Within the evolving landscape of the energy sector, it is not just the traditional skills that hold criticality for women but also the future skills across carbon capture and sequestration, electricity, EV and emission reduction across the value chain, says Pratibha Priyadarshini, VP and Head HR, Shell Companies in India.

Societies worldwide are amid the energy transition revolution, and energy companies are naturally the most affected by the change. They not only need traditional skills but, in the face of transition, are increasingly focusing on power, hydrogen, and carbon (credits/sequestration).

But there are other issues too. In a study, McKinsey identified that one of the critical problems faced by the energy sector is that women account for only a small share of graduates in relevant majors.

Pratibha Priyadarshini, VP and Head of HR, Shell Companies in India, says the energy transition has given rise to the need for new skills such as front-end development manager (FEDM), business development, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) where women can make their mark.

“We have an opportunity to influence participation at the inception. We are keeping a focused lens around diverse participation as we go through this re-skilling period. Shell continues to bring changes in the traditionally male-dominated sector," she says, noting that being the only company in India to employ women as trading and supply managers at their Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust terminal, they have also set up separate washrooms for women to ensure comfort and hygiene.

The energy sector offers diverse jobs, and the number of quality female talent is growing in India, but the education systems must keep up with this change.

“In the face of that, we also have faced challenges in talent supply, but with focused efforts and commitment, we continue to build niche skill development in-house. Furthermore, new areas such as electricity necessitate academic and strategic partnerships through which we can bring in more women talent into the company and the sector at large,” she says.

In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Priyadarshini talks about what the future holds for women in the energy sector and shares diverse women empowerment practices and programmes being undertaken by Shell to empower women in and beyond the workplace.

Shell India bagged the “Best Companies for Women in India 2021” award for the fourth time for its progressive women-centric policies and well-balanced, equitable, inclusive work culture and chosen for the “Exemplar of Inclusion” award in the third edition of Working Mother & Avtar Most Inclusive Companies Index (MICI).

Can you describe Shell’s current approach to promoting diversity and inclusion (D&I) and how it specifically applies to supporting women in the industry?

We are continually working towards employee well-being (physical, mental and emotional) and diversity – not just in terms of gender but other aspects like disability. This starts with a clear north star at the group level and coupling this with key themes for the country we operate out of.

In India, when it comes to gender, we have focused on our three pillars of people, policies and perspectives. Sharing an example around the people pillar, we have created dedicated mentoring circles and networks equipped with various career opportunities for senior women leadership representation.

Shell has 50 per cent gender diversity on its board globally, and in India, women hold 22 per cent of leadership positions across all locations.

The Women’s Career Development Programme (WCDP) is a highly interactive diversity and inclusion learning initiative designed to help our women employees identify what they want from their professional and personal lives and support them in achieving their full potential.

Does Shell have any specific initiatives or programmes to support women's recruitment, retention, and advancement in the industry?

By understanding the importance of gender balance at the initial stage of hiring, Shell has succeeded in increasing women’s representation in its workforce. Around 43 per cent of campus hires in 2022 were women.

Shell D&I Learning collaborated with Quest, an organisation that partners with the world's leading companies to help Early Career Women launch and accelerate their careers, to organise a series of webinars for women in the early phases of their careers (2-6 years). At all points in time, we ensure Assessor Diversity (Diversity Focus in Assessor Workshop Nominations/ Assessor Certifications in India) – which is continually tracked to ensure that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts are sticky.

We have created One-to-One or Group Mentoring opportunities to provide a safe space for women to discuss issues impacting them personally or professionally with a mentor of their choice and with the promise of confidentiality from the mentor to the mentee.

We have also created a community for all women in Shell India on the internal site, Yammer, allowing them to connect with each other. Not just within the company, Shell also focuses on gender across the value chain towards the advancement of women representation in the industry.

How does your organisation measure the success of its D&I efforts? What metrics do you use to evaluate progress?

We look for data-driven evidence for the company's DEI efforts through supportive policies and cultural tenets. We have the following parameters for measuring the success of our efforts:

Attraction/recruitment lens: Two measures of equity that we critically follow are access and participation. For this, we compare the diversity percentage of the candidates who had access to the role to the diversity percentage of people who participated /applied for the role. If there is a disparity in access and participation, then we make efforts to do more than just give equal opportunities.

Culture: We are driving conscious inclusion at the workplace around pay by monitoring measurable data like diversity skews during appraisal/ performance outcomes. We also continually monitor the gender pay gap at the group level to track the impact of the conscious choices made by the company.

We take pride in enabling employees to bring their whole self to the company, and that emphasises the need to offer a safe workspace – both physical and mental safety is paramount to our ways of working. To foster a ‘Speak Up’ culture, we have a direct channel to raise any issues affecting the safety of women, and the anonymous ‘Global Helpline’ is continually monitored for trends for appropriate proactive interventions, especially considering that Shell has turned into a melting pot of cultures with our employees joining from more than 400 different organisations.

Through our internal Shell People Survey, we emphasise continually tracking critical cultural questions on DEI.

Performance Management: We regularly perform checks for D&I skews at EVP/ Sr. Executive level to systemically address barriers and enable fair ratings for employees during maternity/special circumstances.

How does Shell ensure that women are represented at all levels, including in leadership positions?

Whilst the trend is improving, we still have representation gaps, especially at the leadership level, driven by supply-gap and the lower preference for energy companies.

In that sense, I will take this question differently at the start; we have a definition for senior women talent and are at 22 per cent for diversity.

Shell, as an organisation in the broader society, is no different and suffers from the usual vices of 3 Ms – Maternity, Marriage, and Mobility when losing women talent.

Women are often held to a higher standard than their male counterparts. This is the first challenge we address by creating a culture to speak up and remove biases – bias training also brings this critical element into our consciousness. The second would be “looking for answers”; we are running mentoring circles for some time to help answer questions on work-life balance issues and upward career mobility. Leaders are also encouraged to have diversity as one of the foundational goals in the company, thereby tying diversity to their performances.

What do you think the future holds for women in the energy sector? How is Shell positioning itself as a leader in promoting D&I in this industry?

I believe that with the evolving landscape of the energy sector, it is not just the traditional skills that hold criticality but also the future skills across carbon capture and sequestration, electricity, EV and emission reduction across the value chain.

Shell is at the forefront of finding solutions to this critical issue. It is this very purposeful journey that allows Shell and, by extension, the other companies in the energy sector to be the leaders in driving change.

At Shell, evolving talent demand scenarios and growing investment away from the traditional oil and gas sources into transition-important avenues such as electricity, decarbonisation, hydrogen, and nature-based solutions provides opportunities for our employees to lead change from the front.

Great things happen when opportunity meets talent, and we strive to foster an equitable workplace that is tailored to the needs of individuals whilst inspiring them towards our collective purpose.

What advice would you give to other companies in the energy sector looking to improve their diversity and inclusion efforts for women?

Diversity and inclusion efforts are successful only if the organisation’s culture supports an inclusive environment. Hence, it is imperative for companies to foster a culture that appreciates diversity and to continue working towards identifying and removing biases and barriers.

Change comes with sustained efforts and over time. Change is needed on multiple fronts – mindsets, behaviours and actions, especially leadership.

It is imperative for the companies to appreciate that commitment to DEI, by establishing a clear diversity and inclusion strategy that is communicated to employees. Measuring progress and holding leaders accountable goes a long way in driving change across the organisation. Numbers are the first indicators of change, and therefore companies should establish clear metrics to measure progress in improving their D&I efforts.

Clear, visible leadership and sponsorship go a long way in leading the change.