Managing the Invisible Diversity in the Oil and Gas Industry

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The workforce challenges faced today by the oil and gas industry’s Human Resources managers are very different from those of the past. The increasing number of women in the today’s workforce brings major new issues that must be handled with care in order to reduce attrition, boost productivity and increase retention.

One might infer that these changes would require minor adjustments; however, that is not the case when you recognize that one aspect of the challenge is the growing presence of dual-career couples in the workforce.

What are dual-career couples?

Dual-career couples occur when both partners are working professionals who each seek to progress in their careers. Each one expects to advance in their own career without hampering the other, but to benefit from each one’s growth as a professional and as a partner, in turn, benefitting the total income and wellbeing of their family.

Not all dual-career couples are the same. The contribution towards household income from each partner in a dual-career couple may have a significant impact on family dynamics in an ever changing and vibrant equilibrium. Necessary domestic arrangements set limits to one or both partner’s careers as a form of “invisible diversity.”

Dual-career couples are definitively a growing component of the workforce. Addressing barriers to these couples will, implicitly, reduce workforce barriers for many women, which in turn benefits the gender-diversity statistics in the industry, and the satisfaction of the employees. Gone are the times where one partner in a couple fulfills a family accommodating role, taking care of all family logistic arrangements, and be a “trailing spouse.” The new workforce integrates work and life in a different style, and both partners in a couple expect the other to succeed and develop a career to full potential.

Whose career takes precedence?

When both partners in a couple work, each one may have to make decisions about career developments that impact the other. Challenges that may need to be handled by both the couple and their employers include relocations, off-site cross-postings, international training, and long-term assignments.

Considerations about both partners working for the same or different companies impact the decisions made:

  • If both partners work for the same company, they will face policy guidelines or regulations that preclude both being entitled to expatriate-related economic benefits. Many companies request that the couple reply to the question “whose career takes precedence?” when providing a leave-of-absence or requesting a “volunteer” resignation from the non-selected employee. Leaving the decision to the couple alone is considered to be a wise company policy. In my opinion, this kind of approach ignores the fact that both are employees of the same company, and both careers should have positive tutelage, and economic reward!
  • If the partners work for different companies, the offerings should be sorted out by the couple themselves. As a result, it forces a decision on career precedence and priorities, weighing the options to figure out which will result in better futures for both and for the family as a whole.

In all cases, the partners will face difficult decisions and will need to engage in a serious reflection about how to balance the priority of each career and the opportunities ahead. The potential benefits for the whole family need to be established, and will naturally lead the way to what is best. The decision is usually not based only on economic factors.

It can sometimes be difficult for companies to handle the presence of dual-career couples at work. When challenges arise, those responsible with handling them could fall on a manager from a generation where households had a single breadwinner. He will tend to act with a particular point of view, built on former realities. But restrictions to professional growth, when both partners work for the same company, are taken very badly by employees, and affect motivation, increase attrition and retention numbers, and as a result, require attention.
And solutions!

How to handle?

Both partners in dual-career couples have invested time and effort in their studies and careers but now have to take into consideration their partner and family. They learn to be flexible and open to change, as they must balance work and family opportunities in a permanent swing.

However, managing these changes is needed at the corporate level too. Solutions initially rely on acknowledging the situation and enabling more fluent, direct and transparent communications. If companies wish to accommodate the new workforce profile, they need to consider how to provide more flexible work schemes and take advantage of technology and the new communication styles.

Taking a step forward and pledging to answer difficult questions should improve the way companies handle dual-career couple concerns. The end result will be a managerial path related to dual-career couples aimed at boosting the motivation and sense of belonging of these employees, grounded in a sincere interest in healthy career progressions and workforce satisfaction.

Some of the difficult questions related to this topic include:

  • Do we want to tell the partners in a dual-career couple whom we consider to be the better employee with the highest potential of the two?
  • Are our work schemes flexible and caring enough to allow dual-career couples to work for us?
  • Does our company have a register of employees in dual-career relationships?
  • In the industry shortage of skilled workforce, should we offer promotion opportunities to employees that require relocation without acknowledging they are part of a dual-career relationship?
  • How could our company benefit from training/assigning both employees in a particular dual-career couple, instead of only one of them?
  • Can we work remotely with our employees when their dual-career partner will be relocated, keeping them active in our workforce and not losing them to another company?
  • What is the economic impact to ask one skilled employee to resign or go on a leave of absence due to policy requirements related to expatriate or long-term international training assignments?
  • Are we willing to provide career-transitioning advisory support to the partner of this employee that we will relocate? (Not only to those affected by downsize procedures!)
  • Are we willing to change policy to include matters related to dual-career couples?

The way ahead needs an agreed understanding of this workforce reality, where the “invisible diversity” needs to be acknowledged, studied and discussed. We need to develop best practices to identify what works well in this new workforce reality. The company that has the foresight to develop the most appropriate policies will retain and grow a strong and motivated workforce.

In the process, both sides, employees and companies, will benefit greatly.

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Maria Angela Capello

Maria is an experienced consultant for the Oil and Gas industry, expert in field development and monitoring strategies, with proven results and innovative implementations in Latin America, USA and the Middle East. She currently works as an executive advisor in Kuwait Oil Company, for the Greater Burgan Asset, in the planning and strategic initiatives of the Directorate. A Physicist from the Simon Bolivar University (Venezuela), and a MSc in Geophysics from the Colorado School of Mines (USA), Maria has received the SEG “Honorary Lifetime Membership”, and the SPE “Distinguished Member” and “Regional Service” awards, due to her exceptionally meritorious service and notable career in the oil industry.

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