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

Oct 13, 2022

This resource has been updated with information from our 2022 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 a 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. But since then, the sector has not really seized its opportunity. An updated version of the WPC-BCG report published in December 2021 indicates that the percentage of women working in the sector has held steady in the intervening years — at just 22%. 

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. 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 eight-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 about 31% of the Canadian oil and gas workforce according to the Canadian Energy Centre. PetroLMI (a division of the non-profit industry association Energy Safety Canada) calculated that figure at 22% in 2016, suggesting some improvement in recent years after over a decade with little change.

Outside of Canada, the issue is even more pronounced. The WPC-BCG study found that among companies with operations in multiple countries, women’s representation sits at just 25%. In 2017, it 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.” While more companies have introduced policies and programs to improve diversity and inclusion in their ranks since 2017, fewer than half of them tie executive compensation to their D&I targets and only a third actively try to eliminate unconscious bias in hiring by screening candidates blindly.

Beyond numbers, the distribution of women between different roles is also significant in limiting advancement. For example, PetroLMI found in 2018 that women are predominantly employed in office-based roles (55%). WPC-BCG echoed this finding, pointing to a scarcity of women in technical and operations roles, jobs that are critical stepping stones to promotion. But even there, the number of women in senior business and administration roles decreased from 26% to 13% between 2017 and 2020. And with women holding only about a quarter of entry-level positions in the field, there are fewer chances to move up the ladder at all.

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 support from senior leaders, unfair evaluation and promotion, and lack of mentoring and sponsorship.

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 2022 Diversity Disclosure Practices survey of reported disclosures from all TSX-listed firms, women in the oil and gas sector held 23% of all director positions (mid-year 2022 results). This compared to 25% for the TSX as a whole (based on 635 companies reporting), 37% for the highest-ranking sector (utilities and pipelines), and 36% for companies on the S&P/TSX 60 (54 reporting). On a per-board basis, the number of women directors was 2.05 for TSX-listed companies overall as of mid-year 2022 (based on 648 companies reporting), compared to 1.8 for the oil and gas sector.

Breakdown of number and percentages of women directors in 2022

Breakdown of number and percentages of women directors in 2022

Looking at the C-suite, the percentage of women executives in oil and gas as of mid-year 2022 was 15%, compared to 20% among TSX-listed companies overall (based on 582 companies reporting), 30% for the leading sector (utilities and pipelines), and 24% for S&P/TSX 60 companies (47 reporting). The average number of women executives per company in the sector was 0.98.

Breakdown of number and percentages of women executive officers in 2022

Breakdown of number and percentages of women executive officers in 2022

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 almost quadrupled (to 23%), albeit from a very low starting point. This far exceeds the average overall TSX-listed company gain (to 25% 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 2022 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 2022, above only energy services but clustered with a couple of other industries.

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 18% of directors at energy services companies in 2022 were women (up from 16% in 2021), compared to 25% for TSX-listed companies as a whole. On a per-board basis, the number of women directors was also lower at 1.3 for the industry compared to 2.05 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 13% of executive officers in the industry were women compared to 20% for TSX-listed companies. On a per-company basis, the industry number was slightly higher at 1.97 compared to the TSX-listed firm average of 1.94.

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 energy sector. Its 13-member board includes five women and, on the executive side, 10 senior leaders from across the organization comprise the company’s Inclusion & 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, which increased 55% in 2021.

There are other reasons for optimism. Every company surveyed in 2020 for the WPC-BCG report now offers maternity leave, and upwards of 95% support equal pay, offer paternity leave and have implemented a policy for dealing with sexual harassment, significantly higher figures than just a few years earlier. With these established, more advanced — and more difficult — plans like predefined leadership pathways, childcare support, increased mentorship opportunities and linking executive compensation to D&I goals offer a pathway toward continued improvement.

Five years ago, the WPC-BCG report had 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% to 35% by 2022.

So far, that hasn't been the case. But, as the PrairieSky and Calfrac examples suggest, doors are opening.