Facing one of its worst crises in a generation, the oil industry is trying to open up – to women. Even when oil was selling at above $100 a barrel, most of the industry’s top executives said they struggled to find and retain young talent. Year after year, it was cited as one of the biggest problems for the industry – one of the best paying in the world – during annual gatherings of its top brass on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the Swiss Alpine resort of Davos.
But never the issue of gender inequality, which has also been a major topic for discussion at Davos for several years and is once again high on the agenda in 2016. “Men still run the world … I’m not sure it’s going that well,” Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, who has campaigned for greater equality, told a WEF panel on Wednesday. As the oil industry’s gloss is fading further with a collapse of oil prices to the lowest levels in more than a decade, executives realise something needs to change to widen the talent pool.
The oil and gas industry has the lowest representation of female professionals among all employers and ranks below technology, according to documents prepared for the executives at Davos this week and seen by Reuters. Among oil companies there are no women at CEO level and only 7-11 percent are women at board and senior executive levels. “Almost every country in the world has less than five percent of its top companies run by women, including the United States and every country in Europe,” Facebook’s Sandberg said.
“That means we are not using the full talents of the population, that means when it comes to making the decisions that are impacting our world, women are not at those tables where decisions are made.” The Davos energy governors, who include the heads of companies such as BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Eni and Total, will be working on a first declaration of intent to close the gender gap, according to the documents.
It will also set out principles to encourage women to join oil companies, especially in technical and managerial roles. The principles will range from making CEOs personally responsible for achieving gender diversity to supporting women during the early years of science, technology or engineering studies, where boys traditionally dominate, according to the documents. But they add that a negative perception might keep spooking talent in general – with the oil industry generally perceived as “a sunset industry with little job security and huge market fluctuations”.