(As originally published on LinkedIn, April 2017)

A diverse workforce drives commercial success

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By: Kent Kaufield, EY Canada’s Energy Leader and Calgary Managing Partner

Recently, I was sitting at an event with a colleague when we noted the “power table” in the room. You know the one I mean: that table of high-profile, accomplished executives. The one where you discreetly straighten your tie before you approach it, perhaps practicing your introduction in a whisper to yourself to ensure you nail it. In Calgary, these “power tables” are important and nearly everyone wants to develop a relationship with the leaders who sit at them.

So what made this table special? It was 100% female executives. As my colleague and I discussed how best we could connect with these professionals, it struck us just how different the room looked than it did a decade or two earlier in our careers.

In my tenure in an industry historically dominated by men, I’ve noticed the emergence of female leaders, both in senior management and on boards. And for the sake of our industry, it is happening not a moment too soon.

Commercial imperative

Over the past 50 years or so, remote locations, harsh conditions and brute force were hallmarks of the Canadian oil & gas industry. Engineering programs produced far fewer female graduates in the first few decades, increasing over time. Technology development has helped shift vast amounts of work from the field to the office, introducing opportunities for a much broader workforce, especially women.

The “power table” is now occupied by female leaders who are CEOs and CFOs, or who lead organizational functions such as business transformation, corporate development, information technology or human resources. This progress is having meaningful impact on the business performance of these organizations. In fact, I believe gender diversity is a commercial imperative to successfully grow a business in the current oil and gas industry.

Not only does diversity play a critical role in improved ideation, operational effectiveness and internal decision-making, it has also become crucial for building strategic networks across the industry and acquiring the skillsets required to thrive in the years to come.

Skillset-driven

We’re in a period of important shifts across all aspects of the business, from the technology we use to the evolving global market conditions to the transformation of our company structures. Indeed, in a recent EY survey of over 70 leading oil & gas companies, 81% of respondents indicated headcount reductions between 25-30%, and 64% initiated focused efforts to restructure their companies. Efficiencies gained through cost-cutting over the past few years will be important to maintain to ensure sustainable, long-term growth.

In addition to efficiencies, a renewed focus on operational excellence and increased automation, a key challenge facing this sector is the significant loss of experienced workers. New talent will need to be acquired or retrained to replace and enhance the lost experience and skill sets and meet future challenges.

Together these forces mean companies must map out their workforce planning very carefully. This process represents a terrific opportunity to adopt a business-driven focus on gender balance across their workforce, from field to front office.

Purposeful growth

Beyond growing the number of female seats at “power tables,” gender-focused recruiting, retention and training programs will be a core part of all successful workforce planning initiatives. Hiring and training programs need to accompany a purposeful workforce plan for moving towards gender balance, encompassing performance management, mentoring and sponsorship as well as tracking and evaluating results. Although we’d like to think the “power tables” will gender-balance themselves over time, organizations embracing a more purposeful growth plan will benefit faster.

Great talent attracts great talent. It is simply the best way to recruit and retain an outstanding, high performing workforce. Oil and gas organizations that proactively embrace gender-focused programs will quickly realize that new skill sets, ideas and networks drive commercial success.

An invitation to sit at the balanced “power tables” of the future will demand it.