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Diversity in oil & gas. A lot has changed but it can’t stop here

Paula Holland is an Audit Director at KPMG in Aberdeen
Paula Holland is an Audit Director at KPMG in Aberdeen

There may be many ways to answer the question, ‘When did it all begin for the UKCS?’ but for the sake of argument, let’s start with the discovery of the Brent field back in 1971.

At that time, initial legislation to create equal pay was in its infancy, the female employment rate was 53%, compared to around 71% today, and it would be another 25 years before we’d see a female CEO of a FTSE company.

In its development, the North Sea created a vibrant industry that drives the heart of this most local of cities and yet impacts every person on the planet. The fact that the energy sector is global provides endless opportunities for broadening your horizons – and ensures it’s an industry that never gets dull. North Sea conditions and the spectacular increases in output from the US shale revolution, have driven technological change and collaboration. Aberdeen’s ability to embrace change and uncertainty – particularly right now, as pressure mounts to transition the global energy mix to a lower carbon model – ensures that the sector will forever be fascinating.

But, perhaps one aspect of a change for which oil and gas has a less than impressive reputation is it’s generally weak statistics on diversity. Women make up only 19% of the energy industry globally and that percentage falls by more than half when it comes to the higher paid technical and executive roles.

Whilst the current numbers make for sobering reading, unlike back in 1971, diversity is genuinely a top priority for many oil and gas companies. The huge economic advantages of diverse teams are well known (companies in the top quartile for diversity are more likely to have performance above the national industry medians) and locally it’s part of the solution to the skill-shortage and exodus from the industry, caused by the recent downturn. Success in driving change will build a stronger pipeline of leaders who will drive the innovation in thinking and behaviours that the UKCS needs to weather future storms.

Responsibility to create an environment where all employees are empowered to progress in their careers lies with every one of us. At grass roots, it’s about supporting STEM initiatives in our local schools and universities. In the workplace, it’s about creating level playing fields, developing mentoring and coaching programmes, and challenging our own established preconceptions in recruitment and promotions.

This is truly an exciting time to be part of an industry undergoing significant change. We are embarking on an unprecedented transformation; reducing costs, embracing technology and transitioning towards decarbonisation, and we need the best and brightest talent to do this. I’m hopeful that the messaging we are driving from the very top will be one of the keys that unlock all the possible, diverse talent out there – for the city’s future.

Paula Holland is an Audit Director at KPMG in Aberdeen

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