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.”