The US oil industry has a major diversity problem.

How big is it?  Well, unfortunately we don’t know.

To make sense of this statement, it’s necessary to take a look at the mid-1980s case against Pipeliners Local 798 based in Tulsa, OK.  The US U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accused the pipeline construction union of racism and sexism, stating that of its 5,200 members, the union had “no black members and…no female members until the eve of trial, May 1986, when Local 798 admitted a woman into the membership”

For 20 years, the union was “forced” to actively recruit women and minorities but, for some reason in 2007, the EEOC ended its oversight of the initiative. Since then the union has grown to 7,500 members, with racism and sexism reports continuing.

Danny Hendrix, business manager of Pipeliners Local 798 told NPR that discrimination is prohibited within his union, but as of the interview a few weeks ago, no one has ever been kicked out for violating the policy despite several complaints.  According to NPR, “it’s not clear how many women or African-Americans are in Local 798 today because the union says it doesn’t track those statistics. Hendrix says there are minorities — especially Native Americans — in just about every position in the union. But a look at the Local 798 website shows the entire leadership is white men.”

And there in lies the huge problem.  An industry where discrimination exists but is largely ignored has resulted in an industry that may not survive the winter.  According to Rebecca Winkel, who is involved with research on workforce development at the American Petroleum Institute, “the [oil] industry needs to attract 1.9 million new workers by 2035 to make up for retirements and growth in the oil business.”

A hard ask when taking into account words from sociologist Don Tomaskovic-Devey, from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst who explains that “for both women and for African-Americans, they tend to be among the worst performing in terms of both pay gaps and employment representation,”

Big oil companies like Chevron and ExxonMobil understand this issue and are trying to recruit a more diverse workforce as quickly as possible.  Just take a look at their newest commercials emphasizing a more inclusive workforce.  Oil has one of the oldest workforces in America, and its lack of diversity currently spells trouble for its future.

It’s even harder when you consider the fact that many unions claim to not track diversity within their ranks nor seem interested to reach out to under represented groups they will desperately need over the next 20 years.  In addition to this issue, oil communities re-emphasis a certain generic stereotype.  Oil and gas companies can be located in rural areas which is far away from urban communities where minorities are represented in large numbers.  Ray Dempsey, the chief diversity officer at BP America believes that more should be done to make rural places welcoming to both women and minorities, in an effort to grow their potential workforce.

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