Gastech 2019: How and Why to Embrace a Changing Workforce

Michelle Leigh Smith's picture
Michelle Leigh Smith, Staff Writer, Pink Petro
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From left to right: Katie Mehnert, Pink Petro, Sherina Edwards, Quarles & Brady, Rodney Williams, National Grid, Joshua Atkins, FTI Consulting and Tyson Taylor, Pioneer Natural Resources

A four-person panel moderated by Katie Mehnert, CEO of Pink Petro looked at how to best embrace a five-generation workforce. The break-out session was attended by a diverse cross-section of geoscientists, technology providers, policymakers and specialists at the three-day Gastech Exhibition and Conference at NRG Center attracting more than 35,000 guests to Houston.  Many will continue the dance next year in Singapore at Gastech 2020.

An often-repeated phrase heard throughout the conference was how “we were at the dawn of a new historic new era in energy trade.” Disruptors and change agents like Mehnert will ensure that era includes more diversity. “I have an eight-year-old daughter who has a lot of questions about the way things are now,” she said.

“I’ve seen how opening doors can really change lives,” says Tyson Taylor, VP of Human Resources for Pioneer Natural Resources, a large independent oil and gas exploration and production player with offices in Midland and Dallas and 3500 employees. “We’re the only independent that has a dedicated Diversity & Inclusion staff and a slew of outreach projects that help keep employees engaged,” she said.

Taylor remains both vigilant and sensitive to the subtleties between office and field and understanding what needs to happen at a grassroots level.

 “Midland has a different culture,” Taylor explains. “Some of the things we do in Dallas don’t have such a quick embrace in the field – like doing an event at a women’s shelter. You’ve got to meet West Texas employees in their space. You respect the individual regardless of where they come from. What’s really catapulted it are the children of our employees and educating them on D&I, but packaging it in a way that is meaningful.”

Know your numbers

“You’ve got to bring forth facts,” Taylor said. “We provide numbers on race, gender and age and tie it to the business for our leaders.”  

Passionate about diversity

Rodney Williams, Lead Project Manager at National Grid, was the only Black male in his class studying science. “At my first job, again, I was “The Black Male “.  I’m passionate about diversity and I’m here to be an activist.”

“I joined the multicultural network of National Grid and led the initiative for growth, resulting in a doubling of size in over 13 areas, reaching out to people in the field and not just main offices,” he said. “We created a leadership program that’s worked well.”

Similarly, Sherina Maye Edwards, the sole Black partner at the law firm of Quarles & Brady, LLP says, “I try to serve as a change agent. I don’t want to be the only (Black) one. You owe it to the people who are going to come behind you. While serving in an earlier role for five years at the Illinois Commerce Commission where she was the youngest commissioner ever, Edwards appointed the first African American General Counsel and the first African American Chief of Bureau External Affairs. “I was told I’d be stigmatized if I did so and that I’d never be successful,” she said. Yet, she fearlessly proceeded and lived the words of one of her heroes, Mahatma Gandhi. “You must be the change you want to see.”

Walking them through the door

“Not only do you open the door for others, you must make sure you walk them through it,” she insisted. During her term there, she was actively involved in the National Association for Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) and served as Chair of the Subcommittee on Pipeline Safety and Chair of the Subcommittee on Supplier and Workforce Diversity.

Joshua Atkins, a 28-year-old Director of at FTI Consulting in the UK agreed, “If you have a minister or a member of the House of Lords standing up for you that goes a long way.”

What role with the next generation play?

As far as the role the next generation will play, Atkins says he believes they set an expectation that companies will be part of something “bigger and better.” He chairs Pride in Energy, a group founded in 2017 that offers LGBT forums and has four visible intersectional leaders. He believes their relationships with leaders in Civil Service assist in building stronger connections as well as friendships – two key intangibles actively sought by graduating students today.

Understanding that millennials expect We Work arrangements, half-day Fridays, on-site daycare, and meals they may take home, the panellists shared how their firms have responded to meet those expectations.

 Rodney Williams said organizations need to gear up for Generation Z because they already have access to so much information. “If the workplace does not welcome them and embrace them, they are going to struggle. If we don’t innovate our organization will fail,” Williams noted.

Do we value gender diversity or do we prioritize it?

“You need that inclusive environment – if people don’t feel comfortable to speak, you’re not there,” said Williams. Edwards agreed.  “It’s the difference between being invited to the party and being asked to dance,” she affirmed.

Mehnert says “There’s a difference between commitment and interest and values and priorities.  To make equality in the workplace a reality, organizations needs to shift their thinking.  It’s just like safety.  We made that happen and we can make this happen.”


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