The oil and gas industry needs to be careful that Covid-19 doesn’t undo the large strides that have been made to address gender imbalances in recent years.
Sara Gilmore, a partner at legal firm Addleshaw Goddard specialising in regulated sectors, said that women’s careers are being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
She also said that some of the progress made in many sectors has already been lost.
Today is International Women’s Day, an annual event celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and calling for increased action to tackle gender inequality.
The theme for 2021 is ‘Choose to Challenge’, with people being encouraged to “call out gender bias” to help create an “inclusive world”.
A recent report by professional services giant PwC warned of a “shecession”, with forecasts that improvements for women in work could return to 2017 levels by the end of this year.
The Women in Work Index also revealed that in 17 of the 24 OECD countries that reported an overall increase in unemployment in 2020, women were the most affected.
Ms Gilmore said: “We have to think about the impact of Covid-19 on things like gender equality, how we can limit it and support those affected.
“There are some good things that have come out of the pandemic and new routines could suit women who want more flexible working. Hours are no longer so fixed and people are accepting of that.
“That’s a really positive change – it probably suits women more and we can build on that.
“Within oil and gas there certainly has been an improvement in diversity but it’s in certain roles. It’s good that women are increasingly in senior positions but different areas and countries are better than others.”
A number of leading oil and gas companies have made significant moves in recent years to address the gender imbalance but large disparities still remain.
Analysis of the top 80 UK firms carried out by PwC last year showed that only a fifth (21%) of board seats were taken by women, while more than a third (38%) of companies had no women on their boards at all.
There is cause to be optimistic though, with the decarbonisation agenda catching the imagination of the next generation, irrelevant of their gender.
Mr Gilmore said: “There are a few reasons that oil and gas has become more appealing to women. One is the push on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) but it’s also the understanding that there’s more to the sector than oil rigs.
“Companies are now looking at sustainability and green energy – that has a broader interest base.
“It’s amazing how much the decarbonisation agenda resonates with youngsters and that can only be a good thing in terms of encouraging women to look at the sector.
“But, it’s likely going to take longer than a generation for these imbalances to be addressed and it won’t be any one thing that solves it.”