Louise Bancroft is Group HR Director at Airswift and Jenny Amalfi, Director of Learning & Development. Airswift is a global workforce solutions provider which has 800 employees in over 60 offices worldwide, works with 7,000 contractors and has a candidate database of 750,000 people. Airswift recently announced a merger with Competentia (click here for details).
Progress isn’t made in an echo chamber; great minds think differently. The more voices, perspectives and backgrounds that are present and vocal in your business, the stronger your platform for innovation becomes. But when it comes to building a rich business culture, the energy sector is behind the curve. Women make up just 22% of the labour force, while only 1 in 10 professionals are non-white. How do we make sure cognitive diversity is driving the energy transition, and that organisations are including a broad spectrum of employees in their conversations?
More than a tick-the-box exercise
Diversity has been on the energy sector’s improvement agenda for some years now, but 2020 made it a front-line issue. Industry giants were outspoken in their response to economic, social and political events; BP, Chevron, Exxon and Shell were among those who made publicly available statements following the death of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Others, including Siemens Gamesa and Wood – even launched new diversity, equality and inclusion (DE&I) plans.
To make sure diversity drives positive change, and shapes innovative business areas like the advancement of more sustainable energy technologies, DE&I initiatives need to be more than a tick-the-box exercise. Energy companies have to be accountable for real cultural change. So how do we do this?
Building flexibility and opportunity into company frameworks
Firstly, the practical conditions need to be in place to help people succeed. Gender imbalance is a prime example of this.
The energy industry involves a lot of rotational jobs, long hours, field work and travel. These favour men, because women traditionally take on more of the childcare; ONS figures in the UK show that 3 in 10 working mothers reduce their hours to look after the family, compared to 1 in 20 men. Therefore, there needs to be flexible working policies in place that allow women to thrive without having to compromise on family commitments.
In addition, men occupying skilled positions are often of white, western origin – even in international territories. While exporting energy talent is vital to expanding operations, focus must also be given to build and upskill local talent. This is a requirement in many countries now as local people are often closest to the issues that organisations are trying to tackle. Lower income communities of colour, for example, are more likely to be exposed to higher levels of air pollution, and can offer a unique perspective on how to drive clean energy innovation and uptake.
However, even in regions with nationalisation laws, communities have limited access to education. Energy companies have an opportunity to think creatively, going beyond our existing recruitment networks to invest in global apprenticeship schemes that widen the talent net.
All that said, we are seeing the beginnings of a cultural shift; Airswift is part of PwC’s CEO Action for Racial Equity, which is looking at the wider systemic issues acting as barriers to diversity. Initial research has shown that community development and support play a huge part in getting people the right education, helping people from a diverse range of backgrounds progress further.
Creating a culture of inclusivity
The second area that needs improvement is internal culture. It’s easy to get caught up in the PR objective of “saying the right thing”, rather than focusing on true employee engagement and empowerment. However, it’s not about tapping into trends or putting people in a box based on their race, gender, physical ability or economic background; it’s about building a culture of inclusivity, where everybody’s contribution is valued and embraced. Driving the energy transition by considering new ideas and moving away from ‘groupthink’.
If we want to create more inclusive organisations, every single person in the energy sector needs to work on our unconscious biases.
Tackling bias starts in the recruitment process by removing gendered language from job adverts. Introducing blind CVs, with no racial or socio-economic indicators. Encouraging recruiters to talk about candidates’ skillsets, rather than where they were educated. Curating diverse interview panels. Offering job share opportunities and flexible hours. Equalising salaries. Focussing on people’s ability to do the job, and nothing else.
Next, we need to break down the barriers constricting professional development. Rather than having standardised hierarchies or trajectories, companies in the energy sector need to help employees create their own career path.
Cross-promoting skills and functions across the business is a very inclusive way to work, as it encourages diverse knowledge exchange. Opinions will be heard, and passions supported regardless of someone’s department or seniority, and people can move into new roles as their interests and skills develop, or their life circumstances change. Flexibility is directly linked with diversity, because it encourages people to take non-traditional routes that nurture their progress from entry-level roles to positions of leadership.
Encouraging conversation and collaboration
Finally, we need to continually monitor employee engagement and inclusion, to make sure that areas of weakness and inequality are addressed as soon as possible.
Business coaching programmes will encourage people to understand their own biases and behaviours in greater depth, and to work collaboratively with colleagues based on knowledge of their emotions and skillsets. We should all be striving for an environment where people can constructively challenge each other and encourage healthy discussion, because that will drive innovation in a fast-moving area like clean tech, for example.
It’s also important to survey employee engagement and benchmark people’s thoughts and feelings, tackling internal cultural issues that may be impacting inclusivity. For example, Airswift runs an annual Power of Diversity programme, and we introduced bystander training workshops off the back of employee feedback, to help team members intervene if they think a colleague is being undervalued or treated unfairly.
Also, energy companies need to gain meaningful insight when employees decide to move on. Building inclusivity questions into exit interviews helps us to ensure that diversity is a deeply embedded business value, not jumping on a cultural bandwagon – and exit surveys are the moment where people often give their most candid and truthful opinions.
Seeking continuous improvement
We’re slowly making progress in the energy sector, but after a difficult year in 2020, we need to make sure that COVID doesn’t cause us to slide backwards. Advocating for diversity is more than a website statement or hiring policy; to bring more voices into the energy transition conversation, we need to embed inclusivity at the heart of company culture.
Until there is more parity and inclusion across the industry, we need to keep pushing for higher standards. There’s no final destination in the diversity journey.
Instead, we seek continuous improvement, and the progress we make will hopefully create a virtuous circle: more people see others like themselves building a reputation in clean energy, then feel inspired to follow in their footsteps.
Listening to what everyone in your business has to say – even if it’s an opinion you’ve never considered before – can never be a bad thing. Remember there’s a strong relationship between employee engagement and performance. The greater sense of inclusion in your workforce, the happier people feel, and the brighter ideas they share. It’s a win for your organisation, as well as your employee.
And who knows; with the confidence to express their opinions, your next big decarbonisation breakthrough could come from an unexpected source.