INSIGHT: Diversity to solve petchems skilled labour shortage

22 July 2014 16:19  [Source: ICIS news]

By Franco Capaldo

LONDON (ICIS)--The petrochemical industry faces a serious challenge regarding its workforce. At present it is unable to fill jobs created by an emergence of new manufacturing and growth opportunities because of a shortfall of skilled labour.

In the US, for example, much of the petrochemicals workforce will become eligible for retirement in the next 5 to 10 years. The challenge is a serious one.

However, it also has shown to many companies the importance of diversity in the workforce and is providing women with the opportunity to break through to new careers and higher-level positions within the industry which has been traditionally seen as male-dominated.

A shift to a more balanced and diverse workforce is trending.

In February this year, the International Petrochemical Conference (IPC), hosted by the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), saw the first ever networking reception specifically for women in the petrochemical industry, sponsored by major producer BASF.

The reception helped establish a network and encouraged stronger ties among women in the profession as well as with petrochemical company executives.

It was not an isolated incident. In June at Deltavisie, an annual event organised by the Petrochem Platform for the industry in the Netherlands and Belgium, there was a break-out session called Port Angels, which made a case for more women working in the harbour.

Meanwhile, at the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference 2014 (ADIPEC), which will be held from 10-13 November, there will be a panel discussion looking at the role of women in the industry and ways to foster development, a feature which occurred for the first time at the same conference last year.

There will also be a networking reception for women in the petrochemicals industry, similar to the one that happened at the IPC, being organised at the European Petrochemical Association (EPCA) 2014 annual meeting later this year in Vienna.

At the IPC in 2014, more than 600 women participated. In 2013, there were approximately 425 women attedning - a 41% increase in one year.

At the same conference, there was a debate discussing the challenges and opportunities for the petrochemicals industry regarding workforce development. Industry experts discussed job creation issues impacting the industry and how it could respond to these challenges.

The answer to how the industry should go forward in solving a labour shortage crisis seems obvious enough. Diversity attracts diversity.

Petrochemicals must compete with other industries for the top talent available. In order to attract the best from a new generation, it must understand that employee’s wants are evolving.

In a fast-changing world, a more diverse workforce contributes positively to the success of a company. If a little more than 50% of the world population is female, the industry is cutting itself off from a huge amount of potential talent.

There is a quote: 'If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got'. It would seem a more balanced board of management is necessary.

“There are increasing studies showing that diverse teams that are comprised of people from different backgrounds do a better job of anticipating market needs, capturing new markets and delivering innovative approaches and better results,” said Patricia Rossman, chief diversity officer at BASF Corporation in the US.

“It is not just about numbers [of women in the industry], really it is about leveraging the power of diversity as a competitive advantage to make our companies more successful and profitable. The critical factor is the combination of both diversity and inclusion, which requires deliberate efforts to acknowledge the value of difference in perspectives, ideas and team composition to approaches to new markets and different ways of problem solving - all with the goal of achieving greater innovation,” Rossman added.

Heidi Alderman, senior vice president for petrochemicals at BASF, said: “If you look in the US, degrees both undergraduate and graduate, over 60% are being obtained by women. If we want the best talent you need to tap into that.

“In addition, what diversity in general does is create a more inclusive environment for people to feel valued, free to speak up and that is how you get new ideas out,” Alderman added.

Ana-Victoria Hernandez, responsible for diversity within the Refining and Chemicals division of Total, said: "In order to attract top talent we need to be a modern company promoting empathy, promoting inclusion, and this is the trend of the world."

A more diverse workforce will also help companies better understand the needs of its customers.

Angela Stieglitz, Global Procurement of Maritime and Airfreight Services, BASF, said: “In the western world buying decisions in private life are strongly influenced by women. Companies take a closer look to draw females into their workforce as they also have a strong understanding on consumer decision making."

Aniouta Belevitch, Logistics and Operations manager, Refining and Chemicals, Total, said: “It is important to have women involved in all the decisions of process making because they are part of the market.”

Global management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, has researched the business case for increasing the number of women in senior management roles since 2007. In its report ‘Women Matter 2012: Making the breakthrough’, the group noted that in eight out of nine European countries*, on average women held 17% of the seats on corporate boards, 5 percentage points higher than in 2007.

Women’s representation was lower on executive committees. On average, according to the 2012 report, women held 10% of executive committed roles, compared with 4% in 2007. McKinsey & Company also stated in its report that according to growth rates, the proportion of women sitting on Europe’s executive committees will still be less that 20% in 2022.

The report, which examined the gender-diversity of 235 large European companies, also stated that reasons why women find it difficult to rise through the ranks varies greatly.

"At entry level, it is partly a question of a sector's image: businesses viewed as male-dominated tend to attract fewer women. Further up the ladder, many talented women leave a company when they decide to have children or take on other family commitments."

"Some leave before that, having reached the conclusion that they will never be able to reconcile their personal and professional goals if they stay," it added.

Rossman said: “At present there is not enough of a representation of diversity. We are working to be more deliberate in bringing more women into the petrochemicals industry because diversity attracts diversity, and inclusion unlocks the power of that diversity. Having a more diverse workforce establishes a work environment that is better for all employees.”

"In the petrochemicals industry if women don’t see anyone who looks like them at the top, they don’t have any role models and they make deliberate choices on whether to join an organisation or stay." Alderman said.

Hernandez said pressure to improve diversity will partly come from the bottom-up. Companies continue to hire young people - men and women looking to be good parents and not willing to sacrifice so much of their lives as much as older generations used to do.

“[There is the] end to the baby boomers - this generation are not so aware of the value of diversity in the company. The benefits are not so clear - they view diversity as a competition and not as a benefit,” Hernandez said.

Veerle Naets, business manager in the Polymers division of Refining and Chemicals at Total, said more needs to be done to speed up the process. “If we have to wait until change happens naturally and come to an equivalent of female students to the amount in senior positions at companies, you will have to wait another 50 years or more year.

“Time helps but you can also work on building awareness, you can help people see the benefits of diversity - we do a lot of communication around that, and furthermore we organise a lot of workshops to help women be ready and willing to take on more responsibilities,” said Naets.

“The market might not give us the time. The younger generation is changing. Once they are present in all job positions they will change not only the company's world but also the end consuming world – at the end of the day we are employees and also consumers – and the market might change quicker than we think if we are all conservative companies – we need to move quicker," said Belevitch.

Angela Stieglitz said it is not enough to just raise the minimum of women companies have in their boardrooms. The need for companies to be more diverse goes further than just numbers.

“Women do not want tolerance, they want their contribution to count, they need acceptance. Otherwise they will turn away from the company,” said Stieglitz.

“There is a push from the talent pool below. Mindsets needs to be changed,” she added.

Rose-Marie Pype, Commercial Manager Logistics - Oils and Chemicals - Marketing, Promotion & Commercial relations at the Antwerp Port Authority, said: “Diversity without inclusion is a waste of diversity. To have a token woman on a board does not make you diverse. If you don’t include the vision of the diverse person, if the different vision is not welcomed, then there is no use to put it there.

“You cannot have managers that are women and then make decisions without them. Sometimes this can happen - which can be demotivating,” added Pype, who is also a member of Zonta, an organization of executives and professionals which look to advance the status of women worldwide.

Nathalie Brunelle, senior VP Strategy Development Research of the Refining and Chemicals division at Total, said women can find working in the petrochemicals industry – and especially in production – intimidating because it has been, statistically, a world of men. Some managers might feel there is less risk by hiring men to higher positions because that is what they are used to - that is what they know.

Brunelle said attention is being placed towards the situation and progress has been made. But more commitment by the industry needs to happen to speed up the process.

Many petrochemical companies have introduced mentoring schemes to help women nurture their careers and find the confidence and skills to go for more high-level positions.

BASF has an Executive Women in Leadership group which sponsors networking programmes for women and leadership training, while Total has founded TWICE (Total Women’s Initiative for Communication and Exchange) in 2006 and relaunched it in 2009.

“Senior executive women are very interested in helping women in the pipeline, having career development discussions, helping them to communicate more effectively,” said Alderman.

Naets said: "At the beginning of their career women and men are equally ambitious. The question then comes why they opt out to go for the higher position."

One major reason for women not taking the step up from middle-management to higher-level positions is the lack of flexibility a company can offer in terms of a work/life balance. Women do still take the primary responsibility for the home, child and elder care. However, a new generation of men are now also looking for more flexible working.

The new wave of employees being hired are looking for companies to not just provide a career but also one which allows them to have a life at home. This means the industry must move away from outdated workplace models and put in place frameworks of flexible hours which suits employee's needs. This will create a work culture that will make a company more attractive to the bright minds of the new generation.

Stieglitz said: "I see the fundamental change coming from the younger generations: In interviews with applicants I have not only young women but many young men, who ask if the company provides possibilities to combine family and jobs better. Because they consider their spouses as equal partners in all areas of life, also in the job."

With employees having a bigger say in what they want from their roles, the petrochemicals industry must look at diversity more closely as a legitimate solution to help find the skilled talent it so desperately needs.

Industry, governments and education systems – both schools and universities – need to band together. It is not a single group’s fault or responsibility, although it presents a great opportunity for everyone. It is in the self interest of all involved to make it happen.

A more balanced executive committee will help a company better understand the needs of its customers and staff, making it more efficient and competitive. On top of which it will create a more competitive petrochemicals industry, an industry which more employees will want to work in and an industry shareholders will want to invest in.

* In McKinsey & Company’s report ‘Women Matter 2012: Making the breakthrough’, the selected countries were Sweden, Norway, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Czech Republic, Italy and Germany.

Read Paul Hodges’ Chemicals and the Economy blog
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By: Franco Capaldo
+44 (0)20 8652 3214

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