Chevron CEO urges more diversity in energy employment

HOUSTON — Chevron Corp. CEO John Watson said the energy industry needs to do more to increase the diversity of its workforce and urged improved efforts to promote science and math education among minority students.

Watson cited recent industry forecasts showing that a third of jobs in oil, gas and petrochemicals through 2030 could be filled by black and Hispanic workers. But, he said, more work is necessary to get them ready for those positions.

“The jobs will be there for the taking, but we need to be sure African-Americans are aware of the opportunities in our industry,” said Watson, speaking Thursday at the American Association of Blacks in Energy conference in Houston.

Energy’s hiring boom

Watson’s comments came on the heels of a study by the American Petroleum Institute showing that the shale boom and an expected barrage of baby boomer retirements will likely mean a surge in new hiring in the energy sector in the coming years. Diversity advocates and the industry are pitching that hiring barrage as an opportunity to advance minority employment in a business where blacks have historically been underrepresented.

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The institute finds that blacks make up just 8 percent of employees in the oil, gas and petrochemical sectors — and only 6 percent of management, business and financial jobs within that space.  The U.S. population is about 13 percent black. Watson acknowledged that the industry has tried to improve those numbers, but historically, hasn’t had much luck at it.

“Achieving this goal is something that businesses across the energy sector are struggling with,” Watson said.

But Watson emphasized that the energy sector must find a way to develop a more diverse workforce and leadership structure, given the changing demographics of the country.

Chevron’s efforts

Chevron has tried to expand opportunities for minorities by upping its recruitment efforts at historically black colleges and universities and has made $3 million in donations in recent years to those schools for efforts to support fields like engineering and computer science, Watson said.

Meanwhile, the company has partnered with the American Association of Blacks in Energy and the National Society of Black Engineers to raise awareness about opportunities in the energy sector. Other companies have pursued similar steps.

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He said minorities and woman accounted for nearly half of the company’s new employees last year, and the company has a network of black employees that help each other with professional development.

“But we recognize that more is needed,” Watson said.

Encouraging education

In particular he emphasized the need to strengthen students’ skills in science, technology and math in early education and encourage them to pursue those fields at the college level.

A 2012 study by the petroleum institute found fewer than 2 percent of the students graduating from college with degrees directly related to oil and gas were black.

“Clearly, we all need to do more to encourage minorities to consider pursuing opportunities in our fields,” he said.

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Patricia King, manger of universal services for PECO, an electric and natural gas utility serving greater Philadelphia, said she was encouraged by Watson’s remarks on diversity.

“The fact that he identified that as an issue is huge,” King said.

Professionally, she said, the conference gave her the opportunity network with “people who understand your industry and look like you — that doesn’t happen very often.”

Executive level

Watson also acknowledged the lack of black CEOs in the energy sector, saying it’s a problem that permeates beyond the energy sector and affects corporate America broadly. He noted that Chevron tends to promote from within and said the way to address the issue is to ensure companies are developing a pipeline of minority talent that is getting proper training and development opportunities internally. “Then they’ll compete,” he said.

Others were skeptical of Watson’s remarks, saying they’ve heard similar comments from the energy sector and others in the past. “If all these organizations are making a commitment to STEM, then why aren’t we getting a better return?” said an official from a California utility who declined to provide his name.