Global oil & gas sector struggles with advancing diversity agenda

02 October 2023

In the evolving landscape of the oil and gas industry, gender equality continues to pose a persistent challenge. New research underscores the industry’s slow progress, revealing that the average percentage of women has only increased very slightly over the past three years.

Women represent a mere 23% of the oil and gas industry, one of the lowest inclusion rates of any major industry. That is according to a recent report from Boston Consulting Group, which analyzed diversity and inclusion in the industry and found lower levels of female representation in higher up roles in companies.

This places the oil and gas sector among the least inclusive for women, second only to construction, where gender representation is at 14%. While there has been a modest increase in female presence at entry-level positions, climbing from 25% to 27%, that percentage is only 20% at senior levels.

Global oil & gas sector struggles with advancing diversity agenda

When it comes to fostering gender diversity within their ranks, energy companies across the Asia Pacific region lead the way, with 27% average representation of women in their workforce. Central and South America closely trail behind at 26%, North America maintains 25%, while the Middle East and Africa at 20%.

BCG's survey indicates that a remarkable 93% of energy companies have put anti-sexual harassment policies in place, while 91% have anti-discrimination policies firmly established.

Several factors contribute to this discrepancy, including stricter industry regulations that stimulate diversity and inclusion efforts and a greater degree of location flexibility, especially when compared to the often-relocating nature of the oil and gas industry.

Global oil & gas sector struggles with advancing diversity agenda

The report identified four critical diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives closely linked to increased representation of women in senior leadership positions. These initiatives encompass a better work-life balance, equitable promotion practices, visible commitment from senior leadership, and targeted recruiting efforts.

“We use the term ‘Untapped Reserves' to remind leaders that, like undeveloped energy sources, women and other underrepresented groups represent an enormous potential resource,” the report notes.

The participation of women and other underrepresented groups in the industry can be particularly fruitful where the energy transition is concerned, precisely because new voices can be essential in finding a new way forward into uncharted territory.

“We are adapting with the energy transition. As a result, we will need more diverse voices at the table to drive innovation and keep a competitive edge,” said Lauren Morishita, director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Enbridge, a North American pipeline and energy company.

Global oil & gas sector struggles with advancing diversity agenda

"Time and time again, our experience shows that diverse teams provide a rich seam of perspectives, experiences, and talent. Inclusivity creates a safe environment for sharing ideas, for problem-solving, and for innovation,” said Whitney Hughes-Plummer, a partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group.

“Now, more than ever, innovation is crucial to the oil & gas sector, faced with the challenges of the energy transition and of the trilemma around energy sustainability, affordability, and security. By investing in diversity, equity, and inclusion, we are investing in innovation,” she added.

Recent reports have directed increasing criticism towards oil & gas companies for using progressive issues as cover for the damage they do to the environment, with greenwashing or superficial diversity initiatives serving as a diversion away from the consequences of burning fossil fuels in the context of the ongoing climate crisis. Some researchers have dubbed this phenomenon ‘wokewashing’.