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Industry report shows ‘scary and disappointing’ progress on gender balance

A new report for the UK oil and gas industry shows a “scary and disappointing” lack of progress on gender diversity, according to a Wood boss.

Lesley Birse of the Aberdeen-headquartered energy services firm was speaking yesterday at the launch of new research from skills body Opito.

The report showed that the percentage of women in the industry is only expected to rise from 25% to 30% by 2025, even when recruiting at a 50/50 ratio of men and women, which was described as “marginal” by Oil and Gas UK CEO Deirdre Michie.

The “skills landscape” report was launched during the event at the Ardoe House Hotel in Aberdeen, also featuring speakers from Opito, Robert Gordon University, BP and Chevron.

It set out the need for the industry to attract 25,000 new workers within six years, including 4,500 in roles  that don’t currently exist in technology and digital skills.

Ms Birse, president of people and organisation for Europe, Africa, Middle East and Asia at Wood, said it highlighted the amount of work still needed to address the gender imbalance.

She said: “For me, the only disappointment of it was the aspect on gender.

“That news was both scary and disappointing and prompted me to think ‘we need to do something different to accelerate that’.

“Just doing what we’re doing is not going to get us there on the gender balance.”

Front row L-R: Lesley Birse of Wood, Sophie Ewan OGTAP Apprentice sponsored by Chevron, Deirdre Michie, CEO of Oil and Gas UK. Back row L-R: Mark Cullens of Opito, Paul de Leeuw, director of RGU’s Oil and Gas Institute, Ariel Flores, regional president of BP North Sea.

One part of the solution will be attracting “ready-made” workers with tech skills from other sectors like automation which have a better gender balance.

Ms Birse added that another part of the strategy should involve highlighting the “shift” towards new technology and digitalisation which will be more appealing to both genders.

She added: “When we go out into schools and universities and talk to people, we often find that one of the things that puts them off is site working and going offshore because they feel, rightly or wrongly, that it is a lads culture.

“I think with virtual reality there is a lot of opportunity and careers for people where they don’t actually need to go to site and go offshore. I think we need to let people know that and promote it.

“We also need to make sure that on our sites it is conducive to both genders working.”

Mark Cullens, director of strategic engagement at Opito, said it is still challenging to get young women to apply for apprenticeships in the industry.

He said: “We do lots of work with schools and universities in STEM, we facilitate a lot of activity.

“We talk to young women and try to promote this and yet we still find challenges in the number of applications from young women on apprenticeships.

“So we’re starting to think that we have to start in a younger age group. Perhaps we need to focus more on the primary age group, making a difference earlier on so that later they’ll make more choices in the technical space.”

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