“The West can learn a lot from Asia in terms of diversity and inclusion”
Studies suggest that, according to PwC, many people in Asia view diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) as a Western concept shaped by Western experiences and Western values.
There is also a view that the focus on “individuals” and “differences” inherent in diversity is at odds with Asian cultural and social values, the international accounting firm noted. However, in some markets where the value of meritocracy is widely valued, inclusion plays together with the Asian values of “group membership”.
In fact, DEI looks different in Asia and doesn’t necessarily lag behind the West. Crucially, it often takes a more subtle, localized form, particularly in Southeast Asia, where a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work in such a multicultural region.
Additionally, “Asia has a long history of learning how to live with diversity and integrate different communities. That doesn’t mean it’s always been smooth sailing, but I don’t think it’s fair to underestimate cultural values,” noted Sophie Guerin, head of DEI at Johnson & Johnson in APAC.
“The West can learn a lot from Asia when it comes to diversity and inclusion,” she said. “It just looks different here.”
However, there is a “growing awareness of a formalized corporate approach” to DEI in Asia-based companies, including from local firms. This is likely due to years of effort and discussion on the issue since the days before the pandemic, coupled with the increasingly “loud” demands for inclusivity and equity from individuals in the workplace, as well as in public spaces like social media, she told staff magazine HDR.
“The West can learn a lot from Asia in terms of diversity and inclusion – it’s just different here.”
In the energy sector, Asian national oil companies (NOCs) such as Thailand’s PTT Exploration & Production (PTTEP), Malaysia’s Petronas and Indonesia’s Pertamina all provide data on the gender and ethnic breakdown of their employees in their annual reports.
In addition, women are often well represented in the Southeast Asian oil and gas sector, perhaps more so than in the UK. Although it remains a male-dominated industry.
“If I look mainly at Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia I would argue that for women they were and are way ahead of Britain. In the offices of oil and gas companies you see women everywhere. In fact, probably more than 50% are female employees. It’s a good starting point and has been for decades,” a Thailand-based senior industry manager told Energy Voice.
Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are “far ahead” of the UK in terms of gender.
“In terms of management, you will find women at the highest levels in Thailand and Indonesia and to some extent in Malaysia. For Thailand and Malaysia they are yet to have a woman CEO, but the mix of senior executives and board members was higher than in the UK,” the executive added.
Karen Agustiawan, an Indonesian who served as president, director and CEO of Indonesia’s state-owned oil and gas company Pertamina between 2009 and 2014, underscores this trend. Since August 2018, Pertamina is also managed by Nicke Widyawati, an Indonesian businesswoman.
“Gender issues and stuff like that isn’t as big a deal as it is in the West. At least I haven’t experienced equal opportunity discrimination, but I’ve worked for multinational companies,” an Indonesian geologist told Energy Voice.
Another oil and gas executive told Energy Voice that “women were often the best employees and our company’s leadership positions in Indonesia were dominated by women, and a mix of Christian and Muslim religions without issue.” He added, “My first Step in converting an Indonesian E&P player many years ago was to ensure it was a meritocracy and eliminate nepotism and the concept that age and years in a role led to seniority.”
Several different religions are practiced in Indonesia and their combined influence on the country’s political, economic and cultural life is significant. Almost nine-tenths of the Indonesian population profess Islam. However, there are scattered groups of Christians as well as Buddhists and Hindus and other minorities throughout the country.
Historically, there has been a trend in Indonesia’s resource sector to hire people from both Muslim and Christian groups to allow projects to continue during each religion’s major holidays, when employees typically returned home to their families for two weeks or more. Employees tended to strongly support this approach, one industry leader noted.
However, in more remote districts of Indonesia, there is community pressure to import geologists and professionals mainly from Java with the same dominant religion as the district. “Christian areas can complain about ‘Islamization’ and vice versa,” the executive added.
Elsewhere, a significant number of women are also studying geophysics at universities in Indonesia, one geologist observed. “I would say that more women are interested in geosciences as technology allows women to be more flexible with office work, such as B. Modelling, interpreting, etc., especially if they already have a family.”
Meanwhile, across Southeast Asia, the proportion of women working offshore in drilling or development engineering appears to be relatively low, likely due to the lifestyle involved, said the senior executive in Thailand. Although universities encourage it, it’s not entirely pragmatic, the executive added. Still, “you often find that men and women who don’t come from the prestigious universities and technical colleges are more willing to take on the grinding work offshore and the challenging life.”
A long road to LGBT inclusion
Regarding LGBT, people from this group have been present in offices in Thailand for decades, but the situation is less clear in Malaysia and Indonesia. “There isn’t really a roadblock across the region, but like most places, the boardroom and C-suite aren’t overtly encouraging that, to my knowledge. In Thailand, it won’t be blocked either because of the culture and work practices, but it won’t be as open,” added the Thailand-based executive.
However, the laws regarding the LGBT group are generally stricter in Southeast Asia than in the West. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Indonesia face legal challenges and prejudice that non-LGBT residents do not face. Traditional mores frown on homosexuality and transition, which affects public policy. Malaysia faces similar problems, while Singapore recently repealed a colonial-era law criminalizing gas sex between men. Singapore, home to many international energy companies, has also warned multinationals against openly supporting LGBT issues in a way that could create societal divisions within the country, as a new foreign interference law was introduced in August.
While there is still a long way to go in terms of legislation related to Southeast Asia’s LGBT communities, “at the same time, there are no direct issues there (works in the energy sector) as long as they keep it private,” noted The Executive .
Elsewhere, “the energy transition is creating opportunities and opening up the energy sector to more diverse and inclusive leadership. We’re seeing more and more women working in the energy transition,” Kavita Jadhav, Research Director, APAC, at Wood Mackenzie, told Energy Voice.
“We broke new ground at our recent Energy and Natural Resources Summit: APAC in Singapore. Our opening panel was “Women in Energy and Metals and Mining – Building a Just Transition in Asia Pacific,” she said.
“For me and the other panelists, being part of an all-female panel of energy leaders was a career first. Our intention was to spotlight this shift. The energy transition offers a unique opportunity for more gender diversity,” she added.
The panel consisted of senior women executives from the banking, oil and gas, and metals and mining sectors.
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