Key D&I moments in 2020 and why they matter

By Deirdre Michie OBE, Chief Executive, OGUK

There are numerous moments in history we can point to that have shaped the world we live in today; whether through their influence on science and technology, culture and sport, politics, or society and human rights.

From the Equal Franchise Act of 1928, giving women in the UK the same voting rights as men, and the US civil rights movement triggered by Rosa Parks in 1955; to the first Paralympic Games, held in Rome in 1960, and Barack Obama’s election as the first black president of the United States in 2008.

Though just a handful of examples, each one has, in its own way, fundamentally shaped and driven action and progress on diversity and inclusion (D&I). They also provide an important reminder of the need for us to make every effort to learn from the past, to ensure history does repeat itself.

When you consider the events of the past 12 months, you can see there is still much to be done before we can truly say we have achieved diverse representation, enabled equality of opportunity and fostered belonging – both within the oil and gas industry, and beyond. Those that have resonated with me most include:

  • Former Olympic boxer, Nicola Adams, who made Strictly Come Dancing history as part of the first same-sex pairing for the show since its inception. The first time since it aired 15-years ago! Despite a largely positive reception, the pairing had its critics The launch episode drew in an average of 8.6 million viewers; almost an eighth of the UK’s entire population. And with 212,000 same-sex families in the UK1 – not to mention the millions of LGBTQ+ allies, this type of representation really counts.
  • Perhaps one of the most divisive events of the year was the shocking death of George Floyd, and the subsequent protests around the world in support of Black Lives Matter. This tragedy had a significant impact, with various organisations making public statements against racism, pledges to adapt and accelerate their D&I strategies, and displays of support such as content blackouts across social media. Although warranting much more thorough discussion than this article can accommodate, the most important thing for me was the spotlight his death put on the systemic racism that still exists across parts of society; a clear demonstration of the huge challenge to drive meaningful change.
  • On November 8, Kamala Harris made her first speech as US Vice President-elect; the country’s first female, first black and first Asian American president. Her words “While I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last” really resonated with me. Yes, this is an important historic milestone, but it has also been a long-time coming. You may not know this, but the first woman to run for US President was activist, Victoria Woodhull, in 1872. She won no electoral college votes. Almost 150 years on, and based on the huge number of column inches that Ms Harris’ appointment generated, we still have a very long way to go before we can say we have achieved true gender and racial equality.

Since the launch of our survey in November, we’ve received a lot of feedback – some positive and some less so. Timing is something we have been challenged on, with questions about whether our focus on D&I is appropriate through the lens of a pandemic and the subsequent downturn our industry experiencing. While I understand where these questions are coming from, I strongly believe that D&I needs to be part of the conversation – especially in a business survival context.

It has become increasingly obvious that, through the last downturn starting in 2015, we let our focus slip. We could have done more even in the context of a sector at rock bottom. This time, things need to be different. I am hugely persuaded by the strength of pull we’ve received. When we formed the D&I Task Group last year so many people approached us and said, ‘this is what we want to support’, ‘we want to be part of this’ and ‘we need this to be driven’. We can’t afford to lose that momentum.  

There are a number of reasons I say this. One, is the strong business case for D&I. We can’t assume people know this (though most do) or accept it (some still don’t). McKinsey & Company’s most recent D&I report, Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters’, found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than peers in the fourth quartile. In the case of ethnic and cultural diversity, they found that companies in the top quartile outperformed those in the fourth by 36 percent in terms of profitability in 2019. So, there is a business case, whether you like it or not.

There is also the moral case, which centres on the fact that anyone, regardless of social categorisation or protected characteristic, should have equality of opportunity and should be treated fairly. Although this, to me, appears fundamental and is a concept that is easy to grasp, as you can see from the examples I have shared, people tend to diverge on it quite dramatically. Either way, these are two incredibly compelling reasons as to why we need to maintain our focus on D&I, even when times are tough.

Something else that has become increasingly apparent to me, and which you may also see reflected in the examples I’ve shared, is the importance of intersectionality – the premise that racial identity, gender, sexuality, nationality, disability and other social categorisations are interconnected.

Two years ago, during a D&I lunch at Offshore Europe, a delegate stood up and asked the panel what we thought about intersectionality. Although unfamiliar with the term at the time, I was struck by how obvious it seemed. Yet we are still not at a place where we bring everything together. Instead, we tend to look at D&I through single lenses. So during next year we need to do more to address this, by identifying key opportunities including at Offshore Europe, where we’re planning a session dedicated to taking this concept further, to create a fairer, more equal workplace.

The most important thing in all of this is that we continue to show people that D&I is an agenda that can be progressed. That is why I would implore anyone reading this to have their say. Whether you agree or disagree, the important thing is that all our voices are heard. Only then will we be able to shape a comprehensive picture of where our industry is, and where we need to get to.

To have your say, take part in OGUK’s industry-first D&I survey here.

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1 Families and householders in the UK: 2019, Office for National Statistics – https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/families/bulletins/familiesandhouseholds/2019

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