Somaya Ouazzani highlights the issues of gender diversity in the oil and gas sector, in Oil Review Africa

Somaya Ouazzani, CEO & founder of Mimoza Fleur, highlights the issues of gender diversity in the oil and gas sector, in Oil Review Africa.

Broadly speaking, for every four male partners that move into the International Commercial Arbitration (ICA) sector, only one female partner does. The figures are even more depressing for female arbitration practitioners working in the oil and gas sector. Is this a problem particular to the oil and gas sector or is it an arbitration problem, more generally?

In our experience as a search firm, we think it more likely that the gender diversity problems seem more pronounced in the oil and gas sector because it is one of the heaviest users of arbitration agreements within their contracts.

It is readily accepted that the arbitration arena remains one of the least diverse legal practice areas worldwide.

It is also because more than most, the oil and gas industry is one under particularly intense scrutiny (whether because of profiteering, climate change issues, bribery, geopolitical importance etc).

Whether the oil and gas industry is as cognisant as it should be of these gender setbacks is one issue. Another is whether the industry is proactive enough in responding to these serious problems.

In an attempt to better understand the reasons for poor, but slowly improving, statistics on: a) why so few women move into this space; and b) why fewer women than men end up in partner and / or head of roles in this space, we dissected some of the key projects we have done for law firms in the last 36 months.

We also analysed the make-up of various ICA teams in leading UK-based law firms, and we looked at the composition of the world’s major arbitral bodies.

In doing so, we observed the following:-

1. There is a disconnect between the number of female senior associates versus the number of partners, which supports the view that despite there being more senior female lawyers in the ICA sector, less women are being ‘made up’ organically and fewer are securing lateral partner positions.
2. The number of global sector heads or sector co-heads is particularly low for females, worldwide.
3. The number of female arbitrator appointments in the ICA sector is much lower than men worldwide, particularly in the UK.
4. There is considerable underrepresentation of women within the world’s major arbitral bodies, which is compounding problems.

There needs to be greater consciousness raising. One way is for clients, especially the world’s supermajors, to ensure questions are asked around diversity during the law firm tendering process.  There needs to be a greater emphasis on work-life balance in the industry and, at the very least, an environment which acknowledges the extent to which a female practitioner’s peak career phase coincides with her optimal child bearing age.

Firms should consider the benefits of having male and female co-heads. When awarding mandates to legal recruitment and search firms, law firms should think carefully about partnering with recruitment partners that prioritise the diversity agenda.

Databases specific to female practitioners in the field would assist law firms, recruitment firms, clients and counsel to effectively identify female practitioners in this space.  Fortunately, with the development of metric-based decision making in law firms as a whole and the availability of AI hiring tools from companies (such as Pirical), this should not be hard to achieve.

Somaya’s article was published in Oil review Africa, 28 April 2021 and can be found here, on page 26.

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