The most important thing a D&I ally can do is to take action


By Scott McGinigal, VP Business Services, CNOOC International

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When it comes to the topic of diversity and inclusion (D&I), I find myself in an interesting position. Why? Well, as you can see from my photos, I am a white, middle-aged male and a father of two teenage boys. I’m not part of an under-represented group and I have not lived through discrimination. That is not my story.

Nor do I have a ‘eureka’ moment. I grew up in a small village in Ayrshire with my dad, a safety officer; my shop worker mum and my older brother. At the school I attended, there was no clear path to higher education, but an aptitude for maths and chemistry became my ticket to university. When it came to choosing my subject, I flicked through the prospectus for Strathclyde University, landed on Chemical Engineering, and that was that.

My parents moved to Aberdeen while I was in the midst of my studies and, on graduating in 1993, I ended up applying for a job at Elf Petroleum, my first foray into oil and gas. It’s a fantastic industry, one that has provided me with a very rewarding career.

Highlights include spending a couple of years in Orkney working at the Flotta oil terminal, eight years working on Elgin Franklin in the Central North Sea, and an international assignment that saw me move to Qatar with my family for three years. In 2014, I joined CNOOC International and have been with the company since.

As I mentioned at the start of this article, I have not lived through discrimination personally. I am, however, incredibly passionate about making a difference when it comes to D&I. My motivation is quite simple – I have a deeply held, innate belief in fairness and equality. That is what is driving me to be the best ally I possibly can be.

Allies have a crucial role to play. They raise an important question: ‘How do we tap into the majority of organisations and individuals?’. What I most respect myself, is those individuals or allies who speak out and act; not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of others. They are the ones that can really help build momentum and drive change.

There are some excellent examples that come to mind. In December last year, players from Paris St-Germain and Istanbul Basaksehir made an anti-racism protest, walking off the pitch during a Champions League match, after a match official was alleged to have used racist language towards one of the away side’s backroom staff.

Moving away from sport to 2015, when Andrew Grill, a former managing partner at IBM, made a real-time show of support for gender diversity during an all-male panel session at an event in Cardiff. A female member of the audience challenged the lack of women on stage, unaware that the two female speakers that had been invited were unable to attend. Andrew spoke for a short time about his support for women on boards and the opportunity for greater digital diversity, before realising he wasn’t fully addressing the issue. So, he got up and offered the lady his seat on the panel, and an opportunity to balance the equation.

A year later, actress Reese Witherspoon was among those that publicly criticised the lack of diversity at the 2016 Oscars, saying “So disappointed that some of 2015’s best films, filmmakers and performances were not recognised… as an Academy member, I would love to see a more diverse voting membership.” Hers was one of many comments that formed the #OscarsSoWhite controversy surrounding the event.

To me, these examples illustrate the true potential of an ally – someone that takes action for the cause of another. They also highlight the importance of privilege which, where you have it, can be an incredibly powerful tool when used to speak out against something that is not right.

I am fortunate in that my privilege extends beyond my background, my position and the network I have built within my own organisation, into that which I have cultivated through my participation in the OGUK D&I Task Group. This has provided my fellow Group members and I with an opportunity to engage with other senior leaders, across different organisations; an opportunity I use to help get the message out and to recruit other allies.

Scott on top of the Elgin Franklin Flare

If I only help to achieve one thing, I want it to be an increase in the number of allies in our industry, connecting those that want to have a voice. With that sort of support behind us, I think we can make a real difference – by connecting, influencing, educating and, ultimately, getting others to act.

I know from personal experience that fear can be a barrier for many. I have been there myself; worried about doing the wrong thing, or saying the wrong thing. What I have learned, though, is that no one gets it right all of the time. What is important is that you own your impact. If your actions or words come from the right place then, generally, they will be well-received. We need to get rid of that fear if we want more people to be part of the conversation.

There’s never been a more important time for us to step-up our focus on D&I.

We are all part of an industry in transition; with a clear vision on where we need to get to in order to achieve net zero targets. This includes decarbonising existing facilities, advancing carbon capture and storage, and moving towards a hydrogen economy. These are big, important changes. And the success of each one depends on diversity of thought. It’s a business imperative for us to be open to different mindsets, backgrounds and individuals, to help us to navigate the challenges ahead and ensure our continued ability to capitalise on the opportunities. 

I often get asked by people where the best place to start is when it comes to D&I. For me, the first step is to really connect and understand the perspectives of different people. Getting involved and actively supporting those from under-represented groups is next. There are many organisations you can partner with on this; AXIS Network and AFBE-UK being a couple of examples.

Last, but certainly not least, is the advice I received at the start of my own journey, which is, ‘support given in silence is not support’. We must speak out, we must challenge discrimination when we see it and, where relevant, we need to use our privilege. There will always be those that are resistant to change and, of course, we need to be open to their points of view. But if we really want to drive a culture shift, then we need to focus our attention on increasing the number of D&I allies and champions in our industry.

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