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AFPM: US refiners woo women to diversify workforce, add to bottom line

San Antonio — Why are US oil refiners so focused on the creation of gender diversity in their workforce? Because it makes them money.

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Once the bottom-line impact of the gender diversity was quantified, the male-dominated US refining industry, like many others, began to rethink their strategies regarding the make-up of their boards, their executive suites and their management succession plans to include more women.

So it was no surprise to find that gender diversity -- and what US refiners are doing to get there -- was a main theme in this year's annual meeting of refiner trade group, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, held this week in San Antonio.

Many studies -- including those by S&P Global, the parent company of Platts -- have shown globally that diverse companies are 15% likelier to earn more than their competitors. S&P Global-s recent report, "The Financial Future is Female," makes clear the financial advantage a gender diverse company holds over their peers.

CREATING SUSTAINABILITY

This advantage has reverberated throughout the refining and petrochemical industry, which relies heavily on science-based skills for professional careers.

"Investors are using diversity as a lens by which they assess company sustainability," Valero Energy's Senior Vice President of Human Resources Julia Rendon Reinhart told AFPM attendees. She said this shift in investment strategy catapults diversity from under the Human Resource Department umbrella into the realm of the Executive Team, of which Reinhart is a member.

US refiners actively seek out and provide support to young women to steer them to science careers -- a traditionally male bastion -- starting with STEM programs in grade school through providing internships to college students.

But competition is fierce for these young female engineering and tech students. Reinhart said currently 30% of Valero's professional jobs are engineers and IT professionals. And 30% of those are women, Reinhart said.

But female graduation statistics for those professions now "hovers around" 20% for women and "much lower for diverse race classifications."

So in order to keep its current ratio steady, Valero has to increase hiring over current levels, a challenge for Reinhart's recruitment team.

"I use these numbers as a way to get them [my team] energized around the hand-to-hand combat that we are in with all of your companies," she said.

DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD

The shift in investor sentiment toward gender diversity is a double-edged sword for US refiners. While investors want more gender diversity, they also want more to put their money into companies which are socially and environmentally friendly.

So how do you get women to come work for a fossil fuel company? How do you make it attractive to lure engineering and technology female graduates into an industry that is often vilified in the media?

For one, make culture a competitive advantage, Stacy Putnam, Senior Project Director for INEOS told conference attendees.

Besides offering support through generous internships and keeping close tabs on prospective employees through their college careers, building a sense of community and teamwork is key.

Putnam said this can be as "grassroots" as starting a running club to give prospective hires a sense of being a part of the team.

CULTURE BEATS STRATEGY

Changing the mindset of a heavily-male corporate culture is also part of the mix in creating sustainable change.

At Valero, management instituted "unconscious bias training" for an employee involved in any selection process, with the aim of raising awareness as to "how bias creeps into the selection process," Reinhart said.

And Chevron has a program called MARC -- Men Advocating Real Change -- which looks to "sustain a culture of inclusion," said Mitra Kashanchi, general manager of Chevron?s Salt Lake City, Utah refinery.

It is program with 3,000 participants, comprised of 40% women and 60% men across the world.

One of MARC's stated goals is to "improve gender equity in the workplace." And it has been effective to a degree, but not as quickly as desired in making real, sustainable change takes time.

"It's not happening fast enough. We can't push it just by the numbers. We have to make sure all the diversity employees are set for success," Kashanchi said.

-- Janet McGurty, janet.mcgurty@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Jeff Mower, jeff.mower@spglobal.com

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