An Energy Sector in Transition
How Diversity and Inclusion Will Meet the Challenges
The North American resource sector is a vital contributor to economic growth. It touches all our lives, whether we realize it or not. The resource sector is the incubator providing the necessities of modern-day life.
“For every one percent increase in GDP, resource usage has risen, on average, 0.4 percent,” according to analysis by information technology services and consulting company Accenture in a paper titled Circular Advantage.
“This is not sustainable,” writes Adriana Begeer in the firm’s blog. She is a senior manager and supply chain operations lead for the resources industry at Accenture. “The current rate of resource use exceeds the ability of the earth to replenish these sources. We’ll consume three planets’ worth of resources by 2050 based on the current pace.”
Taking a look at the high-growth energy sector, diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategies have increasingly been adopted to increase both financial performance and innovation, as innovation is a crucial component in dealing with depleting resources and ensuring the resilience of the sector.
D&I are two concepts that are interconnected but not necessarily interchangeable. Diversity can be defined as the spectrum of innate human experiences resulting from race, gender, age, social class or religious and ethnic values, for example. The concept of valuing diversity began in North America in the mid-1960s and became adopted worldwide soon after.
Inclusion pertains to empowering, involving, and recognizing the dignity of all people. It is about promoting and sustaining that sense of belonging by respecting one’s values, beliefs, talents, and cultures. A focus on diversity cannot negate the importance of inclusion. Once a diverse staff has been hired, inclusion makes them feel welcome and retains talent.
Historically, women and ethnic minorities have not been proportionally represented in the energy industries such as oil, gas, and renewable energy. For this reason governments, industry associations, and energy companies are actively adopting D&I strategies to ensure that those who want to work in the energy industry can take advantage of equal opportunities to pursue their ambitions.
According to a survey conducted by technology company Diversio for Equal by30, there is still work to be done. “Women account for 32 percent of the energy sector while racial and ethnic minorities account for 22 percent, with Black and Latinx individuals underrepresented compared to population,” said the report.
D&I must become a priority for the energy sector to be able to meet the demands placed on energy resources and optimize human capital.
Another study by the Energy Workforce & Technology Council in collaboration with research partner Accenture states, that there have been some improvements. “The share of women in U.S. oil and gas workforce rose to 19 percent in 2021 from 16 percent in 2018. Women are more equally distributed between business support and technical roles,” the study said, continuing, “Ethnic minority representation within the sector lags the overall U.S. workforce and faces similar challenges in representation when it comes to management and top leader roles.”
The council notes that D&I’s first goal is to both find and retain diverse and innovative talents while providing advancements in opportunities that would, in turn, enable resiliency in the energy sector workforce.
“As women and minorities left at larger rates than the overall U.S. workforce, this brings greater pressure on oil and gas companies pursuing inclusion and diversity goals, and that is a challenge,” said the council’s Chief Executive Officer Leslie Beyer to industry news platform OGV Energy. “Diversity will remain key to creating the new ideas that companies need to deliver a safe, affordable and sustainable low-carbon future.”
Heidi Lynne Kurter, senior contributor for Forbes, in her July 2020 article: 4 Ways To Create A More Diverse Workplace That Inspires Innovation, cited a Harvard Business Review report that indicated that companies focused on hiring, retaining, and developing diverse talent are more likely to surpass the competition. “This is because diversity brings together different cultures, races, genders, generations and backgrounds to provide new perspectives, ideas and solutions,” she noted.
To achieve more diversity, industry associations such as The Association of Women in Energy (AWE) have sprung up. AWE is devoted to, “helping women in the energy industry. AWE provides opportunities for women to meet other energy industry professionals and to enhance their knowledge of issues facing the industry. Our mission is to encourage and unite women in energy.”
Government programs are also doing their part. The Office of Minority Programs in the Energy Workforce Division located in Washington D.C., states that it, “supports entrepreneurship, innovation and job creation for diverse communities in the high-growth energy sector.” It adds that this support extends into the Department of Energy (DOE) and research opportunities. “These efforts directly support the Administration’s goals of job creation and increasing business opportunities for underrepresented communities… We work with our partners to develop tools, resources, and technical assistance opportunities to increase participation in the energy economy.”
The Energy Workforce Division’s initiative, Women in Energy, “aims to reduce knowledge gaps that prevent women from entering and/or advancing in the energy sector.” This initiative contains, “workforce development programs aimed at increasing access for women to enter into the energy field.”
The United States recognizes that remaining a leader in the global clean energy economy and garnering the knowledge to combat the challenges of climate change, requires attaining and securing a diverse talent pool.
For this reason, the Minorities in Energy Initiative was created by the U.S. energy department. This program, “will strive to ensure that our energy workforce more fully reflects the diversity and strengths of the country,” according to a September 2013 announcement on the Department of Energy’s website, which went on to say “Historically, minorities and women have been vastly underrepresented in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields that drive the energy sector… The Minorities in Energy Initiative collaborates to, “inspire underrepresented Americans to pursue careers in energy and supporting their advancement into leadership positions.” With regard to the program, Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz was noted as saying, “We can only be successful in achieving our energy goals if we are inclusive of America’s diverse communities.”
1977 saw the birth of the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE). The concept for the AABE arose from the mind of Clarke A. Watson from Denver, Colorado, who owned an energy-consulting firm, Watson Associates, a division of Westland Companies. The mission of the AABE, in part, is to, “serve as a resource for policy discussion of the economic, social and political impact of environmental and energy policies on African Americans and other minorities,” notes the AABE website.
Also noted is the encouragement for both the public and private sectors, “to be responsive to the problems, goals and aspirations of African Americans in energy-related fields and to, “encourage African American students to pursue careers in energy-related fields and to provide scholarships and other financial aid for such students.” The AABE annually awards more than $350,000 in scholarships “Each of our scholars has indicated an interest in pursuing an energy-related career,” the AABE site indicates.
In Canada’s energy sector, Indigenous peoples can play a role in the success of energy transition. Canada’s Indigenous Peoples are already stewards of the land, environment, and natural resources. “Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians see the value of greater Indigenous participation in Canada’s energy future and want to ensure that Indigenous communities benefit more directly from energy development,” states the Government of Canada’s Generation Energy Council Report.
The report goes on to note, “As part of this new relationship, Indigenous people must be included as partners in shaping Canada’s energy future,” further stating that this is an opportunity, “for Indigenous Peoples and communities to take their place at the table and help drive the evolution of Canada’s energy sector.”
A number of Indigenous-owned energy projects have become a reality, and 50-50 partnerships between renewable energy companies and First Nations across Canada have been established. “There are already an estimated 31 such projects underway or completed across Canada,” the Council reports.
The energy industry faces the challenge of both recruiting and retaining a diversified and inclusive workforce, so D&I will play a crucial role in recruiting the best talent to replace an ageing workforce. “The energy challenges of tomorrow require a diversity of perspectives to tackle global and local issues,” as the Columbia/SIPA Center on Global Energy Policy explains in a 2019 report titled The Nature of the Energy Industry Future Workforce Challenge, which stated further that, “Diverse workforces also promote the kind of creative solutions needed to solve 21st-century energy challenges.”
A more diverse and inclusive workforce has been proved to be more innovative, ensures retention and results in happier and more productive employees. Beth Bowen, managing director for the Americas at Brunel, stressed the importance of diversity in the company blog. “Embracing diversity will be vital for companies looking to manage the ongoing energy transition in the coming years… We must challenge ourselves and each other to pursue workplace diversity with renewed purpose in order to balance the representation of all cultures and voices and enable the industry to reach its full potential.”
For the past century, the North American energy sector has proven to be a substantial catalyst for industrial and economic growth as well as social development. Providing power through renewable resources rather than maintaining conventional technologies will be crucial to local economies in the future.
If for this reason alone, industries must value the role of minority workforce development in the transition toward sustainable energy. Diverse talents will be the ultimate solution in realizing this new age of energy use and resources.