment and flexible pathways were also a priority, particularly for women and disabled people, and responses suggested the ethnic mix of the sector was also not in tune with the wider population. Flexibility among working arrangements was also identified. 

The Covid-19 outbreak necessitated a change with 49% saying there was increased fluidity after the outbreak, but 17% had never experienced it – particularly if they work in offshore, operational, terminal or facility management roles. 

The survey also identified the challenges for SMEs to have a strong culture around diversity and inclusion. Mid-size companies with 251 to 1,000 staff scored the lowest with a lack of clear targets and an ability to measure them. The final action-point was around the 31-40 age group – who will be the next industry leaders – to ensure they feel supported, so the loss of diverse talent from that generation is not lost to other sectors. 

Those issues around a career path and the importance of measuring Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) were key to many respondents. 

Alix said: “There is a concern that a lot of managers are still ‘male, pale and stale.’ It is fair to say that since I started at OGUK 10 years ago, the number of women in senior positions has increased and we have increased the number of women on our board. 

“Also, when we talk about the gender pay gap, you can’t just sack all the men. Ideally, if you can create an inclusive environment, you are halfway there. If people feel they can bring themselves to work, that is great.”  

Gemma Head, head of skills at the East of England Energy Group (EEEGR), agrees. She said: “Typically, ED&I consideration is associated with gender and ethnic diversity. However, we would challenge this and have been working with the wider community to champion general inclusivity.”  

A key area is education to ensure colleagues and managers understand the needs of a diverse workforce and ensuring everyone is valued. For Alix herself, the death of George Floyd was a big driver in terms of a strong personal connection around the issue. 

“I felt I really needed to educate myself and get key messages out. We talk about diversity and inclusion, but what does that actually mean? We need to understand more than just the numbers and any physical differences. 

“No one is just a woman or just black or just gay. They are an amalgam of things. The experience of a black woman my age is going to be very different to mine. As an industry, we love to measure stuff and there is a temptation to just think about the numbers, but it is much more subtle than that.”  

There is work to do around the LGBTQ+ community, as the survey found some were still not comfortable being open about their sexuality.  

More education and awareness were also highlighted within a separate survey by Pride In Energy, which found 35% of respondents had either witnessed or experienced discrimination around either gender identity or sexual orientation in the last year, as well as a feeling that more inclusivity was needed generally. 

Joshua Atkins, chair of Pride In Energy, said improvements were needed to help with attracting employees. 

“If you are recruiting from millennials and Generation Z, they expect their employers to have certain work cultures in place and conditions in which they would want to work. Quite apart from the business imperative, promoting diversity and inclusion is the right thing to do.”  

Josh Atkins. Credit Pride In Energy

While it is tempting to use ED&I as a stick to beat the industry with, a lot of good work is happening. Joshua highlighted two examples: The National Grid has a Responsible Business Charter with public and transparent targets around recruitment, progression, and leaver rates, and ensuring 50% diversity in its senior leadership team and new recruits by 2025. 

Electricity North West is doing large amounts of community engagement, including working with mosques and other religious communities to encourage people from those groups to join the business. It also has clear targets around diverse talent, inclusive leadership, belonging and community partnership. 

So, what is next? A number of initiatives are being implemented and delivered. 

As a starting point, EEEGR is planning a series of events to encourage female students to consider a career within the energy sector. 

Gemma said: “We hope that by working with industry to put on accessible events, we can effectively highlight the opportunities and progression prospects within industry to make it more appealing to all.  

“We will also help our members achieve their ED&I targets by leading by example, starting by giving our team members the training to recognise where ED&I factors may be negatively impacting business. We strongly believe that increased awareness and education will not only impact our organisation but also our members. We will push for education on these issues and positive changes across our communication platforms.”  

Pride In Energy is aiming to build its reach and work over the next six months, continuing to help with signposting people to organisations for further advice, and building its public profile in person, pandemic permitting. 

Key Survey Findings. Credit OGUK

Meanwhile, OGUK is planning a survey for employers to gather more data and develop more resources for both individuals and organisations to use via a new hub of content. 

Alix said: “Another thing which is important is creating allies in the workplace, how to be one and why they are important. It is about making sure you do not stand by quietly if you see something that is different. If you are male, went to private school and university, your experiences can be very different to a colleague.”  

Looking further ahead, they are also keen to get reports on the ED&I progress within organisations and look at how they can ensure their promotion and recruitment processes are as inclusive as possible. 

Overall, Alix believes it is a crucial factor in motivating and retaining a workforce. 

“We need to be seen as an industry that values diversity and inclusion, particularly inclusion. Young people set great store by it. Quite frankly, inclusion also makes an organisation more interesting. 

“Our organisation is diverse. To give an example, one of our Muslim colleagues spoke about Ramadan and asked if we could try not to schedule meetings at four in the afternoon as they have not drunk water or eaten. These are the kinds of conversations which will lead to a more inclusive workplace.”  


Further information  

You can read the full OGUK report here

Find out more about Pride In Energy and subscribe to its mailing list here

You can also follow them on Twitter @PrideInEnergy

EEEGR has written an ED&I pledge to drive a more positive workplace for its team and members. You can read the pledge via its website at