Diversity And Inclusion Good For Business, Women In Energy Told

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As a minority — a woman — who has worked in the oil and gas industry and in northern Canada with other minority groups, Chevron Canada Resources employee Jennifer Wyatt can testify to the value of a diverse workforce.

“I have seen time and time and time again … that you do get your best teamwork and you do get your best results from having diversity  — different mindsets, different people, different ethnicities, just different perspectives,” she told a Women in Energy conference panel session on diversity and inclusion.

There is a business case for D&I, said Wyatt, a policy and regulatory advisor. However, it comes about because people realize that “you really, really do build more welcoming and inviting teams for companies when you make it a comfortable place for everyone — not just gender but ethnicities, orientations — everyone has a place.” 

If companies are not trying to create a place where everyone can feel they are contributing, they will lose them, warned Alicia Bjarnason, a geoscientist and the founder of the Women's Workplace Improvement Network. “We will lose those creative minds and the downtime and cost to your company to find someone and get them up to speed is huge,” she said.

“It’s not just about creating this space for people but it’s important for the company too because that down time is going to cost you and for smaller companies this could make or break them,” said Bjarnason, who also is co-host of the (Ex) clusion podcast. A study found that the average cost of replacing an entry level employee is about 40 per cent of their annual salary while that increases to 150 per cent for mid-level employees and up to 400 per cent for specialized high level employees, she said.

There’s also a need to make the energy industry an attractive place for young people who will be needed to replace an aging workforce, the conference heard. “Our competition is not each other, it’s competition with other industries,” said Bjarnason. “To create a creative, innovative space where people want to come and work, is beneficial to us not just as companies but to the greater industry.”  

Suncor

For its part, Suncor Energy Inc. has been doing a lot of work within the organization to increase the awareness and understanding of the impacts of unconscious bias for all of us and the impact it can have on people-related decisions, said Charlene Waugh, manager of inclusion and diversity.

The company also is doing a lot of work talking about psychological safety and it has become normal to talk about what that means, she added. A psychologically safe environment is one in which a person feels safe to speak up, she told the conference. For example, a working mother who wants to take her child to swimming lessons and readjust her hours to accommodate that feels she can share that.

A person also should feel they can show up at work as their authentic self and that they don’t have to hide parts of themselves if they are to fit into the organization. “And that’s across all spectrums.” Waugh said she especially hears that from employees who are members of the LGBTQ community who feel they can’t even hang a picture of their family or their loved one on the wall because they worry it will affect their careers. 

Suncor recently issued a parental leave guidebook for men and women and Waugh said she chuckles at the education that is taking place. One of the simple things it has done over the past 14 months is to create its first mother’s room where nursing mothers can go to pump their milk. “It’s a phenomenal thing to be at a senior leaders’ table with mostly men and talk to them about the importance of having a place where women can pump milk and those men are comfortable having that conversation. To me, that’s tremendous progress,” she said.

Chevron

At Chevron, a super-major, employees take their D&I directives from the top as the company’s chair and CEO sees diversity and inclusion as extremely important to him, said Wyatt. “We have seen a lot of the really strong HR [human resources] policies and initiatives stem from that over the years.” The company has a chief diversity officer who reports directly to the vice-president of HR and he has the mandate to look at how Chevron corporately looks at the D&I equation.

The company has a first-level employee network with 12 different networks. Every Chevron employee can pick one they either have an affinity for because of their own identity or one they want to be an ally for, such as the Pride group for members and allies of the LBGTQ+ community. “You can find your tribe essentially and find people who will have those conversations and find people you maybe have some commonality with,” she said.

Chevron also introduced the Men Advocating for Real Change (MARC) program in Canada about a year ago, said Jeff Dueck, Chevron Canada IT manager. It began with small gender specific teams meeting monthly for the first six months, simply talking about issues, before moving to mixed gender teams with the same format. “The awareness is going up and once people start being aware of conscious and unconscious bias, then we can really start making a change.”

In terms of making sure that the D&I conversation includes everybody, Suncor presented each of its vice-presidents with gender data in terms of representation and female leadership representation, said Waugh. “That drove awareness and drove buy-in and drove a conversation that led to creating action plans for each of our upstream and downstream and functions within the organization.”

Absence of I&D policies

However, many STEM companies don’t even have I&D policies, said Bjarnason. She has been involved in Women in APEGA which in 2018 received a three-year $350,000 federal Status of Women grant to examine workplace barriers facing female engineering and geoscience professionals. The group approached 70 medium to large companies with the idea it would sit down with them, look at their policies, see where the gaps were and help them along the way.  

However, of the 70, only 11 had I&D policies, she said. “That means the rest of these smaller STEM companies either didn’t have an HR department or they had one full [time] female engineer they had given this to as an extra project.”

Bjarnason said the group was shocked at its finding that for so many companies “this isn’t even possibly what they are worried about yet.” And that also raises the concern about where women go if they experience sexual harassment in the workplace, she said. “This is kind of critical if we have people working within our industry and they are not being protected and they don’t have a safe place to go and talk to, it’s not good.”

Women attending the conference could perhaps go back to their companies to explore the situation in their companies, said Erin Thorp, the moderator and director of leadership development at CANA Ltd. “We do take it for granted that somebody’s looking after that but maybe they aren’t.”

But how is success at inclusion and diversity measured?

For Chantal Cabaj, a partner and government advisor with consultancy National Growth Partners, a useful measure is the number of women on corporate boards of directors.  

“It’s applicable to every industry and it’s a kind of a good token, regardless of your path or background, because it speaks to a leadership journey,” she said. “Regardless of your professional background or what you aspire to, women on boards represents women being successful at leadership.”

In Canada and Alberta, “it’s improvement but glacial improvement,” said Cabaj, the founder and president of DirectHER Network whose group seeks to empower Alberta women with the knowledge and confidence to serve as board directors.  The percentage of women on TSX-listed companies increased to 14 per cent in 2019 from 12 per cent in 2018 so “there’s room to grow,” she suggested. “There’s lots of opportunity.”