Diversity and inclusion are buzzwords that seem to be everywhere at the moment. But in a world where differences, at least by many people, are now being celebrated, is the tank storage sector doing enough to encourage people of colour, or women, or people with disabilities, or members of the LGBTQ+ community to join the industry? Or can more be done?
In Tank Storage Magazine’s most recent webinar, Dr Ollie Folayan, a process engineer in the oil and gas industry, member of the Oil & Gas UK Diversity And Inclusion Taskforce, and co-founder of AFBE-UK, formerly known as the Association for Black Engineers, sought to answer those questions.
Folayan began the webinar by looking at the state of the world at the moment, and highlighting movements he believes demonstrate that we are living in the midst of a social revolution, such as Black Lives Matter, Me Too, and Take Back Control. All of these movements gained momentum through social media, which is now incredibly widespread throughout society.
‘One of the things this has been calling out for is a desire for increased empowerment, for increased democracy and equality, and that has been reflected in many of the campaigns that we have seen,’ said Folayan.
Social media, he said, has had a democratising influence on society, offering a way to get voices heard and build global communities around important issues.
WHY IS DIVERSITY IMPORTANT?
A question many might ask is why diversity is important. Folayan’s initial response to that question is very simple – it is ‘morally the right thing to do’.
However, diversity is of much more than just moral importance. Diversity has been shown in many studies to be hugely important to the success of a business. Companies with employees from diverse backgrounds are much more resilient and successful, particularly in times of crisis, like the one we find ourselves in now. Those diverse people have different experiences, different ways of looking at the world, different perspectives, and different ideas, and together, can come up with unique and innovative solutions that a homogenous group of people would not be able to.
Folayan pointed out that the notion of diversity is not a ‘leftist agenda’, but to do with fairness. Many experiments have shown that a sense of fairness is effectively hard-wired into our brains.
WHY IS CHANGE NECESSARY?
Inequality and underrepresentation of certain groups has been built into the way society operates. Folayan is a chemical engineer and one definition he found of a chemical engineer reads ‘a professional man experienced in the design, construction and operation of plant’. While this definition is from 1924, that idea has persisted.
A study by Engineering UK showed that women only make up an eighth of the UK’s engineers, despite performing better at university. On average, black and minority ethnic (BME) engineers wait six months longer to get their first job than their white counterparts and earn £1,300 less in their first six months of work. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Right to Work report found that a seventh of graduates with a disability have never been in paid employment.
AFBE-UK has found that while 31.8% of engineering undergraduates are from BME backgrounds, just 7.8% of engineers in industry are from BME backgrounds. By the time you get to corporate leadership, the figure is less than 0.5%.
In 2019 the Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College at the University of Oxford carried out a field experiment known as the GEMM (Growth, Equal opportunities, Migration and Markets) Study, which showed huge discrimination against BME job applicants. They sent 3,200 fictitious job applications, varying the minority background of applicants but keep their skills, qualifications and work experience the same. The fictional minority applicants had all been born in the UK or arrived in the UK at age 6 at the latest, so they had received all their education and training in the UK and would have no language barriers.
On average, those from ethnic minorities had to apply for 60% more jobs to get the same number of call backs as those from the majority group. Those apparently from a Nigerian or Pakistani background had to apply for 80% more jobs. This is shocking.
Folayan is now principal process engineer an engineering consultancy, a Chartered Engineer and a Fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), but his own career path has been far from smooth.
‘It took me a very long time after my PhD to get into work and it was quite a long process. I used to go into a library to apply for jobs and sometimes before I’d even got home, I’d receive a message saying: ‘After careful consideration we have decided not to move you on.’ That was three hours ago, how ‘careful’ can you possibly have been?’ Folayan said.
His first line manager insulted his engineering lecturer father on his first day (‘Only failed engineers teach’) and embarked on three years of bullying and putdowns that eventually affected Folayan’s health. There was nothing overtly racist about the bullying, though Folayan has faced obvious racism since, but conversations with other BME engineers who’d had very similar experiences led him to suspect that it might be, and this led to the beginning of AFBE-UK to support BME engineers, and encourage and inspire the next generation. The network has now supported more than 10,000 people.
Having discussed the obvious problems, Folayan turned his attention to possible solutions.
‘The first thing to realise is that we do not yet live in a meritocracy,’ he said.
Everybody has different starting points in life, with different needs, and once that is understood, it is possible to put in place the kind of measures to remedy this. It is also vital to move away from the ‘nothing to see here mentality and begin to recognise that problems exist, rather than making excuses.
The second thing to realise it to realise the progress is not inevitable, it requires a concerted effort. In Professor Stephen Hawkings’ book, A Brief History of Time, he refers to three ‘arrows’ of time. The thermodynamic arrow of time states that as time passes, entropy, or disorder, increases. The psychological arrow of time states that ‘then’ follows ‘before’. The cosmological arrow of time is that the universe expands with time.
‘When talking about diversity and inclusion we often assume there is a magical arrow of time that will take us from where we are to somewhere better. We certainly do when we talk about race relations. We say ‘things are changing and the young have no issues at all’, but if they grow into a world which is still unfair, still unequal… then they will reproduce the world they grow into,’ said Folayan, adding that we all have a duty to make the world fairer.
The third thing to realise, Folayan said, is that no cause has ever succeeded without champions. The end of Apartheid, for example, would not have succeeded without champions like Nelson Mandela.
The fourth thing to realise, is that champions will not get very far without allies. Even in the days before social media, people across the world made it their goal to see change and the end of Apartheid. It is on all of us to be diversity and inclusion allies.
Targets are often promoted as a way to improve diversity and inclusion, for example, having 50% women on a board, or ensuring that 13% of the workforce is from a minority ethnic background. Folayan says that while targets can be useful, this is only if those targets are tied into a company’s mission and goals, which should be developed with champions and allies.
‘If your diversity and inclusion strategy is a slogan on a rollout banner in the reception or foyer of your company, then it is unlikely to have any real impact,’ he said.
One of the most important ways to improve diversity and inclusion is to start young.
‘So many times, when we’re thinking about diversity, we think about recruitment, but it happens much earlier than that. It’s what happens when a 9-year-old is in school wondering what they’re going to do. If they come into school and someone from a nearby company comes in and talks to them about engineering for example, it’s important that there are multiple people from every background, every social class, who have come into their own in that profession. Representation matters.
‘If we are going to ensure that the next generation is stronger, more tolerant, that they are able and equipped to create a world that is fairer, then we need to start early,’ Folayan said.
This greater visibility of role models, from the same background, can be really powerful.
‘People eventually become what they see,’ says Folayan. ‘It is also very powerful seeing women as role models, so children grow up with the understanding that this is a world in which gender should be no barrier for how well people do.’
It is also vital that companies pay attention to their data, to be honest about the gender pay gap, about ethnicity pay gaps, about recruitment and retention, and how many underrepresented groups are in leadership. These figures are vital to benchmark progress.
Folayan also suggested that a commitment to diversity and inclusion should be a ‘core competency’ considered when assessing someone for potential employment or during employees’ annual appraisals. This will really help to embed it in company culture. Companies should also look outside, to their supply chains. When a company comes to tender for a job, social values like diversity and inclusion should be enshrined in the tender documents.
There are also a number of things that can be done to support those from minorities in their careers. One of these is mentoring, but perhaps not only how you might first think. A person from an underrepresented group, whether female, disabled, or BME will benefit hugely from support and mentoring from someone in company leadership, but Folayan says that ‘reverse mentoring’ can also be extremely important.
‘That’s where that senior person is mentored by someone who is younger, and that enables them to see the world through that perspective. An article in the Harvard Business Review showed that one of the main benefits of reverse mentoring is that you’re more likely to retain the people that work in your company,’ said Folayan.
Senior members of staff can go further than mentoring, through sponsorship – using their position and influence to support a minority staff member, speak up for them, and open doors, to allow them to go as far as their abilities take them.
‘It’s important that we work directly with the communities,’ concluded Folayan, adding that there are many organisations built around minority communities.
‘You can engage with these organisations because these organisations are often led by people who have come from those communities, who understand the challenges, and are able to address them.’