-Dr Chioma Nwachuku
It is a privilege to be invited by Energy Corporate & Africa to speak at the first edition of the Africa Women in Energy Forum in Houston. I must start by thanking the leadership of this organization for the privilege of being able to share with this esteemed audience my thoughts on the unique theme of this Forum. I am excited to be here and even more so to speak on Improving Diversity, Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability in the Energy Sector for Ensuring Economic Growth. The importance of the three aspects of this subject matter regarding the energy sector and economic growth has been brought on discussions to the front burner as it rightfully should.
The organizers have put up a plan that will ensure we effectively use this evening to look at the various perspectives of the theme. Therefore, I will concisely speak to the three areas of interest: Diversity, CSR, and Sustainability, then yield the floor to other distinguished speakers for their contributions.
Diversity, Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability are increasingly part of the discourse for the Energy sector. Building a sustainable future is one of the world’s most pressing challenges. But we can only achieve this by ensuring all communities and demographics are engaged and are given an opportunity to participate.
The Energy Sector plays a pivotal role in the socio-economic development of the world and has been the engine for development from the era of steam to coal and on to fossil fuels. The sector will continue to play this key role even as we embark on the energy transition. The reliance of our human existence on energy continues to hold strong as the demand for energy has outstripped supply. What is clear is that the World runs on energy.
Diversity and Inclusion
Diversity is a topic that usually elicits various emotions, often laden with passion.
Diversity is a must have for an organization desirous of growth. Understandably, conversations around the globe on Diversity often come with the word Inclusion. For us to reap the benefits of Diversity, there should be Inclusion.
The concept of Diversity and Inclusion in the Energy sector strives to harness the strength, knowledge and expertise of erstwhile excluded groups of people. It goes beyond just gender and includes race, age, disability status, and ethnicity, just to mention a few. It is proven that the value of decision-making benefits from the strength of diverse perspectives.
In today’s world, the importance of Diversity in all walks of life cannot be overemphasized, as well as the dangers of exclusion. Diversity in the workplace is much more than checking a box. Research has shown repeatedly that more diverse workforces are better for innovation, result in happier and more productive employees, and increase retention levels. These dividends ultimately drive economic growth and sustainability globally.
In the Energy sector, embracing Diversity will be vital for companies looking to drive value creation cum retention toward realizing sustainable business goals in short, medium and long term.
Women’s participation in the energy sector is below the broader economy and varies widely across energy sub-sectors. For example, despite making up 48% of the global labour force, women only account for 22% of the labour force in the oil and gas sector and 32% in renewables (International Energy Agency). More work needs to be done at all levels to drive greater participation of women in the industry.
Traditionally, African society has been male dominated particularly in the corporate world, as in most other societies. Was work allowed for women? Yes, but often under male supervision.
With a wider spread of education, however, change became inevitable. A UNESCO study of literacy levels in Africa between 2015 and 2019 showed a noted disparity in literacy between males and females. The male literacy level is higher in most African countries, and only countries like Seychelles and Lesotho had a higher percentage of female literacy.
Increasingly women bestride the corporate world in top management and Leadership positions in various fields of human endeavor. But more effort still is needed. We must focus on the top inclusion metrics on inclusive culture, fair management, career development, workplace flexibility, and workplace safety ensuring all employees are not experiencing sexual, psychological, or physical harassment.
What We Can Do to Improve D&I in the Energy Sector
There are still many gender barriers and stereotypes that we must break for the industry to move forward and reach its full potential, particularly with the energy transition drive.
Strengthening gender diversity in the energy industry requires unrelenting long-term efforts to boost inclusion. Although there is a growing demand for talent, the industry currently faces a significant challenge in finding and retaining talented staff in a competitive global market. The energy sector needs to recruit aggressively in the next decade to enable its workforce to keep pace with the energy transition. To truly foster innovation and equity, recruitment needs to include goals to improve diversity within the energy industry. Employees with different backgrounds and lived experiences bring their unique strengths to help teams tackle problems, uncover new ideas, and create the right environment for innovation to thrive.
McKinsey’s ‘Diversity Matters’ report found that: “Companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. Conversely, companies in the bottom quartile in these dimensions are statistically less likely to achieve above-average returns.”
Hence, creating gender equity needs to be supported at all levels of an organization and is everyone’s responsibility. It starts with leading by example. Walk the talk, be supportive and unafraid to call out biases, and then own the opportunity to identify and address them. Leaders play a crucial role in ensuring gender equity and can achieve this through hiring, development and succession to ensure gender balance and equal opportunity.
We need to also work on the supply of this talent by boosting the number of women entering STEM programmes, which will enable us to achieve gender-balanced recruitment.
When the recruitment hurdle is scaled, we need to look at ways to mitigate the limits to opportunities for certain types of operational jobs for women.
We need to address harmful stereotypes about job roles and advancement opportunities that unnecessarily hold women and men back across the talent pipeline.
The female gender makes up 48% of the world workforce population. It will be beneficial to capture the value of inclusion of this human resource in the workforce that will drive the future of the Energy sector.
D&I in Seplat Energy
At Seplat Energy Plc, Diversity and Inclusion support integration and organizational advancement. It is about empowering people by respecting and appreciating what makes them different, in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, etc
Our intense focus on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) starts from the Board level and tingles down to everyone in the organization.
Women’s representation on the Seplat Energy Board is 25%
At the top management level, we have 33% female representation.
Companywide, we have 25% female representation
We are above the industry average of 22%. However, more inclusion needs to be encouraged, and the Company continues to work on this.
In October 2021, the Company launched the Seplat Awesome Women Network as part of its sustainable business approach toward the achievement of SDG5 to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. As part of the reforms to improve our inclusion policy, we reviewed the Policy on maternity leave to allow expectant mothers to spend more time with their newborns. We extended the leave period from 12 to 16 weeks with an option of an additional annual leave which makes it 20 weeks of paid leave. And for the paternity leave, we reviewed from 2 working days to 14 working days.
The Company is a signatory to the principles of the United Nations (UN) Global Compact and is committed to its principles in our operations. Accordingly, Seplat has robust policies on Whistleblowing, Bullying and Harassment, Grievance and Disciplinary Procedures.
The Company adopted a Diversity and Inclusion Policy to set the parameters within which Seplat Energy will promote diversity and inclusion within the organization. This Policy applies to all Directors, employees, and business partners, including their respective recruitment, engagement, compensation, evaluation, and promotion.
Still, to improve diversity, Seplat instituted a Diversity and Inclusion department. This dedicated unit looks at all matters on D&I with critical areas of concentration that include:
Establishing a Baseline Assessment of D&I in Seplat
Deploying specific pieces of training towards developing competencies that promote inclusion (D&I awareness, unconscious biases, culture orientation etc.)
We analyze compensation and develop a plan to eliminate any D&I related pay gaps.
We are developing business unit workforce dashboards to provide transparency about workforce diversity trends.
On Corporate Social Responsibility
Corporate Social Responsibility is how an organization takes accountability for how its activities impact the environment, employees, communities and other stakeholders. Corporate Social Responsibility is not just about charity, but it is in expressing the duty of care. The fundamental core of corporate responsibility is ensuring that everyone in your organization is accountable and works to earn the trust of all stakeholders by meeting their expectations of ethical and responsible behaviour.
Seplat’s Corporate Responsibility Strides
At SEPLAT, our purpose is to impact lives through our operations. We are committed to contributing our quota to improving energy access for all by growing our gas business and supplying over 30% of the gas that powers the electricity supply in Nigeria. We, in tandem, deliberately create opportunities to boost livelihood and economic growth at the individual level, especially in the areas in which we operate.
Over the years in our short history, we have embarked on several social investment programmes that aim to better the lives of the people. Our approach focuses on a 5-pillar framework of social investments, including health and safety, education, youth and women empowerment, environmental stewardship, and community/infrastructure development. We are very active in 13 out of the 17 SDGs.
Our 5-pillar framework has addressed some of the core needs of our stakeholders and improved their quality of life. In addition, these programmes help lift these people out of poverty.
In a little over ten years, we have invested ca. US$4.28million in health programmes, US$3.47million in Education programmes, US$5.05million in Empowerment programmes for women and youth and US$19.64million in community Infrastructure development projects and thousands of lives impacted positively.
In this ever-shifting energy landscape, Sustainability is to be embedded firmly in every Energy company’s Strategy. I believe that Sustainability should be driven by the vehicle of ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance) imperatives. Sustainability is vital in all aspects of the energy sector business, from reducing emissions to securing better and more efficient ways of doing business and, indeed, the Energy Transition. The demand in the energy sector is to drive Sustainability by raising the standards, anticipating market needs and investing in tailored solutions. In other words, the industry must continuously commit to evolve to survive.
Sustainability: the Seplat Perspective
Seplat Energy’s belief in and focus on Sustainability has contributed immensely to our achievements and the strong foundation we have laid as the leading indigenous energy company in Nigeria, given our short history. We emphasize sustainability reporting, which provides us with the platform to evaluate our ESG performance and ensure we are on track in making meaningful contributions towards the achievement of our business aspirations and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The energy sector must evolve to meet the demands of an ever-changing world. We must address how to satisfy all metrics of targets for D&I issues as part of the evolution to meet economic growth. Corporate Social responsibility will continue to be critical for business success as stakeholders are focused not only on profits but also on People and the planet.
Let me end by saying that a close watch on the three critical areas of our discourse this evening is an essential aid in achieving business goals, impacting stakeholders, and building any sustainable organization for economic growth.
Delivered by Dr. Chioma Nwachuku, Director External Affairs & Sustainability, Seplat Energy Plc at the Energy Corporate & Africa; Africa Women in Energy Forum in Houston, Texas, USA at Offshore Technology Conference (OTC)