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How women can help fill the oil and gas industry’s talent gap - part two

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In the second part of this two-part article, Kassia Yanosek, Sana Ahmad and Dionne Abramson, McKinsey, offer their thoughts on what both individual companies and the industry as a whole can do to increase female participation. The first part of this article is available to read here.

What companies can do

As the industry undergoes rapid change, including the need to incorporate new skills in advanced analytics, machine learning, and robotics, there is great potential to both increase female participation and to realise its benefits.

Each company needs to understand the specific reasons for fall-offs in female participation, and then create specific solutions to address them. That said, we have found that three inflection points are widely relevant: at the entry level (and before) and at the first and second promotion hurdles discussed above. We have also identified initiatives that could pay off at each point.

Entry- and pre-entry level: Recruiting the talent of the future

Build a persuasive narrative. Given widespread public interest in renewable energies and concern about the role of fossil fuels in climate change, O&G companies have an uphill battle in making the case for their industry. How can they attract talented people to what is increasingly perceived as a “dirty” industry? Companies need to articulate a positive narrative to graduates and entry-level hires on how the sector can promote economic development and help manage the transition to the energy system of the future.

Identify what degrees and skills are needed and aggressively recruit new and recent female graduates in these fields. As the data and technical needs of the industry evolve, many companies need to retool the profiles of their target entry-level candidates. In short, not everyone needs to be a petroleum engineer or geologist. Expanding the range of new-hire profiles will create a deeper pool of candidates. As a result, companies may have more success attracting women from other STEM fields where they often have a higher representation relative to fields specifically allied to O&G. For example, women comprise only 14 percent of mechanical engineering graduates but make up 21 percent of computer science majors and 47% of chemistry majors.

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The first promotion hurdle: Rising into management

Evaluate whether remote assignments are critical for early promotions. To retain more young women, and indeed to provide more flexibility to everyone, companies may want to consider developing alternative career paths that do not require moving to remote environments. This may not be possible for some subsectors, such as oil-field services, but it fits in well with broader changes to industry operating models that are already occurring. For example, several companies are rethinking what activities can and should be centralised; there are also more ways to monitor operations remotely. Being physically present in the field may no longer need to be a rite of passage for everyone.

Ensure that the slate of male/female candidates considered for early promotion is representative of the employment pool. This is one way to protect against unintended bias. Research has found that in companies that have adopted these practices, more women get promoted.

Create and communicate to young workers the possibility of flexible career paths. Developing such pathways will benefit both men and women, but women probably a bit more, setting them up for future success. Consider creating clear career paths that allow people to step out of operational or frontline roles depending on their personal circumstances. If young workers can see a way to balance career and family, they may be more likely to want to stay. At the same time, however, women must be sure not to take extended “detours” off track that will hurt their chances for more senior promotions later.

Provide early-tenure women access to female role models. Seeing women succeed is encouraging in itself. These relationships could result in women sponsoring other women, helping them navigate opportunities and advancement in their companies.

The second promotion hurdle: Rising into senior management

Communicate clearly to women at every level what it takes to advance. For instance, if long stints in operational roles are a requisite for top jobs, companies should encourage women, helping them to take these positions. Only then will there be a pool of experienced women candidates with the credentials to rise to senior executive positions.

Analyse the history of senior promotions and link female sponsorship programs to succession-planning processes. Companies that have struggled with attracting, retaining, and advancing senior women should assess what happened in specific cases, and what can be done to better groom talented women. Based on what they have learned, companies can build tailored sponsorship programs for high-potential women. This may be particularly useful for women in operational roles, where the challenges of advancement are the highest.

Consider rethinking the approach to building top-level executive teams. Research indicates that having a significant number of women on senior executive teams can improve decision making. Having women on board brings in different cognitive styles, which helps to improve creativity and problem solving. In addition to such prerequisites as breadth of experience and on-the-job performance, companies can consider the value of incorporating diverse leadership qualities as a consideration in senior promotions.

What the industry can do

Industry-wide change will require industry-wide action. Companies need to come together to collectively develop, implement, and communicate progress. Here are some areas to consider.

Lead the leaders. Educate top executives, board members, and shareholders on the value of hiring and promoting more women.

Create leading performance indicators that companies can adopt. These should be focused on inputs that can help improve the advancement of women rather than outcomes. Examples could include percentage of managers who have undergone unconscious bias training; or whether internal-hiring recruiters consider proportional slates of men and women candidates; or the prevalence and scale of women-oriented sponsorship programmes.

Encourage companies to voluntarily adopt and publish scorecards. Managers are trained to manage numbers. Knowing where and how women are advancing creates useful transparency. It may also encourage healthy competition among companies to do better.

Compile a playbook of industry-standard best practices to showcase examples of progress.

About the authors

Kassia Yanosek is a partner in McKinsey’s Houston office, where Sana Ahmad is an associate partner; Dionne Abramson is global director of external affairs in McKinsey’s Luxembourg office.

The first part of this article is available to read here.

Copyright (c) 2019 McKinsey & Company. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

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