The energy sector is facing unprecedented times as we see oil and gas companies expanding into renewables, as well as enhanced carbon capture for traditional fossil fuels. If there was ever a time we needed the best and brightest, it is now. However, college students are asking if joining a traditional power company is akin to joining the tobacco industry.
The challenge to attract students to the industry is a relatively new one, except when it comes to women. Women hold just 22% of jobs in the traditional energy sector, according to the International Energy Agency, even though they make up 39% of the global workforce.
Many of the problems faced by power companies are complex and not easily solved. Can more women in energy be the answer to these problems? There is no guarantee, but our chances as an industry are a lot better if we have more diversity of thought and ideas. We must push against the status quo. We need to challenge each other. Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, fight for the things that you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.
Diversity Leads to Greater Profitability
Diverse companies are more successful. I would like to think this message is common knowledge, but I keep finding it’s not. There are multiple studies on this topic. As one example, I’ll reference McKinsey & Co.’s report from 2019 showing companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile. That was up from 21% in 2017 and 15% in 2014.
The case for ethnic and cultural diversity is even more compelling. Top-quartile companies with regard to ethnic diversity outperformed those in the bottom quartile by 36% in profitability, up from 33% in 2017 and 35% in 2014. And yet, even with all this data, the pendulum has barely swung.
I’ve been in energy services my entire career and had gotten used to being the only woman in the room. It has been refreshing to join Sodexo, a company where the culture is steeped in leading-edge diversity, equity, and inclusion practices. I am now rarely the only woman in the room. It has been enlightening to receive diversity scorecards, sponsor employee business resource groups (we have nine, supporting and advocating for African Americans, Asians, Native Americans and Aboriginals, Latinos, women, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, veterans, and people of all ages), lead mentoring circles and to always be handed a diverse slate of candidates when filling a position.
Change Requires All-Hands Participation
What can companies do? Companies need to start holding leaders accountable for progress on diversity. As we all know, what gets measured gets done. I have seen in my own company how senior-level sponsorship and high employee engagement are critical to driving progress. At Sodexo, our bonus-eligible employees have part of their bonus tied specifically to completing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) training and activities. As a senior leader, a portion of my long-term incentive is tied to the company achieving 40% female representation in the Global Senior Leadership group by 2024.
What can employees do? Maybe you’re not the CEO or in a position to change compensation plans at your company. In hindsight, many of the things I receive by being part of a company that values DE&I did not need to be handed to me by my employer. I could have instituted it or demanded it myself. Any hiring manager can ask for a diverse slate. Everyone can assess the diversity of their own team and their teams’ teams.
A quick Google search will lead you to many articles on DE&I best practices you can adopt, but a few ideas include:
■ Lead Inclusively. Inclusion requires active, intentional, and ongoing efforts to promote the full participation and sense of belonging of every employee, client, and strategic partner. Even if you are not in a management role, you can still be a leader in inclusivity.
■ Coach, Mentor, and Sponsor. If you’re a senior leader, make an effort to get to know your diverse employees and find some you can actively sponsor. If you’re not a senior leader, you may struggle to be a sponsor, but there is always someone earlier in their journey whom you can coach or mentor. You can start a mentoring circle, and if you feel you need a senior leader, ask someone to lead it.
■ Seek Out Training for You or Your Team. Does your company currently require diversity training? If not, there are many great resources available. Start by opening team meetings with a diversity moment.
You don’t have to be the CEO to be a leader. Frankly, you don’t even have to be a manager to make a difference in your company. Grassroots efforts are often the most successful!
—Stephanie Hertzog is CEO of Energy and Resources for North America, and Head of Global Strategic Energy Accounts with Sodexo.