Blog & News

Diversity & Inclusivity: Opinion Piece by Dr Watkins

Fri 29 March 2019

Category: Diversity & Inclusivity

Article by Dr. A.P. Watkins, Independent Consultant Geologist

Once upon a time and long ago, I was scoffed at because of my ‘monthly problems’ by the interviewer during a Graduate Interview. I had asked for the field job with the seismic crew, rather than the office-based position, and left feeling profoundly embarrassed.

Does gender and racial inequality exist in the Oil and Gas Industry? I have researched the facts and talked to female colleagues as well as reflect upon my own experiences. My female accomplices and I have enjoyed wholly rewarding careers, with equal prospects to those of our male counterparts along the way. We have noted an increasing number of females in the management hierarchy and haven’t hit our heads on the glass ceiling. As geoscientists in both operating and service companies, gender has been an entirely transparent, non-issue with our male colleagues, our managers, our peers. We have enjoyed a professional environment, working alongside considerate, inspiring people, in fascinating subjects, and I for one have learned a lot about cricket and was welcomed on the football team! However, for all the personal experiences outlined above, discrimination by gender (as well as by race/ethnicity and socio-economic background) exists in our Industry. It is a fact…

Women take up 22-27% of entry-level and 25% of mid-career roles in the O&G Industry and the proportion of females in technical rather than support roles is less (BCG, 2017). Should women expect equal representation in the O&G Industry when the proportion of female graduates with STEM degrees is 20 – 30% (Unesco, 2017)? There is a good correlation between female STEM graduates and the percentage of females in entry level O&G positions. No problem.

By the time they reach senior and executive-level however, women occupy only 17% of the positions (BCG, 2017). In a study of 80 O&G Companies women represent 13% of board members and only 6% of executive board members (Powerful Women, 2018). Only 1% of the industry’s CEOs are women. So gender inequality exists in our industry, particularly at higher levels. Attend any O&G conference and the male dominance of this industry is, to be frank, overwhelming.

There are nuances. There is indeed only a glass ceiling in some companies. The data for women in upper salary quartiles, or represented on boards, shows that the ratio of women: men varies tremendously between companies (Powerful Women, 2018). The majors have notably succeeded in achieving a better gender balance. I have worked in companies where I have been the only woman on a vast floor-full of male colleagues, and in companies where the ratio of women: men was 50:50.

Care is taken to brand prodiversity with images of women and racial/ethnic minority employees in company literature. Many corporations, in good faith, offer diversity training to better understand the ‘inherent differences’ between women and men. But recent research indicates there are no significant differences between male and female brains (Joel et al., 2015). Men really do have bigger brains than women (Davison Ankney, 1992), and women’s’ brains are four years younger than men’s (Goyal et al., 2019), but only a few intellectual and behavioural differences, such as higher physical aggression in men, have been borne out by scientific research (Ritchie et al., 2018).

Many of us have been ‘categorised’ by DiSC or Myers-Briggs personality tests. However, there is no empirical relationship between males, females and personality type. The distribution of personality type by gender is roughly equal. Leadership Training teaches communication between type-personalities and the equal value of the various behaviours for leadership potential. In this light, corporate diversity training may actually reify gender differences, teaching men and women that they have personality differences that suit them to different roles in the organisational hierarchy, with men cast as natural leaders and women as caring, supportive team players (Williams et al., 2015).

Company-scale discrepancies in the proportion of women may be accounted for by the variation in culture, values and ethos between Corporations. It is apparent that in some companies, dominant personality types (whilst only representing 3% of all the personality types) are preferentially selected for leadership roles in our driven, high performance, high-flying industry. We have all come across a few strong, forceful, sometimes overbearing colleagues along the way. I have been shouted at and have seen male managers shout at male managers. I have had men try to take over presentations, a male manager who directed all questions about my work to the man sitting next to me, and one man claim to have written my thesis. I suspect these incidents reflect their personalities, rather than gender bias.

Incidents of potential bias do exist. In hiring, I have been privy to questions of the age of a female and the likelihood of maternity leave. I have also come across possible socio-economic discrimination, a reticence to hire an outstanding young man who had come from a very different background to those interviewing him. Despite ranking 2nd, the third candidate was chosen for an oblique reason. In one merger, I was acutely aware that all female G&G / Res Eng. staff were let go from a gender-balanced team. None of the pregnant women or young mothers survived the take-over and all young female graduates were let go. Not so, the male graduates.

So, my question is, during this time of tremendous contraction and lay-offs, has our male-dominated O&G Industry reverted, subconsciously, ‘to type’, in retaining, hiring, white, well-educated males, and former male colleagues (the old boy’s network?) in preference to female counterparts? (See also Williams et al., 2017.)

Overall our industry should, could, might, probably won’t, counter subjective bias and actively increase gender, racial and socio-economic diversity to fully reflect the society in which we live and operate. As a society we must also aim to increase the percentage of female STEM graduates.

It all begins at home; how we raise our boys and girls; how we foster their attitudes to one another, and their attitudes to education and employment. Who do we provide as role models? We are responsible for encouraging our daughters of pre-school and school age to be confident, curious, observant and creative and to enjoy, not fear, maths and sciences. The key development, the ‘imprinting’ of young minds takes place in the pre-school years and little girls should be encouraged to think about more than just princesses and fluff. The current alarming pinkification of girls and objectification of women in our society suggests we are heading in the opposite direction. And, I wonder, if it weren’t for their daughters, do the men leading those particular companies with poorer gender balance care? Can they even hear the reason and the logic from their male and female colleagues? I suggest it all come down to personality, not gender.


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