Diversity can boost the bottom line

Increasing diversity and inclusion in the petrochemical workforce
ICIS, ICIS Special Report, EPCA, 26 September 2016

Author: John Baker, London

Talent, diversity and inclusion. Three apparently simple words the petrochemical industry has to take on board if it is to recruit, encourage and empower employees in today’s challenging labour market and unlock their potential for the benefit of the business.

But the practice is by no means so straightforward. While many senior managers are increasingly convinced of the business case for increased diversity in management teams, and even the workforce as a whole, making it happen is a big challenge. It is one that needs attitudes and mind-sets to be changed across the business so that managers focus on selecting people on the basis of their diverse backgrounds, views and abilities, and not just because they fit in with “people like us”. And once they are in place, to ensure that they are fully included in discussions and decisions and made to feel they are valued for themselves.

The debate has often focused on gender and nationality diversity, as these are reasonably easy to measure, but diversity also extends to considerations of nationality, culture, education and age. The main tenet is that diversity will lead to more innovative thinking and better decisions and hence to enhanced corporate performance.

EPCA has taken up the gauntlet in this area and is challenging member companies in Europe to step up to the mark and improve their performance on talent and diversity. Last year it established the EPCA Talent and Diversity Inclusion Council (TDIC) to  investigate the current position, look at best practices and encourage companies to embrace diversity and inclusion.

The initiative complements what EPCA has already been doing on attracting school children and students into science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects and hence into the industry.

Nathalie Brunelle, member of the management committee of Total Refining & Chemicals as general-secretary in charge of corporate affairs, and first chair of TDIC, comments that there is already a strong interest within EPCA for talent and diversity. It is important, she says, as in the so-called “war for talent”, petrochemical producers need to compete with other sectors to recruit, train and retain talented individuals.

“The petrochemical industry is certainly challenged in this respect”, she notes, given its perceived conservative image compared with many other industries. It needs talented individuals as the sector is one where innovation and problem-solving are key. And, points out Brunelle, “there is strong correlation between the diversity of a team and the crea­tive outcome.”

Diversity, she adds, can improve the way companies serve society through the products they create, and can help tackle the problem of the aging workforce in the sector by managing the pipeline of new talent effectively, and in many ways differently to how it has been done in the past. Employees today, for instance, find it more difficult to move around the world from post to post at the whim of the company, given the Millennial generation’s focus on life balance and dual careers.