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Diversity among directors and executives in Canada’s oil and gas and energy services sectors

Oct 13, 2021

This resource has been updated with information from our 2021 Diversity Disclosure Practices: Diversity and leadership at Canadian public companies report.

In oil and gas, reserves are companies’ lifeblood. So, when the World Petroleum Council (WPC) partnered with the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) on 2017 report promoting gender balance in the sector and called it “Untapped Reserves,” their meaning was clear: to the extent that oil and gas companies perpetuate the industry’s historic under-representation of women, they are failing to fully leverage a sizable and critical pool of talent. (An update to this report is set to launch at the end of 2021.)

In Canada to date, actions to address this concern have come mainly from the sector’s larger players, such as Suncor Energy Inc. But recent examples like that of PrairieSky Royalty Ltd. suggest the initiatives might be spreading. Earlier in 2021, PrairieSky — whose workforce in 2020 was 73% women, including 80% of its managers — updated its board diversity policy to include a commitment to achieve and maintain a board composition of at least 30% women by 2025 — a commitment the company has already fulfilled. Currently, three of the nine members of PrairieSky’s board are women.

Calfrac Well Services Ltd., a leading service firm in the industry (based in Calgary, as are PrairieSky and Suncor), is similarly inclined. It engages a third-party search firm to lead its director section process and instructs it to include gender diversity as one of the criteria for assessing candidates. At this point, however, the company’s current seven-member board of directors is all male. Specific circumstances aside, the situation perhaps underscores a key point in the WPC-BCG “Untapped Reserves” report — that when women are long under-represented in a sector, the pool of highly qualified female candidates to recruit from is restricted. And righting such an imbalance takes time.

Barriers to change

The disparity in male and female representation in oil and gas isn’t restricted to boards or senior executive positions. Overall, women currently make up only about 22% of the Canadian oil and gas workforce — a figure little changed in more than a decade — according to a 2018 report by PetroLMI (a division of the non-profit industry association Energy Safety Canada). In 2006, the same report notes, it stood at 21%.

Nor is this an issue unique to Canada. The WPC-BCG study examined all major economies and found no statistically significant differences — attributing that to an industry culture that is “global in scope and sufficiently strong to override the influence of regional forces.”

Beyond numbers, the distribution of women between different roles is also significant in limiting advancement. For example, PetroLMI found that even today women are predominantly employed in office-based roles (55%). WPC-BCG echoed this finding, pointing to a scarcity of women in technical and field roles, jobs that are critical stepping stones to promotion.

WPC-BCG also lists other obstacles women identify as the main reasons fewer of them make senior management. Those most commonly cited: lack of awareness of opportunities, lack of sponsorship or support from senior leaders, and unfair evaluation and promotion.

In Canada, other hurdles may be stalling increases in women’s representation at the board level. According to the Canadian Board Diversity Council’s 2018 survey [PDF] of FP500 companies, just 28.9% of mining and oil and gas boards have adopted diversity targets for the number of women directors — fewer than in other sectors.

Latest diversity data and trends

According to Osler’s 2021 Diversity Disclosure Practices survey of reported disclosures from all TSX-listed firms, women in the oil and gas sector held 20% of all director positions (mid-year 2021 results). This compared to 22% for the TSX as a whole (based on 614 companies reporting), 35% for the highest-ranking sector (utilities and pipelines), and 33% for companies on the S&P/TSX 60 (55 reporting). On a per board basis, the number of women directors was 1.83 for TSX-listed companies overall as of mid-year 2021 (based on 629 companies reporting), compared to 1.56 for the oil and gas sector.

Breakdown of number and percentages of women directors in 2021

Breakdown of number and percentages of women directors in 2021

Looking at the C-suite, the percentage of women executives in oil and gas as of mid-year 2021 was 15%, compared to 18% among TSX-listed companies overall (based on 565 companies reporting), 30% for the leading sector (utilities & pipelines), and 22% for S&P/TSX 60 companies (50 reporting). The average number of women executives per company in the sector was 1.17.

Breakdown of number and percentages of women executive officers in 2021

Breakdown of number and percentages of women executive officers in 2021

Despite being below average, the data does have some positive aspects. In 2015, the first year that Osler compiled this information, women directors held just 6% of board positions in oil and gas, with an average number of 0.54 women per board. Since then, the percentage has more than tripled (to 20%), albeit from a very low starting point. This far exceeds the average overall TSX-listed company gain (to 22% from around 12%) in the same period. When it comes to representation of women executive officers, the gains are smaller — up just six percentage points in mid-year 2021 compared to 2015, when it was 9%. Relative to other sectors, however, this increase is more substantial. In 2015, for example, oil and gas ranked last in percentage of women executives across all 11 sectors and continues to rank near the bottom in 2021, above only energy services but clustered with a couple of other industries.

Similar trends, but slightly higher absolute numbers, are present when looking only at mining/oil/gas companies on the FP500 as compiled by the Canadian Board Diversity Council. Their data reveals that the percentage of board positions held by female directors in the mining/oil/gas sector in 2018 was 23.1%, up from 16.1% in 2015. The percentage of women executives in that group in 2018 was 13.2%, up from 11.6% in 2015.

Energy services

In terms of the energy services industry in general, the percentages compare less favourably to other TSX-listed firms with regard to women director diversity levels. Data compiled for Osler’s 2021 Diversity Disclosure Practices report shows that 16% of directors at energy services companies in 2021 were women (up from 14% in 2020), compared to 22% for TSX-listed companies as a whole. On a per-board basis, the number of women directors was also lower at 1.13 for the industry compared to 1.83 for TSX-listed companies.

With regard to women executive officers, energy services was lower as well compared to other TSX-listed firms. The Osler report shows that 11% of executive officers in the industry were women compared to 18% for TSX-listed companies. On a per-company basis, the industry number was slightly higher at 1.72 compared to the TSX-listed firm average of 1.69.

Women directors in the energy services sector

Women directors in the energy Services sector

Women executive officers in the energy services sector

Women executive officers in the energy Services sector

Best practices and sector leaders

As noted, Suncor is a recognized leader on diversity within the Canadian oil and gas sector. Its ten-member board includes four women and, on the executive side, senior leaders from each business line sit on the company’s Inclusion and Diversity Council. The company’s focus areas include unconscious bias training, consciously promoting culture change through policies that remove systemic barriers, including the use of discriminatory language in internal and external communications, and continued improvements to talent processes to broaden recruitment reach. Its diversity disclosure also includes reporting on its commitment to Indigenous workforce development.

More broadly, the WPC-BCG report identified a list of best practices cited by those surveyed. For mid-career women, respondents felt most strongly that they be offered the same career opportunities as men. In tandem, they also recommended that work-life balance policies be applied equally across all genders. At the executive level, meanwhile, the results stressed the importance of measuring and monitoring women’s progress and broadening the range of career paths from which prospective senior hires are chosen. Survey respondents felt that if these practices were faithfully applied, the percentage of women in the industry overall could grow from 22% (in 2017) to 35% in 2022.

Based on historical precedent, 35% by 2022 might be too optimistic. But, as the PrairieSky and Calfrac examples suggest, doors are opening.