photo of couple cooking, Michael Bertolotti, Pixaby
Michael Bertolotti, Pixaby
Imagine trying to cook your Thanksgiving dinner this week without the power for your oven, stove or refrigerator. Imagine trying to host your family and friends without being able to turn the lights on.
The global economy and our everyday lives would come to a screeching halt without energy. Just ask the victims of hurricanes Maria, Harvey or Dorian. It’s also the sector that needs the most rapid innovation, especially as the planet reaches yet another record CO2 level.
Woman with wind turbine
Between climate change, the technology revolution, and the increased need for data analytics, robotics, and artificial intelligence, not to mention the development of a smarter electric grid, the energy sector is in the midst of its own revolution.
But it desperately needs to speed it up to transform from its traditional fossil fuel dominance to cleaner, safer and more reliable energy. Innovation – especially rapid innovation – requires new ideas, new solutions, new technologies and, therefore, new talent.
What drives innovation the most? Studies repeatedly show that it’s a diverse workforce, and yet, “There Are Fewer Women in Oil and Gas Than Almost Any Other Major Industry,1” the nonprofit research firm Catalyst wrote recently.
McKinsey reports that only 15 percent of employees in oil and gas are women. What’s more, only – wait for it – 1 percent of energy industry CEO’s are women. “What we found was that at a time when the need for new types of talent is great and the competition for it intense, O&G companies are failing to retain many of the comparatively few women they attract in the first place… Half of the 250 O&G companies we surveyed don’t have a single woman in top management; another third have only one. This low female participation has real consequences… (C)ompanies in the top quartile for women leaders are 15 percent more likely to have above-industry average financial returns.”
What will it take to get many more women in energy, especially in leadership?
Screen shot of Joan Michelson article in TheAtlantic on women in energy
I’ve been writing about this pernicious issue for years, and see a glimmer of light with the recent appointments of Susan Dio as chair and president of BP America, and Gretchen Watkins as president and US chair at Shell. But how to ramp it up?
For an insider’s perspective, I spoke with Katie Mehnert, who founded Pink Petro after 20 years in the industry to dramatically shift it from its historic white male-wildcatter roots to one that more closely resembles the population it serves today.
HOUSTON, TX – SEPTEMBER 03: Floodwaters surround homes on September 3, 2017 in Houston, Texas. A … [+]
2017 Getty Images
For Mehnert and her Houston neighbors it’s personal. Like thousands of other Houstonians, her house and business were washed away by Hurricane Harvey.
Here are six ideas from our conversation:
Katie Mehnert at oil and gas drilling event
- Safety and diversity go hand-in-hand: “The companies that care about diversity, sustainability, climate and safety are the companies that are going to win when it comes to the war for talent,” Mehnert told me.
- “Your biggest challenge is your biggest opportunity.” Mehnert said, adding, “get people into the system so they can change the culture and the industry to clean energy.”
- “Companies need to look at the whole family…to make it easier for women to move up,” Mehnert insisted, because the more the workplace accommodates the changes to the modern family unit and people’s increasing focus on work-life management, the more women will be likely to join and stay in the industry.
- Investors’ intense focus on environment, social and governance issues (ESG) are focusing energy leadership more on these issues and, thereby, driving concerted efforts for meaningful change and looking for accountability.
- Women are key to cleaning up the industry. “Women absolutely need to be a part of our energy transformation: “Women are fired up, quite literally, about climate and sustainability,” Mehnert said, “and women have a tendency to care just a tad bit more about these issues than men….We are waking up and realizing this is something we need to do.”
- Hire the outliers, as I wrote in an earlier Forbes blog. Women and innovative people tend to approach careers differently, so they have unusual résumés that are more often than not screened out by traditional recruiting systems. So, if you’re serious about wanting new talent that bring in new ideas, then, when you’re hiring or looking to promote someone, don’t limit yourself to the traditional energy sector résumé.
If you want to drive innovation in the energy sector (or any sector), hire and promote people who think differently – women.
It’s a win-win-win-win: for your company’s bottom line, for the economy, for the women, and for a cleaner, safer planet.