BP Tips the Gender Balance in Male-Dominated World of Oil

BP Tips the Gender Balance in Male-Dominated World of Oil

BP Plc has become the only major oil company to have more women than men in its group of top executives, bucking the status quo in a male-dominated industry. 

On Tuesday, Anja-Isabel Dotzenrath and Leigh-Ann Russell joined Chief Executive Officer Bernard Looney’s leadership team, tipping the gender balance to six women and five men. BP is now setting its sights on the next rungs of management, aiming to achieve gender parity among its 120 most senior leadership roles by 2025 and have women occupying 40% of roles in the next layer down.

That would be a significant achievement for an industry in which women are under-represented at virtually every level. None of the world’s oil supermajors had ever had a woman at its helm. A glance across the smaller exploration and production firms listed in London finds only two female CEOs.

BP Tips the Gender Balance in Male-Dominated World of Oil

To understand the lack of diversity at the top of the industry, Dotzenrath and Russell say you need to start with education, particularly the lack women taking subjects that naturally lead into the sector.  

“I studied engineering at Aberdeen University,” said Russell, who after 16 years at BP will now head innovation and engineering. “I think there were three women in my class.” 

When Dotzenrath studied electrical engineering in Germany, having been raised by a father who was keen for his daughters to follow him in a technical career, just 3% of her course was female.

The number of women studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics at university is growing, but still only makes up around 35% of students, according to research by the U.K.’s Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. 

To help improve diversity, Russell has been doing outreach. “Going into universities, going into schools becomes a really important thing,” she said. “I get asked questions like: Can you be a mum and be an engineer? Well I’m a single mum.”

In the oil and gas industry, women take up just a quarter of entry-level positions, according to research by Boston Consulting Group. For BP, that figure was about 40% in 2020.

Career Ambition

The proportion of women employed across BP stood at 39% in 2020, according its most recent gender pay gap report. By 2030 at the very latest, the company aims to have females in at least half of its 400 senior roles and 40% at every other level of the company.

BP’s board is still male-dominated, with four women out of 10 company directors. That is above the industry average of just 14% board seats occupied by women, according to the Energy Leaders’ Coalition’s third annual report. BP’s gender pay gap is high compared with other businesses. 

It’s not just engineering roles that are low on women, but other businesses like BP’s key trading unit. Although headed by Carol Howle, who also sits on Looney’s leadership team, trading roles at the company are still predominantly carried out by men.

Other energy industries also lack diversity. For Dotzenrath, who started out as a technician for German utility RWE AG, her career was not a smooth ride. “I’m at an age where it was -- back then -- not so normal to have women with a lot more career ambition,” she said. 

At RWE, Dotzenrath progressed through various senior roles including her last as the head of the utility’s renewables unit, which was spun out into a separate company in 2019. 

“I was the CEO of one of the biggest renewables companies in the world,” Dotzenrath said. “I could have stayed there and enjoyed my life and I would have always been the good girl, but it was a deliberate decision to join BP because this is much harder.”

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