Make Gender Equality a Value, Not a Priority

Organizations within any industry can take constructive steps to make gender equality a strategic value.

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Inside our organizations, what’s the difference between a “priority” and a “value”?

It may seem like a semantic question. It isn’t. The difference is critical and key to making big changes happen. To make gender equality a reality — from the boardroom and C-suite to front-line employees — organizations need to shift their thinking around values.

Priorities can change at any time. Values do not. Values and beliefs drive culture and behaviors.

I’ve seen this cultural shift happen with another crucial workplace issue: safety. For 10 years, I worked as a safety executive in oil and gas companies. After years of devastating accidents and injuries, rapid improvements followed. An analyst said the industry was becoming one of the safest. Annual accident records show the turnaround continuing.

This happened over time because the industry changed its approach, making safety a value and not a priority. Total, a multinational energy conglomerate, puts it this way: “Safety is more than just a priority. It’s a core value and the basis of our strategy.” The American Petroleum Institute similarly described safety as a core value for the natural gas and oil industry. In making this shift, the industry began to ensure that safety was baked into every decision, at every level.

It’s time to do the same for gender equality across numerous industries, including oil and gas, where women make up only 15% of the workforce (and even less among higher-paid technical jobs).

I left my former work in energy safety culture to focus full time on rectifying this problem. The business incentives are clear. As McKinsey notes: “Research supports that diverse and inclusive teams tend to be more creative and innovative than homogenous groups.” Gender equality leads to greater psychological safety. And boosting women in the energy industry will also help advance efforts to protect the climate. Women on average place greater importance on the environment.

A few years ago, a group of oil and gas companies at the World Economic Forum issued a call to action to close the gender gap. My organization Pink Petro gathered stakeholders from across the sector to offer recommendations on how to achieve this, and I recently testified in Congress on this subject.

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