BP: Going the extra mile for female talent

Written by
Julia Harvie-Liddel

30 Nov 2018

30 Nov 2018 • by Julia Harvie-Liddel

As an industry, the oil and gas sector has not historically been best known for having a hugely diverse workforce and my company is no different. While we have improved in recent years, there is still a long way to go to get to where we want to be.

That’s why we continue to strive to find ways to improve, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it also makes good business sense. Our CEO, Bob Dudley, has made this very clear.  

One of the main challenges we face is female representation, especially at senior levels. It’s a challenge many resourcing leaders across different industries are grappling with and I’d like to share some of my own learnings on how BP has adapted its recruitment strategy over the years to recruit a more gender-balanced workforce and promote inclusivity.

As with any strategy, you have to start with the problem you are trying to solve. For us, that problem was always clear: we struggle to recruit females into our organisation, across all levels. The issue is more acute for experienced hires – at graduate level our hires are now roughly 50/50 female and male.

Why are we struggling to hire women?

While it was easy to make the case that we needed a more robust set of principles governing our recruitment processes, in order to get to this point, we really needed to understand why we were struggling to recruit women. That’s why we conducted extensive research looking not just at our own organisation, but examining some of the external factors which negatively influence or hold women back when it comes to job applications.

As a result of the research, two things became abundantly clear. Firstly, we needed to reflect upon diversity within our own recruitment process and pay more attention to the make-up of our interview panels. We found that due to unconscious bias, a lack of diversity on recruitment panels meant that a perfectly suitable candidate might have been rejected on the basis that they didn’t seem a good ‘fit’. Representation is also key – all-male interview panels are more likely to be seen as off-putting by female candidates than male candidates, for example.

Secondly, we determined we were simply not making enough effort to ensure diversity on shortlists. There are certain roles where we consistently have more male than female applicants, but rather than simply accepting it, we needed to start really questioning why.

Are we asking the right questions?

For example, have we really done all we can to source a diverse slate of candidates or should we look further? What other engagement and outreach efforts might increase our pool of qualified female candidates? And are there qualified female candidates we may have overlooked?

Asking these types of questions has allowed us to become more proactive in sourcing female candidates.

We funnelled the findings of this research into our guiding recruitment principles for experienced hires, called “Rules of the Road”. While aspects of Rules of the Road were already being applied across different parts of BP for several years beforehand, we formally adopted these principles across the business in 2016.

These stipulate that all shortlists for roles should have, as a very minimum, one female candidate, and that all interview panels should consist of at least one female interviewer. These apply for both internal and external hires, across those in first level leadership roles and above. This is a minimum standard across our entire business and some parts of the organisation are taking this even further.  

How can we make resourcing more creative? 

Since their formal implementation across BP, the Rules of the Road have yielded success not only in enabling more female hires – their primary objective – but in allowing our recruiters to become more creative in our sourcing strategies more generally. While it is of course challenging at times, they have seen how going through the application process thoughtfully and taking more time to review and source potential candidates can help open our minds – and those of our hiring managers – to different possibilities.

It’s not just about simply putting a female or male in a role, but the need for the best candidates, and we believe getting the best candidates is intrinsically linked to having a diverse candidate pool to choose from, and going the extra mile to find them.

Through coaching and support, we have helped the hiring entities think differently and challenge themselves to strive for more diversity. Since 2010, our overall female hires have increased by nearly 6%. It’s an encouraging start, with lots more still to do.

While these principles have worked well for improving gender diversity, we need to find a way to ensure we are addressing the full spectrum of diversity including, but not limited to, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation. There isn’t a one-size-fits all approach and it’s not as simple as extending Rules of the Road to cover these areas, but it’s something we are committed to, in order to ensure we recruit a workforce that is truly representative of the diverse communities in which we operate.