Women in senior roles in oil sands alliance points to success, say sector leaders
By Mark Cooper
Strong representation of women in senior executive roles in the Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero Alliance is demonstrating progress on diversity in Canada’s energy industry and inspiring the next generation of women leaders in the energy sector.
The group of Canadian oil sands companies working together in a globally unprecedented industry effort to address climate change features women in three of the six roles on the Pathways Alliance steering committee, the senior leadership strategy and decision-making group for the alliance.
Other women in senior executive positions at the six member companies in the Pathways Alliance are playing a major role in the initiative that will allow Canada’s oil sands operations to achieve the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
While the balance is encouraging as Canada and the U.S celebrates women who have made a lasting impact as pioneers in their fields during Women’s History Month, representation of women in the energy industry as a whole still hovers at just above 20 per cent. And women in senior executive roles is significantly lower than that.
“If you see it, you can be it,” said Katie Smith-Parent, Executive Director of Young Women in Energy (YWE), an Alberta-based organization founded to increase female voice, presence, leadership and development in Alberta’s energy sector.
“I feel personally encouraged about having these passionate women in C-Suite roles who are driving the Pathways initiative and whose voices are included prominently at the decision-making table,” said Smith-Parent, referring to a term used to describe executives who hold influential positions that impact company-wide decisions and strategy.
Smith-Parent, who also leads business development for industry diversification at Spartan Controls, says the Pathways Alliance itself is a transformational initiative that many young women will find appealing.
“Young people, and especially women, like to get involved where they can actually make an impact, where they can affect change and be heard,” she said.
She adds that the industry has to find ways to attract and retain more women and diversity to the energy sector or it risks challenges in advancing initiatives like Pathways. She also believes it’s time to tell the story about the industry’s efforts to address climate change through a new lens.
“So, whether that’s women, whether that’s through an Indigenous group, or whether that’s just younger people telling the story through their passionate voices, it will allow us to reach a new audience in a much more encouraging and engaging way than what we have done traditionally.”
Nagwan Al-Guneid, Director of the Business Renewable Centre Canada, and a 2020 YWE Award Winner, agrees it is encouraging to see more women leading and having influence in the executive offices of Alberta energy companies.
To advance the industry, Al-Guneid said, “it will be crucial to see more representation, including Indigenous and underrepresented voices at these key decision-making tables.
“I look forward to one day when we no longer use qualifiers like ‘women leaders’ or ‘women executives.’ The key for this change would be for current leaders to look around at the decision-making table, and ask: “who else is missing in this room?”
Alison Cretney, Managing Director of Alberta based Energy Futures Lab, is buoyed by the example the Pathways Alliance is setting.
“I find it interesting and encouraging that so many women are leaning in and addressing the climate challenge and creating the future that we need, creating the energy system the future requires,” said Cretney, whose organization is comprised of mainly women collaboratively developing solutions for a low-emission and socially equitable energy future.
The fact that more and more C-suite women are holding positions addressing sustainability and corporate strategy is very positive, she said, adding greater diversity will translate to a wider range of ideas and approaches to addressing the climate challenge.
“It honestly does change the conversation. When we’re only surrounded by people who look like us and tend to think like us, the solution set is so much smaller.”
The theme of this year’s Women’s History Month is “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope.” It is both a tribute to the ceaseless work of caregivers and frontline workers during the pandemic and also a recognition of the thousands of ways that women of all cultures have provided both healing and hope throughout history.
Hear from the influencers
We asked some of the women in senior executive positions in the Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero Alliance to tell us why it is important to them that more women are involved in decision making roles in the energy Industry:
“We’re at a turning point where we have an incredible opportunity to shape the future of the oil and gas industry in Canada by ensuring our products are the most responsibly produced, and potentially the most sought after in the world. I’m extremely excited by the challenge ahead and I truly hope the work we’re doing inspires more young women to join the energy industry and become the leaders of tomorrow.”
Rhona DelFrari, Chief Sustainability Officer & Senior Vice-President, stakeholder engagement, Cenovus Energy, and member of the Pathways Alliance steering committee.
“As organizations, we have a responsibility to make a conscious effort to provide an environment that is open to, and reflective of, diverse viewpoints. Today’s organizations have to push the status quo, and challenge norms. That is how we generate real growth.”
Sherri Evers, Vice-President, Commercial & Corporate Development of Imperial Oil, and member of the Pathways Alliance steering committee.
“Women make up more than half of the Canadian population. Any organization that does not embrace including a large proportion of women in its talent pool is missing a great deal of smarts, drive, expertise and often helpfully unique perspectives. With women representing one third of Suncor’s executive leadership team, and significant representation of women leadership in the Pathways Alliance, the energy industry is demonstrating a will to catch up in this regard. Increasing diversity in the talent pool, at all levels of activity and seniority, is quite simply key to any organization’s competitiveness and success.”
Martha Hall Findlay, Chief Climate Officer at Suncor Energy, and member of the Pathways Alliance steering committee.
By the numbers
50 – the percentage of women executives in the steering committee of the Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero Alliance
22 – the percentage of women in the oil and gas industry, according to a 2019 report by Catalyst’s Women in Energy: Gas, Mining, and Oil (Quick Take)