The past decade has been nothing short of transformational for the energy industry. Amid demands for aggressive sustainability progress, supply chain challenges and delays, and calls for ethical reform, industry innovators have risen to the challenge. The changes that ensued have reshaped the business and the industry has turned an important corner, with companies operating with greater efficiency and competitiveness than ever before.
However, there are two glaring areas that the industry has yet to make meaningful progress: diversity among energy industry personnel and leaders, and technology adoption. On the surface, these two concepts seem mutually exclusive. However, if you peel back the layers of diversity and technology adoption, you will see that they can be used as a joint accelerator tool to hasten progress in the energy sector.
The Energy Industry’s Delayed Digitalization
Let’s first look at technology and the role it plays in the energy industry. Over the past few years, technology and digitalization have come to the forefront of many industries’ strategic initiatives, and rates of adoption have accelerated dramatically.
However, in contrast to other industries, the oil and gas industry specifically has historically held a slower than average pace when it comes to adopting new ways of working. For decades, the industry relied on paper-based technology (and still does to a certain degree) and had no real push for using digitalization to maximize efficiency.
There was often the mindset of “just get the job done” among industry workers, with no expectation of innovation. Early adopters of technology were not common, and there was no compelling business case to implement something new. Even when a project did choose to experiment with a new technology, it rarely progressed beyond the pilot stage. This prevented digitalization, change and progress at scale.
A New Method for Embracing Change
The question remains: What progress have we made so far? Perhaps more importantly, what work does the industry still need to do to fully embrace a spirit of innovation?
Technology is changing the energy sector in many interesting and meaningful ways. Whether the focus is on oil price dynamics of supply and demand or capital efficiency, companies are closely examining production and asset productivity and using technology to drive change in those areas. Much of this change could be made possible by connected devices providing real-time data, which would enable more optimized assets, and digital technologies to help upskill workers and prevent the loss of critical skills.
A powerful tool for companies who can harness its capabilities, digital also brings with it some challenges in the energy sector. New skills are required, and a unique approach to transformation must be present: Companies must fully commit to change. As the industry dives headfirst into digitalization, there is one thing that has become abundantly clear. The secret ingredient to meaningful technology advancement has been right in front of us all along…
How Diversity Drives Digitalization (And Vice Versa)
As companies across the energy and construction industries brace themselves for “The Great Crew Change” and older workers retire in droves, technology is becoming increasingly important. Younger generations that are entering the workforce were raised on technology, and most don’t remember a time without it. They embrace the concept that something new and better is always just around the corner, and won’t be satisfied with dated technology. This is where diversity in the workforce comes into play as a driver for technology adoption.
But diversity in the workforce goes beyond the physical and social aspects of having people from different genders, cultures, generations or backgrounds. For diversity to drive innovation, change, and technology adoption, diversity of thought is needed.
Think about the last place you worked or observed that was truly innovative and open to new concepts. What did the workforce look like there? What did the leadership look like there? Were new approaches or ways of working met with enthusiasm or resistance?
Today, businesses cannot afford to continue to approach problems using the same lens that they have for decades. In the increasingly volatile and changing world in which we live, approaching problems from a variety of angles increases the innovative capacity and broadens the creativity of an organization. Multiple voices and perspectives bounce off one another and can give rise to out-of-the-box thinking, driving change, fostering innovation and increasing productivity.
A Practical Approach to Diversity and Digitalization
Where does the energy industry stand in the pursuit of a more diverse workforce?
It’s no secret that the industry is very male-dominated, with only one in five leadership roles held by women, even after 14 consecutive years of increases. These delays in meaningful diversity progress are only hurting companies’ bottom lines. In fact, a recent study found that companies that have a leadership team composed of at least 30 percent females have an average of six percent higher net margins. Further, companies with a higher percentage of women in executive positions achieve a 34 percent higher shareholder return.
Clearly, a diverse and inclusive team and organizational culture can make a significant impact on business performance and innovation. But where is the intersection of diversity and technology, and how can it be leveraged? There are many ways to ensure these two concepts do not operate in a vacuum and, instead, serve each other.
Here are three that will start you on the journey to a more inclusive and technologically advanced organization:
- Ensure that your organization’s head of people and head of technology are plugged in to each other’s initiatives. Often these two functions are siloed, and do not see the opportunities to work together to advance the whole team. Ensure that performance data is tracked by teams with a diverse makeup and contrasted with teams without a diverse representation.
- Set up and maintain productive feedback loops, giving all workers the channels to make suggestions and changes. This not only opens the door for out of the box thinking, but it also ensures that everyone has a voice.
- Incentivize cross-team collaboration for implementation. It is not enough to just test out a new technology or ways of doing things, true implementation is what moves a company forward on their path to innovation.
Reshaping the Value Chain
Greater diversity in the energy industry is critical, as it is prone to technical and economic uncertainty and is constantly seeking efficiencies to meet stakeholder expectations. Although the energy industry is widely known as a sector where it takes time for change to be felt, a diverse workforce and the speed of digital technologies can help reshape the value chain.
This doesn’t mean that making meaningful changes in the areas of diversity and technology adoption comes without challenges, but challenges sharpen our focus and demand that we become better than we were yesterday.
Meghan Golden is the chief business officer and co-founder of Cumulus Digital Systems, where she leads the operations team. Prior to co-founding Cumulus, she was a program manager at Shell TechWorks, Shell’s technology center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Prior to joining Shell, Golden worked in the defense industry and served for six years on active duty as an officer in the U.S. Army.
Golden enjoys being active and spending time with her husband, Steve, and their three daughters Eleanor, Victoria and Cecilia. She earned a B.S. in Systems Engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point and is also a certified Project Management Professional (PMP®) from the Project Management Institute. Golden is a combat veteran of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and recipient of the Bronze Star Medal.
Golden can be reached via LinkedIn or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oil and gas operations are commonly found in remote locations far from company headquarters. Now, it's possible to monitor pump operations, collate and analyze seismic data, and track employees around the world from almost anywhere. Whether employees are in the office or in the field, the internet and related applications enable a greater multidirectional flow of information – and control – than ever before.