Diversity needs to be part of corporate culture: panel

Daniel MacEachern
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Macho-men ‘meatheads’ an endangered species not worth protecting, says presenter at diversity conference

Bernadette Gaiten of St. Mary's University said strong leadership is needed to change corporate culture, because preceptions of unfairness can be just as damaging as reality.

They’re called “safety moments” — a minute or two set aside at a business meeting for a safety tip, practised by oil and gas corporations such as Nalcor, in an effort to make safety considerations an ingrained part of their corporate culture.

Fueling the Future: Women in Oil and Gas — a conference grappling with the role of women in the oil and gas industry — opened with one Tuesday morning, a reminder that pedestrians should walk facing traffic, especially when snow is still partially covering sidewalks, forcing walkers onto the street.

An afternoon session at the conference asked how companies could make diversity a similarly entrenched concept. Moderated by Amrita Karunakaran of WorleyParsons Canada, the session featured presentations from Mark Fleming and Bernadette Gatien of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, and Nancy Hart of Nalcor Energy.

Fleming’s research suggests even as gains are made in female participation in the oil and gas industry in general, women still have much farther to go on the actual offshore platforms — something that hamstrings women when it comes to management positions.

“That’s where the industry is. That’s where the oil is produced. That’s where the business is,” he said. “The onshore portion of it does an important job, but it’s a support role for offshore, and the culture of the offshore industry, in my opinion, is driven by the offshore platforms. If you don’t work offshore, you’re not going to be a senior manager onshore.”

Fleming described offshore platforms as “the last protected habitat of Neanderthal man.”

“It’s the place where the real meatheads go to live, and I say ‘protected’ because that is the environment that they get to live in, and I’m not sure it’s a species that we want to be protected, and their extinction might be something that would be good. It would be a nice world if macho man didn’t continue to exist.”

It’s crucial for leadership to endorse any culture change, said Gatien.

“Organizational cultures are created by leaders, and one of the most decisive functions of leadership may well be the creation and the management of it, and, if and when it’s necessary, the destruction of cultures,” she said. “Sometimes it takes a leader to say, ‘You know what? We need to take a step back, and we need to start over, which means we need to start creating some serious change.’”

Sometimes perceptions of inequality can be just as influential as reality, she added.

“If I think I’m going to be treated unfairly in an environment, that’s going to change my behaviour,” she said. “It doesn’t matter whether or not I’m actually going to be treated fairly, it’s what I’m thinking, and leaders need to understand that.”

Nalcor Energy’s Hart said making diversity an ingrained part of oil and gas culture will entail some difficult conversations.

“If we’re talking about bringing more women in, and it’s men that are in the management roles, then we’ve gotta have those hard conversations, and we’ve gotta have them head on, and we’ve gotta have them in an open and transparent manner, where we engage the white males and make them champions of this cause and bring them onside,” she said. “Inclusion is when people don’t need to agree on individual choices, you just need to respect them. You don’t need to agree with me, just respect me for being different and that’s great.”



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Organizations: University in Halifax

Geographic location: Saint Mary

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Recent comments

  • Ursula Dowler
    March 15, 2011 - 11:06

    " Where we engage the white males and make them champions of this cause and bring them onside" ~Nancy Hart . Is this the recipe Ms. Hart is suggesting we use to precipitate change in the oil and gas industry ? Seems to me the very fact that we engage and enable others (white males) on our behalf , is the very reason women from all walks of life , find themselves in lower paid positions where more often than not , a so called WHITE MALE is the BOSS ! Isn't that very attitude , one which keeps women as second-class citizens ? Learn to trust your OWN instincts Ms. Hart .

  • ed
    March 14, 2011 - 18:18

    If you want to improve equality focus on merit not a quota system. I know there are lots of people who are capable but do not have 'connections' and therefore cannot stay in this province. What can we do to help us pay for future prosperity and become part of this landscape? Offer chance to show their worth and not just hire those that are well connected by family and friendship ties.

  • endangered species
    March 10, 2011 - 09:29

    middleaged white males

  • Offshore Neanderthal
    March 10, 2011 - 00:56

    Ug. Ug Ug. uuuug. Ugggg!!! Ug. Ug . Ug!! PS: Send more Bananas!

  • JD
    March 09, 2011 - 22:56

    I think they need to remove the colon from the headline. Comments like these are flat-out sexism. Who's on the learned panel? Did anyone invite neanderthal man? Apparently he's been working in the industry long enough...

  • don
    March 09, 2011 - 11:39

    The feminist rant is predicated on the notion that you must employ me because I exist. I have sat many times in a meeting with an newly hired feminist whose crisp new University degree conspicuously hung on her office wall.. The arrogance was annoying. The feminist however, had an airhead mentality and could add absolutely nothing to the productivity of the workplace. Meanwhile, a qualified man was deprived of a job and the workplace productivity suffered in order to be politically correct . Total nonsense that has to stop. No quotas, Merit and ability should be the deciding factors in employment.

  • newfoundlander
    March 09, 2011 - 10:22

    I completed 7 years of post secondary education so that I could be in the oil and gas industry, only to find out when I graduated that being a white male meant my application went to the bottom of the pile with many companies claiming "employment equity". Common sense rules of fairness are violated when a person is hired to a position based on something other than qualitifactions and experience. Im sure anybody in the oil and gas industry would hire a female if she was qualified and able to perform the work. There is no need to attack people who work hard offshore and it is unfair to suggest that these man are not qualified to be there. They are skilled workers with the experience and knowledge to do the job safely and efficiently but may soon find themselves passed over or jobless due to this way of thinking. The fact that an industry is dominated by a certain gender or race means nothing to me while I am qualified and jobless. Im waiting for the day this gets so extreme that the job description wont even be listed anymore, it will just say : Wanted, one female minority with disability. Anyone else need not apply.

  • Jeff
    March 09, 2011 - 09:43

    From some of the quotes in the article these seems to be nothing more than a man bashing conference.

  • Scott Free
    March 09, 2011 - 09:14

    These types of feminsts' rants are factors of the continued inequality and puts the women's movement further backwards rather than advancing the agenda. It has more to do with the damage by some women, and nothing by men at all. Most men are very respectful of women in general and are supportive of advancement by merit rather than gender. If the women's movement is going to be taken more seriously, it has to present its arguement in a more professional manner than simply male-bashing.

  • MJ
    March 09, 2011 - 09:12

    I have been working in the oil industry in Newfoundland for about 12 years. I have worked very hard to further my career and have become an expert in my field as such I am sought after by many international companies, but prefer to stay in Newfoundland because it is my home. So if a good job becomes available that I am qualified for, in this province. How fair is it that I am not considered for the job because I am not a woman? And would it be fair for that job to go to an under qualified woman, only because she is a woman? People’s advancement in a career should be based upon their ability and nothing else. They should work for it, not have it given to them. Do I think we should have more women in the oil industry? Yes, sounds like a great idea, but only if they are qualified to do the job.

  • Watcher
    March 09, 2011 - 08:00

    As a man, I really take offense to these kind of comments. If I stood up in a roomful of men at a business conference and made reference to women as "princesses or some other derogatory name, I'd be hung out to dry. And as far as the male-oriented culture offshore goes, most of it is physically demanding work, and genetically speaking, men are typically larger and stronger then women. I wonder how many women it would take to do the job of one "Neanderthal".

  • Scott Free
    March 09, 2011 - 07:44

    We're well ahead of the Norwegian curve; why just last week we nominated an unqualified woman for a senior VP post to the CNLOPB without any previous experience whatsoever. Simply a politiical patronage appointment; top that.

  • Mr. T
    March 09, 2011 - 07:28

    "Neanderthal Man", "Meathead"............Really? Then a rant about equality. Nice conference.

    • W
      March 09, 2011 - 10:07

      I know of few women that want to take the risks involved with working offshore. I can't say I know, because I do not, but I am relatively sure that women would be accepted in offshore positions if applying for them based on the fact that companies are required to be equal opportunity employers, and it is visible that they don't have equal numbers offshore. What I wonder is how do the statistics of how many women apply for jobs offshore versus how many are rejected stack up? I think it would be a little more telling. I know several professional women (i.e. engineer’s) that go offshore as required and are certainly respected as they should be, and move up through the ranks, but how many women apply for the operations positions? People usually work their way up on offshore installations in terms of operations, it takes a combination of knowledge and experience to move up that ladder in a very dangerous / demanding field. How many women apply for the 'trade' positions offshore versus onshore where they, the "Neanderthal's" are more then willing to go to get the work? What I'm getting at is that the article highlights the fact that usually to make it up the ladder on the beach you have to put the time in offshore to get valid operational experience (pertinent to the actual installation being worked on), but is it encouraging more women to apply to the trade operations positions to get this experience or is it simply saying that more women should be in upper management in these fields purely because the numbers should be as such? If, and I say if, women are being rejected flat out against men for work that is not required to be more physically demanding (if I’m allowed to say that), then it is complete rubbish and the policies in place should certainly change. If, on the other hand, there aren’t any / many women applying for offshore working positions, I think that’s a completely different kettle of fish. In fact if that’s the case, and reviewing hr applications could paint that picture, the subject of this article and the message of the speakers is that more women should apply. I don’t know if there are hiring practices that are stifling women working offshore, if so they need to change, if not maybe they need to promote working offshore for women more. Calling all the hard working men (and women because there are a few) that risk everything every time they go to work offshore just to provide for their families “Neanderthals” isn’t adding anything useful besides sarcasm as in someone calling for equal rights while demeaning the side they are apparently trying to measure up to.