Stop demeaning women, Fergus Ewing tells oil firms

Energy Minister Fergus Ewing has accused offshore firms of 'demeaning women'. Picture: Robert Perry
Energy Minister Fergus Ewing has accused offshore firms of 'demeaning women'. Picture: Robert Perry
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SCOTLAND’S energy minister has accused offshore firms of “demeaning” women in the industry by employing models to dress in revealing outfits at an industry conference.

Fergus Ewing, the SNP MSP for Inverness and Nairn, made a scathing attack on companies whose actions at the Offshore Europe event in Aberdeen could, he claimed, put women off from thinking of a career in the oil and gas sector.

His comments come at a time when less than four per cent of the total offshore population is female.

Mr Ewing, who attended a debate with Princess Anne on the subject of “women in industry” during last month’s event, said: “Amongst the 50,000 attendees at the conference, there were several young women dressed in company boiler suits and other sometimes revealing outfits.

“Obviously they were hired by companies exhibiting at the conference.

“At the same time, there were young females attending from schools and colleges, whom we wish will, should they choose, play a part in the industry.”

He added: “It is surely demeaning to all that we continue to see companies hiring young women to dress up in this way – and something which can only deter young females from wanting to play a part in the industry.

“I hope that the industry representative bodies will seek to use their influence to bring these practices to an end. Indeed I shall be inviting them so to do.”

Offshore Europe is an annual conference organised by industry body Oil and Gas UK and is one of the biggest events of its kind in the country, bringing together a host of different firms involved in the industry.

Dr Alix Thom, Oil and Gas UK’s employment and skills issues manager, said: “The UK oil and gas industry is doing a lot of work to discuss ways to attract new talent to the sector, including improving gender diversity.

“We certainly do not condone this way of advertising as an appropriate, effective or respectful way to ensure an adequate supply of skilled people to meet the growing demand.”

A study by the organisation reveals a total of 56,982 people travelled offshore in 2012, 9 per cent up on 2011 and the highest number since 2006.

Female workers, however, represented just 3.75 per cent - 2,138 – of the total offshore population, of which 753 are core workers. This is an increase of only 0.05 per cent from 2011.

Since 2006, the industry has seen an increase of 18.7 per cent in the total number of females travelling offshore.

However, this is just a 0.15 per cent increase in the proportion of female employees relative to the total workforce population.

The distribution of females across various age ranges has remained fairly constant, with the highest number of females falling into the 24-29 age bracket in 2012. From the age of 30 there is a decline in the number of females travelling offshore.

The energy minister spoke out after taking part in a conference debate entitled “women in industry”.

He said there was tribute paid to the four workers who died in the Super Puma helicopter crash off Shetland on 23 August, including Sarah Darnley, from Elgin, believed to be the first female to have died in the the UK.

He added that, as a mark of respect, “we must surely continue to put safety first and foremost and begin to show more proper respect for females”.

The panel debate, hosted by journalist Kirsty Wark, was also addressed by Princess Anne.

Mr Ewing said: “She spoke without notes and with great eloquence about the need to inspire, educate and encourage young women to pursue potential careers in the industry and gently chided some of the male managers in the audience about the lack of women at senior levels.

“In my own contribution, I referred to a straw poll which had taken place at the panel debate, arranged by the Norwegian state oil company Statoil, and hosted by Kirsty Wark.

“She had asked how many women in the audience listening to the panel debate worked in the industry in Scotland. Very few hands went up.

“She then asked how many women in the audience were from Norway and worked in the industry there. A very much larger number of hands went up.

“So in our own country, in Aberdeen, our oil capital, there were fewer women in the industry present than those from another country.

“This is at a time when there are massive opportunities in the industry, not just now but for the next several decades.

“And there will be a need for tens of thousands of people required to work in the industry if these opportunities are to be achieved. So, if we can encourage more females to take up these posts – 90 per cent of which are onshore, incidentally – then end of problem.”

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