Claire Lawrie, Partner at EY, Oil & Gas Advisory Leader
Do you believe that it is harder to have a career in the energy sector as a woman? Why?
The energy sector is global and open to people of all kinds of backgrounds and disciplines. There are many career paths in the sector which makes it interesting and fulfilling. It has traditionally been labelled as a male sector but that is changing and this makes it easier for women to be part of and be successful.
What do you believe to be the biggest challenge with regards to diversity/equality in the energy industry?
The balance between career opportunities and balancing home life can be particularly tricky in energy. This is true for both men and women. For example, if you work in exploration and production then your career can offer you the chance to live and work in many major projects all over the world whether it be in Alaska or Azerbaijan or Angola. This can be really exciting early in your career but choices soon appear on the horizon in terms of how you be present in a relationship, where you consider home to be and how you will bring your children up.
What obstacle/s did you come across in your career?
The ongoing learning for me was not necessarily gender-based. I have been lucky to have worked in many countries by being part of the energy industry e.g. Tehran, Aberdeen, Lagos, London, Port of Spain, Houston, Baku, Luanda, and Doha. For me, it has been an ongoing learning about how to operate and get things done in different cultures and norms and being able to adopt different styles and approaches to things. I believe it’s changed me as a person in a positive way. I’ve learned not to meet obstacles with frustration but meet it with creativity on how to overcome them.
What is the most game-changing practice you have come across or heard of that improved equality and diversity in the organisation?
At EY in South Africa, we launched a diversity programme for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) in 2016. This has become a really fun, vibrant community yet dealing with serious topics. There were a few game-changing practices that make it successful. People can join this community as an LGBT person or they can join as an ‘Ally’. An ally can be non-LGBT and can join for whatever reason and it might because they are a mother, brother or sister to someone who is LGBT and want to give support. The programme is led by Sugan Palanee, who happens not to be LGBT – and he is an executive leader in EY South Africa. This set the tone from leadership that diversity is important. EY reached out and connected with other businesses and events taking place in the country to ensure this community is networked and supported inside and outside of EY.
For those reasons, I am a big believer in both women and men being together to tackle any gender inequality rather than having separate groups.
What can men do to help?
Recognise that gender inequality exists. When speaking at a conference or a panel, ask the host if there are any women who will be on the panel too. Look at your team and observe whether it is diverse. Be fair when conducting performance reviews and try self-correct if you hold any stereotypical ‘female’ and ‘male’ attributes when it comes to people’s performance.
What can women do?
Continue with their careers and development as normal. Devote time and effort to building self-confidence. Lose the habit of talking yourself down. Work on getting emotionally stronger by not worrying about what other people think of you. Just be yourself. Make no apology for who you are. When getting a promotion or a new job, don’t accept being paid less than men for the same job.
If you could give one piece of advice to young women who are looking to work in the energy industry, what would it be?
Energy is an industry that welcomes scientists, economists, engineers, finance specialists, technologists, policymakers and community relations. It is an industry that needs and welcomes people from all backgrounds and there is much career development opportunity when working with multidisciplinary teams and to experience living and working in various countries globally. It’s a good idea to identify someone as a mentor in the organisation where you can get advice, guidance and mentoring in your career in an informal way
What do you believe the government can do to empower women and achieve equality in the energy sector (especially in senior positions)?
Governments can lead by example. This means setting the right tone at the top. This means when appointing Ministers, Ministry and National Oil Company personnel that women are given an equal chance of filling and performing these roles. I won’t name them but have visited many petroleum ministries in the world and some don’t have female bathrooms.
How much do you feel the situation for women in energy has changed over the last 10 years?
I’m going to back further than 10 years to set some context. The concept of women being in the workplace and the type of work they do has evolved over time in all industries, including energy. Similar to the way the French language has male and female nouns, we still have preconceptions of what are male and female jobs. The First and Second World War had a big impact on placing women in what were considered male jobs e.g. mechanics when men were sent to battle. Women can now fly fighter jets or fly to the moon. In energy, living temporarily at offshore oil platforms and working in very remote processing plants were considered male jobs. This has changed over the last 10 years and you see not just more women working in energy but more importantly, women in a wider variety of jobs which were once considered male jobs.
When I was growing up in Scotland and reflect on my parents and their generation, it seems to me that it was possible to have households whereby one parent could have a job and this would be enough to reasonably provide for a house, family and a car. In my view, this is why men were paid more as employers knew they were the expected breadwinner for the whole family. When I look at the world today or even over the last 10 years, it seems that there needs to be two people working in a household to afford the same living standard. The idea that one stays at home and one goes to work doesn’t seem economically viable anymore for most people. Wage inflation is stagnant but living costs are rising as trend world over. What we consider to be a ‘normal’ family has also changed as urbanisation and megacities march on. So, the framework of traditional male and female jobs and family has become very outdated indeed.
What do you do to promote diversity in your career/team/work?
I take diversity very seriously – whether it be gender, race, sexual orientation, class, etc. Firstly because it’s just the right thing to do from a values perspective. Secondly, we need to draw from the largest pool of talent for an industry that finds itself in a position of finding it difficult to attract enough people into a demographically ageing industry. Thirdly, talent is found across all groups. Limiting ourselves to a particular type of person means we are missing out on the best people. Finally, it’s a global industry operating in a diverse world so you would expect the organisation to mirror this.