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Negotiating for a Better Gender Balanced Future in Oil and Gas

Negotiation skills cannot be overestimated. Is this an issue holding back women in the oil and gas industry?
This article appeared in August, 2019

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Negotiating for a Better Gender Balanced Future in Oil and Gas

According to a 2009 study by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, 58% of male graduates from a high ranking US business school negotiated their starting salaries; only 8% of their female counterparts on the same course did. Immediately, that led to a gender salary imbalance, with the men’s starting salaries 7.6% higher than those attained by the women. However, the researchers had previously given these same students a series of bargaining exercises, and when they analysed the student negotiation performance, they found there was absolutely no statistically significant differences between the results attained by men and by women.

So it seems that women are not worse than men at negotiating – just more reluctant to enter into negotiations.

Another study found that women negotiating their salaries ask for lower compensation when the firm’s representative is a man than they do when that representative is a woman: a significant finding, given the demographics of the oil and gas industry. 

Range of Attendees – including Men!

Over 150 industry professionals attended the SPE Women in Energy Group seminar in London, including a range of ages & enthnicities. These startling findings demonstrate that there is a great need for meetings such as the recent SPE Women in Energy Group seminar on June 14th in London, which tackled the topic head-on in its title: Negotiating for a Better Gender Balanced Future.

The seminar was very well attending, with over 150 people of a range of ages, ethnicities and from a broad mix of companies related to the oil industry. As someone who mostly operates in the upstream geosciences, I found it particularly interesting to meet people working in so many different aspects of energy, from petroleum engineers and geoscientists to banking and legal experts. There were plenty of opportunities to network and I found that everyone I spoke to had an interesting story to tell or a different viewpoint to explain.

It was particularly encouraging to see that, at a rough estimate, about 15% of the attendees were men, since my experience of such meetings is that many men don’t appear to consider these meetings are for them, or realise that that they would be very welcome and their viewpoints are important for the ongoing discussion. Encouraging and promoting diversity in energy is not just a female issue, especially in a business with rather skewed gender and age demographics.

In fact, to encourage more men to attend the organisers had a special offer: “Bring a male colleague for free and get a 50% discount on your ticket. Bring a male manager and get both tickets for free.” Innovative thinking is always a good idea!

Wide-Ranging Discussions

Louise Kingham, CEO of UK Energy Institute and board member of the POWERful Women initiative, was one of the keynote speakers at the event. The seminar began with two excellent keynote speakers, who set the scene for the day by extrapolating from their own experience. 

Louise Kingham is CEO of the UK Energy Institute and a board member of the POWERful Women initiative, who explained that in her opinion she has spent her career negotiating in some way or other. She went through a few facts and figures, showing where progress is being made, such as the increasing numbers of women on company boards – an improvement that is counteracted by the slow growth in female representation at executive board level. She also highlighted that in the oil and gas industry both recruitment and retention are still issues, and that women have a tendency to ‘self-stall’ mid-career. She believes that culture change, mentoring and an emphasis on STEM for girls from a young age are all vital to address these issues.

Peter Duff, BP’s Head of Diversity and Inclusion (EAME), recalled the totally male environment he encountered when he joined the company several decades ago – and is proud that five out of the nine BP board members are now female, as are 25% of senior managers. But he admitted that this does not mean there is a fully inclusive environment, as although the majority of the BP workforce support the idea of diversity and inclusion, they are often unsure what they can do individually to further the concept – and that’s a good question, he says. What everyone needs to think hard about is the simple question “how inclusive am I?”

Negotiating Diversity and Inclusion

Panellists included Peter Duff; Andrea Cotton-Berry; lawyer and executive coach Janine Esbrad; Zvonimir Djerfi, President, Global Sales with BHGE and was moderated by GEO ExPro's very own Editor in Chief; Jane Whaley. The keynote speakers session was followed by a panel discussion. I was honoured to have been invited to be the moderator, talking with a diverse panel that included Peter Duff; Lesley Weatherall, a senior HR and Communications manager with Total; lawyer and executive coach Janine Esbrad; Zvonimir Djerfi, President, Global Sales with BHGE; and Andrea Cotton-Berry, who heads a business development team at Precision Oncology. Yes, you did read that correctly – oncology. An inspired idea by the organisers – bringing in a woman with a science background and a lot of management experience but from a completely different industry, to see what woman in energy could learn from her – which proved to be quite a lot!

Asked to talk about their personal experiences of negotiating a salary, several points emerged from the panel. One was that you can never be too prepared for such an interview, so do your homework, including on your interviewer or panel, whether men or women, and don’t pitch your starting point too low, something several of the women in the panel and the audience admitted to having done. As one panellist noted: in her experience “Women thank me when they get a pay rise. Men don’t; they just expect it”. Some useful pieces of advice came from the floor: remember that you always have the power to walk away from a negotiation, pointed out one delegate – but, added another, don’t leave without having had the conversation first.

The panel session discussed ways to encourage female diversity and inclusion in the oil, gas and energy sector. A brief look at research in this area suggests that gender differences in negotiation between a man and a woman only arise where the woman is in the weaker position, but not when the woman is the empowered party. The panel were invited to comment on this and while agreeing that it was somewhat stereotypical, there was some truth in it, with one panellist admitting that in her experience women negotiate much better on behalf of their company or their team than they do for themselves as individuals.

The panel also discussed ways to encourage female diversity and inclusion, starting with a debate on whether people thought there is a difference in workplace behaviour between men and women. Panellists felt that they usually start out similarly, but behaviour changes, possibly as personal values and motivations change. They also noted that, on average, women are more democratic during discussions, though this can backfire and result in their voices being heard less.

This enjoyable wide-ranging discussion varied from the philosophical to the practical, including talking about issues such as paternity leave and how to manage stereotypical ‘male’ attitudes towards taking time off work for family – if in fact those attitudes exist – and the need for flexible working hours and flexible thinking.

Negotiation Thinking

One of the professional workshops on offer at the event in London - "How to become a productivity ninja". Having got us all thinking about these issues in the morning, in the afternoon the delegates were given a choice of professional workshops to attend to help them further their careers and plan their future. These included talks on becoming an advocate for change and on how to present yourself ‘inside and out’. You could learn positive thinking or how to lead across cultures, or backward goal plan, or to negotiate your financial future. With only time to attend one session, choosing which was a tricky choice. I tried to ‘become a productivity Ninja’ and, although I don’t have an empty in-box every night as recommended, I picked up some good tips, including ‘use the Easyjet approach’; i.e., you don’t have to be perfect at everything. A useful point!

The final session of the day was a ‘Masterclass in Negotiation’ run by Janine Esbrand, one of the morning’s panellists. She discussed why people, particularly women, are often reluctant to negotiate, the commonest reasons being an unwillingness to ‘rock the boat’ and the assumption that the best deal is the one on the table – or that the answer is inevitably no, instead of concentrating on the positives. Her final pointers were some simple strategies to help boost confidence both before and during negotiations.

Helping Ourselves

A special thanks to the organising committee of the SPE Women in Energy Group seminar in London, June 2019. If you get the chance, I strongly recommend attendance at seminar like this, whether you’re male or female and also whether or not you consider gender imbalance to be a pressing issue. Having attended a number or discussion sessions on the need for greater diversity in the oil and gas workforce, it was encouraging to attend a meeting that was more than a talking shop and directly addressed an issue which is slowing many women’s career progress in the industry. Learning to negotiate better is something we women can and must do for ourselves.

Further Reading on Diversity and Inclusion in Oil and Gas

Some recommended GEO ExPro articles relating to diversity and inclusion in the oil, gas and energy industry.

A Lot of Different Flowers: Increasing Diversity and Inclusion in the Oil, Gas and Energy Industry
Jane Whaley
An old saying goes: “A lot of different flowers make a bouquet”. The business case for diversity and inclusion in the workplace is well proven; so what can the E&P industry do to improve its track record in this area?
This article appeared in January, 2019

Diversity in the Energy Sector
Francis Gugen
Ask not what the energy industry can do for you, but what you can do for the energy industry to improve diversity in the energy sector.
This article appeared in Vol. 15, No. 4 - 2018

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