Women’s Global Leadership Conference highlights importance of enabling talent from a variety of backgrounds

10/28/2019

HOUSTON - Keynote speakers at the Women’s Global Leadership Conference discussed the critical role that diverse, multi-talented teams play in the future success of the oil and gas industry.

Shelly Zalis, CEO of The Female Quotient, observed that the energy sector is making important strides in equality and diversity in the workplace. “The energy industry does a better job of hiring and retaining women through the pipeline” to management roles, but the percentage of women in leadership positions still has room to improve, she said.

“Women are often hired based on their past performance, while men are hired for their potential. We should hire for passion, and train for skill,” Zalis said, adding “we should hire for talent, always hire the best.”

In addition to hiring and promotion practices, Zalis noted that the gender pay gap continues to be an issue for equality in the workplace. The results of closing the pay gap could be striking, particularly for working mothers; she estimates that equal pay would finance an additional year of a woman’s college tuition costs, or 74 weeks’ worth of groceries, or 14 months of child care costs

Zalis observed that, on a macro level, laws in several countries are rapidly evolving to foster a more equal workplace. She cited the adoption of the “history salary ban” in 12 U.S. states, which makes it illegal to ask for an applicant’s salary history as part of the hiring process. Elsewhere, Japan is subsidizing preschool costs for working families, while Sweden is enacting generous new paid parental leave policies.

Closing the pay gap could add as much as $2.3 trillion to the global economy, if the issue is addressed by 2025, Zalis said, noting that proactivity is key. In the next ten years, she estimates that the pay gap will have closed by 1%, if current hiring and management trends continue. Were the global business community to make addressing wage issues its top priority, the situation would improve ten times faster.

“Equality is a choice; unconscious bias is just an excuse,” Zalis said.

Joining Zalis in a fireside chat were Dr. Shahidah M. Shariff, CEO of Petronas Research Sdn. Bhd., and Simon Seaton, CEO of Sodexo’s worldwide energy and resources operations. Each shared their own stories of intentional or unintentional workplace biases, and how these biases can be addressed for the betterment of both employees and the broader corporate organization.

Sodexo’s corporate culture is heavily focused on gender equality, Seaton said, with 58% of the French company’s board of directors comprised of women, with women also holding 38% of senior management roles. By the company’s own measure, this dedication to equality is paying dividends. Sodexo performed an internal performance study from 2014 to 2018, and saw that balanced leadership teams delivered meaningful improvements in not only safety and employee retention, but increased profit margin and client retention as well.

In her own experience, Dr. Shariff noted that successful, equitable organizations are built upon a diverse workforce that has been encouraged to be curious and passionate from a young age. Learned early, these traits develop resilience, serving as building blocks for future success in the workplace and beyond.

“You push yourself through what you’re passionate about,” Dr. Shariff said of her success as a corporate leader, mother of four, and a new grandmother. “If you focus on what you’re doing, any woman can achieve great things. The key is passion.”

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