• Friday, July 19, 2024
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How LEKOIL Nigeria, is giving women a voice

Aisha Muhammed-Oyebode

Lekoil Nigeria, an indigenous oil and gas company is redefining the norm and changing the status quo for hiring talent in a male dominated industry. It is including women at all levels including management and board positions on the belief that they can help fill the talent gap in the oil industry.

The latest edition of ‘Fueling the Next Generation,’ a report published by Ernst & Young shows that while 47 percent of the UK’s workforce is made up of women, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) based industries have far fewer women than the national average.

Specifically, the oil and gas industry stands out as it accounts for one of the lowest women participation figures. Unlike the pharmaceutical industry, which has a 38 percent women workforce, and the Water Industry with 28 percent women participation, the oil and gas industry has just 23 percent women representation, less than the Defence industry which has 26Mpercent.

In Nigeria’s oil and gas industry, there are even fewer women. Due to aging workforce. increased competition for tomorrow’s talent, apathy of young people towards the oil sector are fueling a worrying talent gap in the oil sector.

Fresh Air

This is why the recent appointment of Aisha Muhammed-Oyebode as the Chairman of LEKOIL Nigeria Limited came as a welcome development for many in the sector.

On the one hand, it further closes the gender gap in the oil and gas industry. Secondly, it sends a clear message that women are on the ascendency in an industry where women traditionally took the back seats.

It also serves as a beacon to millions of aspiring women and girls as it shows that the so-called glass ceiling can be shattered, indeed it has, repeatedly.

For LEKOIL Nigeria Limited (which is an affliate of Aim-listed Lekoil), Muhammed-Oyebode’s appointment brings further diversity and inclusion to the board and management of the company. A number of top management positions in the company are already held by women, including Human Resources Manager, Company Secretary and several junior leadership positions within the ogranisation.

LEKOIL’s position on gender equality stems from the recognition of the important role women play in the global economy. In 2020, research by S&P Global suggested that an increase in American female labor force participation could accelerate America’s GDP growth by $5.87 trillion over the next 10 years because of the purchasing power it could unleash.

The election of Kamala Harris as the first Vice President of the United States of America, the 15-year-long meritorious service of Germany’s first female chancellor, Angela Merkel and the innovation brought by Mary Barra to General Motors as CEO are testaments to the ingenuity of women who are not held down by stereotypes.

The appointment Muhammed-Oyebode builds on this wins, while further strengthening the position of LEKOIL Nigeria in terms of gender balance in an industry that remains largely skewed.

A development specialist, international NGO expert and human rights activist with special focus on women and girls initiatives as an advisor on social impact and corporate social responsibility with expertise in Africa, she brings a wealth of experience to the company’s board.

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Gender dichotomy

In 2019, the Global Energy Talent Index described the dearth of women in the oil and gas industry as “a chronic shortage,” while noting that “bringing more women into the industry solves two pressing issues: the skills gap and the gender gap.”

Also, while delivering a keynote address at a workshop in 2019, Engineer Simbi Wabote, chairman of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB), stated that women occupy about 50 percent of non-technical positions at entry-level in the oil and gas industry, compared to only 15 percent of technical and field positions.
Gender diversity decreases with seniority with only a small proportion of women in executive positions. The percentage drops over time from 36 percent to 24 percent between the middle and executive level, he noted.

To address this anomaly, the NCDMB Chairman noted that the agency is taking steps to increase access to finance, and other kinds of support for women who are serious about doing business in the industry. He also called for the right culture, such as including more women in leadership roles in the industry.

This call has resonated in the industry globally and the business case for gender equality has been reiterated because of the benefits. Research suggests that companies with more diverse boards perform better financially as diverse teams are more creative and productive.

Muhammed-Oyebode’s appointment is in line with this aspiration and longtime commitment of LEKOIL. The aspiration for diversity in the workforce is a well thought-out policy of LEKOIL Nigeria which is also extended to its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy and model.

The LEKOIL Nigeria model

According to the company, from inception, women have been pivotal to it. “When my mother passed away, I was surprised at the number of people that came to pay their respects,” Lekan Akinyanmi, founder and CEO of Lekoil said in an interview a few years ago. “She was a teacher and I was surprised at the number of lives she had touched.”

Perhaps those sentiments shaped the CSR focus of the company at inception. There is a strong bias for uplifting and promoting women whether in urban or rural areas in company policy.

For instance, in a section on its website, it is clearly stated that “LEKOIL’s corporate social responsibility plan focuses on three strategic areas: Education; Economic empowerment (women and children development); and Environmental sustainability.” And in keeping this promise, there is evidence.

The company has been a supporter of Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ), a Nigeria based non-profit organisation with an overriding vision “to be the catalyst that elevates the status and influence of women and their contribution to nation building”.

LEKOIL Nigeria supports WIMBIZ programmes which are geared towards elevating the status of women and their contributions to nation building, increasing the success rate of female entrepreneurs and the proportion of women in senior positions in corporate organisations.

This support is replicated in host communities, LEKOIL, through its Community Trust Fund has supported women empowerment initiatives over the years. At present, there is a plan in place to have women in host communities start retail gas supply businesses as soon as LEKOIL’s gas plant starts operation. This is apart from the support that women have received through numerous medical outreaches, empowerment initiatives and other engagements.

The future

The World Economic Forum stated that “it will be 118 years before women have the same career prospects as men in 2016.” Four years later, it noted that it will take 10 generations of women to achieve economic gender parity largely because of the outbreak of Covid-19.

As a result of the Covid-19 virus, more women dropped out of the workforce. In many cases, the home front was substituted for work.

In a time as precarious as this, LEKOIL Nigeria is engendering a more flexible work environment to ensure that the women within its workforce stay on the job and continue to thrive in terms of their obligations of the home front. This model is worth replicating in the oil and gas industry.