How to Win a Diversity & Inclusion Battle in times of COVID-19?
With the closure of school districts and nurseries from Midland to the Persian Gulf, many working parents in the energy industry are having to juggle their jobs with full-time home schooling for their children. This comes at the same time as yet another price crisis for the industry, which is throwing even the best laid practices out of the window. Even though responsible employers have made workload adjustments for those with dependents, in reality it is hard to be away from your workspace when oil goes negative.
Current challenges disproportionately affect women, who, regardless of their seniority, are more likely to fulfil the roles of being a carer, teacher and/or nurse at home.
There are 2 major trends that can swing Diversity & Inclusion efforts backwards:
- 2/3 of single parents are women, and are much more likely to be parents of younger children, preventing them from working full time as they have to care, feed and home-school in lockdown. For some working mothers that are currently juggling work and home life, it is unlikely that they will be able to engage in career-enhancing activities for some time.
- While women make up less than 40% of the entire workforce, they represent 57% of all part-time workers (usually due to other family obligations like caring for an elderly relative or their children). Part-time jobs are among those jobs that are least protected by furlough schemes and other benefits so it can be inferred that more women will be losing government support as a result.
There has been speculation that some governments will compensate workers who need to take extended leave to care for their children but state aid discussions are absent from every major oil patch except Norway. Even if these discussions were to take place, these measures, (disproportionally affecting women), would defer potential promotion opportunities, much like prolonged maternity leave does.
So, what can we do now to help families feel more financially secure in this environment, minimise career progression risks and ensure that individuals’ talents are able to flourish both now and in particular post COVID-19?
- Take a personalised approach
The idea of 9-5, prescribed working environments and even an office dress code are becoming outdated. As managers and leaders, we need to be able to get the most out of our teams and if this means they work best at midnight, split their lunch into 3 or like working cross legged on the floor – embrace it. Talk to every single person about how they work best, what environment they prefer to work in and what encourages and discourages them. It will be rewarded with loyalty, hard work and increased productivity.
- Equal Parental Rights
Acknowledging the fact that men are parents too, splitting parental leave and encouraging men to care for their children and to take on more responsibilities at home is a great start to achieving equality and greater satisfaction for families. After all, one of the best things about the lockdown is being able to spend more time with our children.
- Understand before being Understood
It is very easy to assume that we are all in this together, locked inside our homes with our families and children (and sometimes parents) and share the same emotions. But every family’s situation is unique, and whilst some might feel that little has changed, others have had to endure the sickness of a relative or find themselves with five dependents instead of two. Ask questions and make yourself available to adjust accordingly. What tools do your employees need? What support might they seek? What is the hardest thing for them right now? What do they miss the most about the office environment? Knowing the answers to these questions will help to pave the way to increased success at work and reduced stress levels.
- Encourage Communication
Communication breakdowns are much more common when working remotely. On a family level, communication is much harder when routines have been disrupted and frustration levels rise. Miscommunication, in worst case scenarios, leads to quitting the job or splitting up, which costs family and organisations time and resources. If done well and thoughtfully, a team can come out of the lockdown stronger than ever.
- Family comes first
I once witnessed a promising sales person leave her job because her mother got sick and she was the only daughter in the family. Despite the fact that she made more money than her brothers, she was expected to take on this responsibility and she accepted it wholeheartedly. When I spoke to her about it, I learnt that if only her manager had suggested the possibility of working from home, she would have gladly accepted it and worked even harder for such an opportunity. The vast majority of us will always choose our families when we feel there is no alternative solution. However, most of the time a solution does exist and through taking a personalised approach, understanding before being understood and solid communication, a resolution can be found.
The O&G industry is not the only industry affected by the lockdown, but it is one that has survived many downturns in the past. We hope that every management team can learn some positive lessons from this experience and attract even better talent due to improved flexibility, diversity and inclusion and communication policies.
Alexandra Ashikhmina, Managing Director, Americas, Oil & Gas Council (some parts of the article are her personal opinions)