Safety lessons for diversity

AUSTRALIA’S oil patch can overcome its “diversity problem” by taking the same approach as it did to overhaul its safety reputation in the wake of the Montara and Macondo disasters, senior Shell and Clough executives told APPEA 2017.

Safety lessons for diversity Clough CEO Peter Bennett.

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Women were present at top levels of APPEA 2017, with event organiser Julie Hood being given a lifetime achievement award for her 17 years of service and Deloitte's Australian oil and gas lead Bernadette Cullinane leading collaboration discussions, among other industry leaders prominent at the conference.
 
Cullinane presented a major decommissioning paper at APPEA with University of Western Australia Professor Susan Gourvenec of the Centre for Offshore Foundation Systems and Oceans Institute.
 
The organising committees of this year's AOG forum in Perth in February were also stacked with women.
 
This would appear to back up the claim made to Energy News last year by LNG18 director Barbara Jinks that gender diversity debates are "so last decade".
 
Jinks is a 32-year industry veteran who has worked for Woodside Petroleum, BHP Billiton, BP, Santos and Shell.
 
She told Energy News that "women are actually integral and in quite good numbers in the gas industry", and shunned calls at that conference by former Shell Australia chief Ann Pickard for quotas at the graduate intake level.
 
Jinks said LNG18's policy was that "we don't pick women just because they're women", but encouraged sponsors to throw up a senior female executive to talk if one was available.
 
BHP Billiton petroleum general manager Australia Graham Scotland appeared on APPEA 2017's diversity panel fleshing out the hows and whys of its 50% gender diversity balance target by 2025, which it set last year.
 
However, Clough CEO Peter Bennett told Energy News that while targets were necessary to ensure his company was at the forefront of people's minds, he favoured the approach revealed to Energy News in 2014 by Perth-based Women in Oil & Gas founder, Chevron Corporation's Veena Mendez, to treat the issue as a business imperative.

 

Clough struggles

 
Bennett was the first to admit that Clough was just at the start of its gender diversity journey.
 
"We as an industry recognise we have a problem. We don't have diversity really at the point it needs to be, and at Clough we're just at the start of that journey, with a 17% ratio of females, which is similar to others," he told Energy News.
 
He said that while Clough has almost 100% females in its HR and finance organisations, in some of the other function areas those numbers "deteriorates rapidly".
 
"So part of what we need to do is educate the potential workforce a lot earlier around the construction industry, by utilising programs that help communicate at the school level about the opportunities it offers and why it has appeal across a diverse range of individuals," he said.
 
He said initiatives such as like accommodating a work week schedule to allow people with young children to handle school drop-offs and pick-ups and installing mothers' rooms in the office were easy to accommodate.
 

Persuasive argument

 
The industry has just recently taken the big step in tackling diversity due to the growing body of research around benefits to the bottom line.
 
Companies in the top quartile for diversity in the UK have been found to be about 15%  more likely to have financial returns above the national average, and they see a 2.5% increase in earnings for every 10% increase in gender diversity among their executive leadership team.
 
"That's the mental shift people need to make - moving from just trying to boost diversity to meet a target as opposed to trying to achieve that to improve your business," Bennett told Energy News.
 
He said that industry needed to stop hiding behind the defence that there simply aren't enough women to choose from in the talent pool which, while "fundamentally true, we need to do something about it rather than just using it as an excuse".
 
"There are a lot of female engineers nationally, they just don't necessarily see the construction industry as an attractive place to be," Bennett said.
 
Rightly or wrongly, Bennett said construction still had a "chauvinistic reputation", with stereotypes pervading that it was all about dirt, the outdoors and male bonding. This can be overcome by better explaining the innovation industry drives, the roles people play and the careers that can be gained, he said.
 
Both Bennett and Shell Australia's general manager of the Crux project, Michael Schoch - who was named Champion of the 2016 Women in Resources National Awards - on the APPEA 2017 diversity panel both drew on the analogy with the safety revolution industry has recently undergone.
 
"It wasn't that long ago that the safety performance in our construction industry was unacceptable, and there were all kinds of excuses why it was what it was, and that it wouldn't get much better," Bennett said.
 
"Cultural mindsets and embedded beliefs and all those things we always thoughts were too big a hurdle to overcome so we were always just going to have to accept that's where it's at.
 
"But industry pulled together and decided enough was enough and there literally has been a change in the safety culture within industry and individuals, and the improvements have been pretty striking.
 
"So like safety, we need to get management commitment behind it; we need to get past this mental block that there are cultural barriers in the industry that make it difficult to attract a diverse workforce."
 

Indigenous engagement

 
Bennett said that while Clough doesn't have all the answers yet, "we do know that if we don't do something different, it's never going to change" - and it's more than gender, indigenous engagement is also critically important.
 
Bennett quoted the insight of Kooya Australia Fleet Solutions CEO Kim Collard, an indigenous business owner with whom he works.
 
"Indigenous business are not looking for welfare, but an opportunity to participate, which is again where our industry is moving towards a better approach to engagement," Bennett said.
 
"If we continue to see commercial tenders that provide you very specific vendor lists that exclude those sorts of organisations, then you can't give them the chance to participate.
 
"So the whole industry needs to be likeminded in the way we approach diversity."

 

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