In Nigeria’s oil and gas industry, the enduring lack of diversity reverberates through all levels of the workforce. This isn’t an isolated scenario, it resonates globally, where the decisions made by energy giants have overwhelmingly been influenced by a homogenous group, dominated by men. It serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for change, not just for industry progress, but to secure economic vitality and long-term sustainability.
For our energy industry, gender parity means more than filling quotas; it is about building a workforce that authentically reflects the faces of Nigerian and African society. With women constituting a substantial part of the population, we are not just energy sector stakeholders – we are central to its narrative, and its ultimate transformation. Embracing gender (and age and skill) diversity isn’t merely an option; it’s the compass guiding the industry toward a more inclusive and successful future. In Nigeria, the case for diversity is even more pronounced. Nigeria’s energy sector has long been a crucial economic driver, making it a prime arena for positive change.
Inclusivity as an energy industry imperative
“Gender parity”, “diversity” and “inclusion” are more than just buzzwords; they are essential elements of a modern and sustainable energy industry. Globally, companies have come to recognise the tangible benefits. Research by the Peterson Institute for International Economics into 21,980 public companies in 91 countries revealed that companies with more women in leadership roles correlates with the increased profitability of these companies. Similarly, a BCG report demonstrated that companies with diverse management teams achieved 19% higher revenue due to innovation.
The evidence is clear: these studies consistently confirm that diverse teams make sharper decisions (87% of the time and twice as fast!), have better problem-solving and fuel innovation. The sector’s realisation that it must diversify its workforce is not driven solely by altruism or just about social responsibility. It is also not just about practicality fueled by population considerations, but about reaping the benefits of a broader talent pool, and about economic viability.
Isabelle Kocher, former CEO of Engie, is a powerful example of the need for greater inclusion within traditionally male-dominated fields like oil and gas. Under her leadership, Engie moved away from its traditional role as a gas and electricity utility to becoming a leader in renewable energy solutions and clean technologies.
Representation is only a starting point: not ‘why’ but ‘how’?
This also tells us that representation is only the start of it: true empowerment requires women in positions of power and decision-making. Kocher’s leadership of Engie demonstrated the benefit of that for challenging the status quo and driving industry transformation. A PWC study of the largest listed oil and gas companies globally found that women occupy only 11% of board seats, with a larger proportion of women holding non-executive roles than executive roles. In terms of board seats, the only industry with a poorer record is mining!
The debate is no longer about “why” but about “how” we achieve this progress. This same study found that four career crucial points influence a woman’s, or indeed anyone’s ability to make it to board level: career start, progression opportunities, senior management promotion and board appointment.
It would seem that what matters most for gender diversity is ensuring a clear pipeline of women into management. Companies can take concrete steps to accelerate positive change: instituting clear diversity policies with measurable targets to bring women into leadership positions is vital. At Lekoil, we have been intentional about this. Even as we prioritise merit and relevant experience, our board, including the company secretary, is still able to maintain a 50:50 male/female split, led by a female chairperson.
Fostering an inclusive work culture is essential, where gender diversity is not just a checkbox but a core value. Support networks, leadership and negotiation skills training, sponsorship programmes and ensuring equal pay and opportunities are also fundamental steps.
I have said before that Africa is waking up to its renewable energy potential. The industry is at a crossroads, and the need for gender diversity in decision-making roles has never been more urgent. The challenges of the future necessitate fresh perspectives and inventive solutions, and women have proven time and again that they bring these qualities to the table. Sustainability, both in terms of environmental responsibility and economic growth, hinges on the industry’s ability to embrace diversity, foster innovation, and adapt to a rapidly changing world.
Amplifying the ‘S’ in ESG
I spoke on a panel at Africa Oil Week with industry experts, discussing ways to amplify the ‘S’ in ESG, specifically through the lens of diversity. The discussions underscored the energy industry’s growing concerns around inclusion, rightfully so. We ultimately agreed that a diverse workforce isn’t just a social responsibility; it’s an economic and strategic advantage.
For companies in this industry to leverage this advantage, they must strengthen their commitment to diversity and treat it with urgency; moving beyond historic notions of resource extraction, to championing the growth and empowerment of the very people they serve.
We are at a pivotal juncture where diversity and inclusion are the keys to fostering sustainable growth. By breaking free from the old moulds, we can create a more inclusive and vibrant energy sector that benefits generations to come. As I like to say, empowering women is simply good business, but truly empowering them might just secure our future.
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