• Keynote Speech delivered by MD/CEO, Heirs Oil & Gas, Osayande Igiehon  at the Launch of the SheEngineer 30% club by the Association of Professional Women Engineers in Nigeria (APWEN)

I am honoured to be invited by APWEN to speak on the topic – “Integration and Implementation of Gender-Sensitive Policies in the Workplace”

Gender inclusion is a topic of great importance; it has become clear that its not just  a moral imperative, it is, also a key factor for achieving sustainable development.

On a personal level, I must say that I have had the pleasure of working and collaborating with women and women engineers in particular, as seniors, colleagues and mentees over the years. From a vantage position, I have witnessed numerous instances of unparalleled excellence, outstanding achievement and game changing leadership being demonstrated by women.

That is why I gladly accepted the invitation when offered and I do sincerely hope that the insights and perspectives on the topic of today’s event will further trigger the needed response in us as individuals and our various organisations to be promoters and catalysts for the needed change.

So, what is Gender Inclusion and what is it not?

A simple question, but very weighty, given that the actions and reactions to the term and principles of gender equality, stems from the understanding and/or misunderstanding of what it is and what it aims to achieve.

Classically, gender inclusion is about being deliberate to ensure that everyone, regardless of gender, has equal access to resources, opportunities, and benefits.

There is however a lot of misconception about what gender inclusion means – some believe, wrongly I must say, that it’s about female entitlement. I think it’s much broader than this, I think it’s more about giving the same opportunity, latitude, support and recognition to females, as any man would want to be given. Colloquially, it’s epitomised by the adage “treat others as you would want to be treated”, where in this case, it’s “treat women the way you want to be treated’.

From a private sector perspective, is there really a Business Case for Gender Inclusion?

There are several studies, examples and business leaders reflections that have demonstrated a strong business case for gender inclusion with win-win possibilities for all parties involved.

One of these studies, a 2021 study by Mckinsey, found that equal involvement of women in the workplace contributes to meaningful returns on investment and is associated with Organizational Performance and Profitability.

  1. The study also established with empirical evidence that companies with strong gender inclusion have improved employee satisfaction and reduced employee turnover and absenteeism.
  2. The study further established that such companies with strong gender inclusion also have enhanced Organisational Reputation and Ability to Attract Talent and Retain Employees.
  3. The study also affirms that systemic exclusion of women from the workforce leads to inefficient economies, unequal growth, and missed opportunities for development at industry, national and global levels.

With the plethora of consistent feedback that continues to solidify and amplify the business value add from gender inclusion, it’s is no surprise that this is now a significant momentum for this objective globally, across various strata of society and across various sectors of endeavour.

In the business world, several companies have either adopted gender-sensitive corporate policies, which is essentially the entry point, or advanced in this journey to the point of integrating gender inclusion into their overall business strategy.

What are the top-line policy considerations for gender sensitivity?

To be impactful as an organisation in gender sensitivity and equality, policy must cover and specifically address the issues relating to the the natural and social experience of women and girls, with an overall view to enhance the chance of potential attainment for females. Maturity in this journey would see standalone policies, but policies that are integrated into HR processes and the company’s Code of Business Conduct.

The key thrust of these policies would aim to:

  • To definitively attract, recruit, retain, mentor, coach, sponsor and promote female staff and talent.
  • Provide sufficient time for maternity leave to help women recover physically and mentally from pregnancy and childbirth, while also adjusting to a “new normal”, before returning to their jobs
  • Policies that protect female staff well-being and mental health.

How are we doing it at HeirsHoldings Oil & Gas (HHOG)?

The Heirs Holdings Group to which HHOG belongs, has a strong reputation in gender inclusivity.  We have over 45% of female representation at the Group Leadership level.

In HHOG, despite operating in a male-dominated industry, we have a 40% female representation in leadership, and we see an appreciable representation of females across all cadres of the company, both technical and non-technical cadres – in both office and field-based positions.

In the engineering space in Nigeria, gender diversity has been a long-standing challenge, with women being underrepresented in this field. I recall my electrical engineering class of 1992 at University of Benin, where we had only one female in a cohort of ca. 30.

30 years later, the demography has improved definitively and is still improving, with more females studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) courses and Engineering in particular. At HHOG, we are quite pleased that at our first graduate intake of 2022, we achieved a 50% female representation in technical disciplines.

In HH group and HHOG, we recognise that having a diverse workforce leads to better decision-making, increased innovation, and improved financial performance. Therefore, we know it’s in our best interest to create a workplace that is welcoming to everyone, regardless of gender. To achieve this goal, we have developed and implemented several gender-sensitive policies in our workplace. These policies include:

  • Gender-Neutral Hiring Practices: Our recruitment process is designed to ensure that we hire the best candidates, irrespective of gender. This includes the use of gender-neutral language in job postings.
  • Gender Pay Equity: We believe in paying our employees based on their skills, experience, and performance, regardless of their gender.
  • Family-Friendly Policies: We understand that employees of both genders have personal lives and responsibilities outside of work and have policies in place to support this. Examples include our Parental Leave (applicable to mothers and fathers).

These policies are just a few examples of the steps we have taken to promote gender diversity and inclusion in our workplace. While we recognize that there is still more work to be done, we are committed to creating a workplace where everyone, especially our female colleagues, feel valued, respected, and empowered to succeed.

At HHOG, ours is a journey of continuous improvement, policies are the bedrock, but culture and leadership are the real determinants of success. The right behaviour and culture needs to be championed by leaders at all levels to ensure adequate traction is gained and desired outcomes achieved.

Everyone has a role in this and its starts with us as individuals:

Companies and policies don’t make themselves, they are made by humans; hence there is a need to work on ourselves, especially those in positions of leadership, to set the necessary foundation and context to believe in gender inclusion, and with this belief, the needed actions to ensure this principle is established across all strata of life and sectors of human endeavour will crystallise.

Accordingly, every one of us, especially if one is a leader, need to educate ourselves on the subject, need to become our “sister’s keeper” not just in words but in behaviours and in deeds, need to build ourselves to become allies for gender inclusion and lead by example on this subject.

In conclusion:

I thank APWEN for affording us all a great avenue to dialogue and become more educated on this change journey of gender inclusion.

As HHOG, as CEO of HHOG, and a key player in the Nigerian oil and gas industry, we will continue to champion gender inclusion, especially in the technical fields, stemming from benefits derivable and not just to achieve industry or societal correctness.

On a personal level, I would like to enjoin us all, to do more to promote gender inclusion and gender sensitive policies in the workplace. In our lifetime this “movement” can be the covert legacy we leave for our children, creating a world where everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.

Thank you for listening.

Michael Walter

Author Michael Walter

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