16 December 2010 By Northern Lights
What a great quote!
Linda Emery, Talent and Diversity Director at BP referred to this when I met her recently, following up on Bob Dudley’s invitation at the CBI Conference.
In October I wrote a blog on the conference, “Bob Dudley, new group chief exec at BP, talked about the BP crisis, how it was handled and what they are now doing differently. I got to ask him a question … what is being done about their culture and a better gender balance in senior management? He suggested we talk”
Linda was kind enough to be the one to follow up on this. We had an hour together and she talked about wide-ranging initiatives throughout the business to encourage more diversity generally and particularly more women into senior positions.
Linda is clearly genuine and passionate about this – and backed up by senior management. Previously at Unilever, she agreed that BP has a different culture – in a consumer-facing business it is easier to be entirely focused on consumer opinion. It drives everything they do.
In an engineering business, the outlook is different. Customers are more complex, safety and technical expertise the absolute focus.
We both agreed that business would be better for having men and women at the top and throughout (and hence the quote above!). BP is actively encouraging this with a Women’s International Network as part of the process. Apparently the mood and culture of this Network is different from the rest of the business – really difficult to define specifically, but the women’s view is that they tend to cut to the chase quicker, there is more laughter and no standing on ceremony.
I mentioned an article that Alison Maitland, formerly of the FT, wrote for Management Today. She interviewed a number of male chief execs who had daughters in successful careers. The fathers began to look at their own businesses through their daughters’ eyes and asked themselves, ‘am I the boss I’d like my daughters to have?’ Their answers have led to these bosses speeding up the role of women in their companies.
Linda said that BP is at the forefront in their approach to diversity, and benchmarks well with peers. But they are not at all complacent and recognise there is still a long way to go. They have a diversity plan, training for all senior managers to raise awareness of potential unconscious bias and build a number of aspects of diversity and inclusion into performance contracts.
However, BP says it will be difficult to get more women into senior roles – there are just fewer women who do sciences at school, get science and engineering degrees and go into technical jobs. By its nature, there are fewer women available for senior positions.
Thinking about this after, I wonder if the assumption that you need technical people in the top jobs of a company like BP is part of the problem?
Doing a bit of Google search, I found Katrina Landis, currently chief executive of BP Alternative Energy. Her degrees are in Psychology and Computer Science and her main specialism within BP has been commercial.
Clearly Katrina is comfortable with science but not had a deeply technical background. Which surely means that the top people at BP could have broader expertise and backgrounds?
And wouldn’t the management team be stronger if it had more people with no or little technical expertise – a few managers who ask the stupid question? And who could be men or women?
I think so – what do you think?