By Patricia Tiller, Partner, Andrews Kurth (Middle East) DMCC
Over the past decade, the energy industry has witnessed a noticeable increase in the number of women in the sector workforce. Several energy companies now boast female CEOs, including traditional exploration and production companies such as Occidental Petroleum and OMV Petrom; and broader energy sector companies such as Engie, Lockheed Martin, Sempra Energy and Duke Energy. There is no doubt that women have made important gains in the industry.
Global statistics on women in energy are often hard to find, inconsistent or incomplete. Unquestionably though, the overall percentage of women in the energy sector, particularly at executive levels, remains low.
Closing the Gender Gap
While there are clear efforts to attract more women into the energy sector and to overcome barriers evident in the industry, more needs to be done to encourage and maintain a female workforce.
Many energy companies have implemented policies to recruit more women, and to adapt the workplace environment to attracting and maintaining senior female staff. Progressive, energy-rich countries such as Norway are driving change by requiring that a minimum percentage of executives and board level management must be women. While the “quota” versus “merit” based approach is not favored by all in the industry, the results speak for themselves.
Creating enabling environments for women and providing access to female role models are important strategies to foster the development of women’s careers. Likewise, adequate work-life balance arrangements (for both women and men) are a fundamental requirement to advance women’s careers to senior levels.
A major motivator for recruiting and retaining women in the energy industry is access to a wider pool of talent. Prior to the sharp fall in the oil price, the energy industry was experiencing almost unprecedented labor costs due to a shortage in supply of key personnel. Even with a downturn in the industry, a whole generation of experienced engineers is expected to retire over the next 10 years, resulting in global challenges for staffing. Increasing the number of qualified candidates will have long term cost saving implications for the industry.
Likewise, there is increased evidence and recognition that gender balanced and diverse management teams at all levels produce positive business outcomes. () It is no secret that men and women approach business differently – the correlation between diverse thinking and broader solutions to problems is clear. A recent McKinsey & Company study suggests that if women enjoyed the same economic opportunities as men (colloquially known as “the full potential scenario”), then the Middle East North Africa region would gain $2.7 trillion by 2025.() There is general agreement that the involvement of women in leadership positions is an important driver of organizational effectiveness().
The Missing Piece
So why do women remain under-represented in the energy industry?
Despite several energy companies taking steps to actively recruit women and to make the workplace more hospitable for female employees, more efforts will need to be made by both governments and the industry before we witness a significant change in the number of women in the energy sector. The perception from many women remains that careers in the energy industry are dangerous, and would require them to work away from home.
The application of new technologies to the energy sector may be the missing piece needed for greater diversification. Firstly, the use of advanced technology in the field may mean that the “cowboy,” “man camp” world of oil and gas exploration is no longer the domain of men alone. Increased safety on site and greater ability to perform tasks remotely (for example, the use of drones for storage tank inspections) mean that the stereotypical barriers to women working in the field may no longer exist. Early experience in the field has long been part of the route to the top, and new advances in technology may mean that women will now been able to follow the same career path as their male counterparts.
The Middle East Perspective
Women in energy in the Middle East have the added hurdle of a generally male dominated business environment. Globally, the Middle East has the lowest representation of women in management and leadership positions.() The problem begins with lower participation rates of women in the region, and is exacerbated by the typical “glass ceiling” and “sticky floors” obstacles present in other markets. The Middle East workforce demonstrates a particularly sharp decline in female participation rates with age, meaning that the number of experienced women in higher management positions is especially low.
Gender biased legislation as well as limited access to networking are some of the barriers that women in the Middle East will need to overcome in order to pursue successful careers in the energy industry. Cultural expectations regarding family care responsibilities are also a key barrier to career advancement.
However, it is encouraging to note that, following similar global trends, an increasing number of women in the Middle East have positioned themselves at more prominent business and management levels. This is particularly true in national oil companies and government or quasi-state owned authorities. Nonetheless, the full potential of women in the Middle East remains underutilized.
It is difficult to quantify the value that an increased representation of women can bring to the energy industry, but the general consensus is that the future for women in energy remains bright. After attending the 2016 Women in Energy sessions at the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference (ADIPEC) and the Egypt Oil and Gas People Development Roundtable in December 2016, where representation by women was high, I am encouraged by the enthusiasm of women wanting to succeed in the energy industry.
This years’ Egypt Petroleum Show will provide women with the opportunity to showcase their talents, and inspire constructive discussions on how to achieve merit-based gender equality at all levels.
() International Labor Organization, Regional Office for Arab States. 2016. ‹Women in Business and Management: Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and North Africa.›
() McKinsey and Company. September 2015. ‘The Power of Parity: How Advancing Women’s Equality Can Add $12 Trillion to Global Growth.’
() McKinsey and Company. 2014. ‘GCC Women in Leadership – From the First to the Norm.’