3 Ways to Build A More Inclusive Canadian Energy Industry
From oil and gas and mining and metals to power and utilities: the Canadian energy industry is more focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) than at any other time in our collective history. That’s a good thing. Creating psychologically safe workplaces where employees feel valued, supported, and respected is crucial to fostering engagement and driving innovation. Prioritizing DE&I can actually unleash a host of tangible top- and bottom-line benefits, particularly as the workforce itself transforms.
Even so, research shows that the Canadian energy industry has a long way to go before realizing the full lift of a truly diverse and inclusive culture. This continued lack of diversity can drive a significant wedge in any organization’s ability to innovate. And that’s a hit no energy or resources business can afford to take.
How is the Canadian Energy Industry Performing on DE&I?
Diverse teams identify and reduce up to 30% more safety risks than non-diverse teams. Studies show that sales revenue can increase by nearly 15 times in organizations with higher racial diversity. Creating a sense of belonging at work has also been found to increase employee productivity and performance by 56%. Innovation can soar by 20% by drawing on the experiences and perspectives of individuals from diverse backgrounds when those individuals feel safe to be their full selves and that they belong. All of this is good for people, organizations, communities, and the economy. But these upsides remain largely out of reach across Canada’s energy sector currently.
- A recent survey carried out jointly by Careers in Energy and EY Canada shows that while 47.5% of Canada’s workforce self-identifies as female, that number drops to 20.2% within Alberta’s energy sector.
- Additional research reveals just 30% of upstream jobs in oil and gas (and only 22% in mining and metals) are filled by women. On top of that, fewer than 10% of all people working in the trades are women.
That gender imbalance is reinforcing a culture of hypermasculinity across energy and resources fieldwork sites. Still, this is only one piece of the puzzle. Diversity is about broadly defined differences across a wide range of dimensions. It extends well beyond gender or gender identity and expression alone. Diversity spans nationality, language, education, sexual orientation, generation, age, socioeconomic background, religious background, abilities and disabilities, as well as identity dimensions defined and constructed by society itself (such as ethnic, colour, cultural, or racial terms).
“Indigenous people and historically equity-seeking groups are less likely to hold management roles in energy.”
Diversity also covers different working and thinking styles, experiences, career paths, technical skills, geographies, service lines, sectors, and functions. Viewed through that broader, intersectional lens, the energy sector is even less diverse than when explored through gender alone.
By the numbers:
- Although increasingly represented overall, Indigenous people and historically equity-seeking groups are less likely to hold management roles in energy. They’re also more likely to experience wage discrepancies, compared to others working in these sectors.
- Board directors who are Black, Indigenous, or people of colour make up only 5.5% of all Board positions within these industries. Less than 1% of Board positions are held by people with disabilities.
We know gaps like these can hold Canadian energy companies back from unleashing their full potential. That reality is compounded by the fact that our most recent survey shows many respondents do not even recognize this lack of DE&I as an issue at all:
- Some 10.5% of survey respondents believe that DE&I actually has a negative impact on business performance (defined as the ability of employees to complete their roles, the quality of work produced, and an organization’s ability to procure customers and/or vendors).
- Meanwhile, 66.7% of these respondents represent leadership or management positions — illuminating a clear lack of inclusivity at a system level, starting from the very top of the house and revealing clear discrepancies in lived experiences and daily reality.
Without buy-in and commitment to DE&I at these leadership levels, organizations run an even greater risk of sticking to the status quo, missing out on the benefits that inclusion brings, and failing to maintain relevance with workers on a broader scale.
How is the Importance of DE&I Challenging the Canadian Energy Industry?
Energy is a space where workforce demographics have already been shifting for some time. Baby Boomers are aging out of the workforce, taking decades of institutional knowledge along with them. In Alberta in particular, where much of Canada’s energy industry is based, the total energy labour force declined by 20% from 2014 to 2022. Labour in the energy services subsector dropped by 44% in the same period.
“Energy and resources organizations have a unique opportunity to lead the world in developing dynamic solutions for society’s greatest challenges.”
National birthrates have also fallen to new lows, complicating the future talent pipeline. Foreign workers are struggling to cut through the red tape that holds them back from fully contributing. This is all happening as energy-based industries wrestle with a historic transition, with decarbonization potentially being the greatest generational challenge Canada’s energy sector has ever faced.
On the one hand, energy and resources organizations have a unique opportunity to lead the world in developing dynamic solutions for society’s greatest challenges. Left unchecked, though, a stark and systemic lack of diversity across these industries and poorly managed inclusiveness strategies could significantly hamper those efforts. For example, the EY survey showed that 76% of millennials would leave their employer if the company does not offer DE&I initiatives. That is no way to compete for talent.
Put simply: Canada’s energy sector is at a critical crossroads. This is the moment to apply DE&I effectively in the workplace, define and implement an inclusive culture that will enable business imperatives, and unleash the power in humans to achieve the extraordinary — or, risk falling permanently off course.
What Can Organizations Do to Make Progress Now?
There is no single solution. Reimagining culture through a more inclusive, DE&I-based lens is going to take a coordinated set of deliberate actions, carried out consistently and with intention.
“Based on individual backgrounds and identities, individuals face different levels of structural and systemic advantages and disadvantages.”
While diversity is about differences across a wide range of dimensions, equity means recognizing that everyone has different starting points and different needs. Based on individual backgrounds and identities, individuals face different levels of structural and systemic advantages and disadvantages. Following that, inclusion is about making a workforce’s differences work in an environment where everyone experiences a sense of belonging, feels safe to be their authentic selves, and is heard.
Energy organizations — and companies across industries — must connect those three foundational pillars through a data-backed plan that is woven into the business strategy and placed at the heart of corporate culture. What is a good way to start?
Step 1: Dive deep into demographic data collection and analysis.
Baselines are essential to moving forward strategically. Collecting information across a wide range of diversity dimensions is critical. Assess the representation of diverse groups in decision-making and field-based roles to identify areas of under-representation.
At this stage, ask questions like:
- Have we conducted a thorough DE&I audit to identify areas where we may be falling short?
- Are we actively working to attract and retain diverse talent in our organization, including people of different races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and abilities?
Step 2: Take time to analyze the current state of DE&I at behavioural (lived experiences) and systemic levels.
Using tools like a global equality standard framework, DE&I diagnostic surveys or cultural assessments can help you pull insight and understanding from the data. Interviews, focus groups, two-way discussions, and surveys (particularly with historically equity-seeking groups) can also help you understand where gaps lie.
At this stage, ask questions like:
- What are our employees’ experiences and what challenges are common for specific groups?
- Do our employees feel comfortable expressing their opinions without fear of retaliation or negative consequences, even if they’re different from those of colleagues or superiors?
- Are we holding ourselves accountable for creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace, and openly communicating our goals, progress, and challenges to our employees and stakeholders?
- Which systemic dimensions of our organizations are either enabling or impeding a more inclusive environment?
Step 3: Develop a DE&I strategy and implement your plan.
Effective DE&I strategies connect implementation made of behavioural and systemic adjustments and change management plans. They are well communicated across every level of the business, equipping leaders and employees with the knowledge and skills to actively implement DE&I.
At this stage, ask questions like:
- Do we have enabling systems (policies and practices) in place to promote equity and fairness in the workplace?
- Are we providing adequate resources and training for managers and employees to promote an inclusive culture and prevent bias or discrimination?
- How will we regularly measure and track our progress on DE&I metrics and use this data to inform our strategies and make improvements?
- Do we have the right-sized accountability at the leadership level?
Above all, we must keep in mind that this kind of transformational change won’t happen overnight. The important thing is that it does, in fact, happen. Shifting from diversity-as-a-statistic to inclusion-as-a-culture can unlock endless possibilities for organizations, industries, and the remarkable people who bring these businesses to life. Embracing that mindset now can create necessary momentum within the Canadian energy industry and sustainable progress overall.