Energising the issue of diversity

Sep 20, 2018
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Sherina Maye Edwards, partner at Quarles & Brady LLP Energy, Environment and Natural Resources, on how the industry needs to become more inclusive 
In a powerful and challenging address to the industry, Sherina Maye Edwards, partner at Quarles & Brady LLP Energy, Environment and Natural Resources, called for more diversity along gender and ethnic lines – especially in senior company positions.
Delivering the keynote address at the Diversity in Energy sessions, Edwards, from Chicago said it was great that 10,000 people a day were attending Gastech – but asked the question “what was the ethnic and gender balance of the visitors?”.
“It’s wonderful that the majority  of people in this room are men,” she said. “But the issue of diversity needs a lot more pushing. We need to move the needle forward. We need to be open and honest about diversity so that in 10 years time addresses like this will not be necessary.”
Edwards admitted she had prepared a speech and showed the audience her notes – but then stated she had decided to scrap it and just say what was really on her mind.
She said: “The gas industry really does need to address the issue of diversity. I’m guessing that of the 35,000 people who are expected to attend over the course of the Gastech event around 1 per cent will be people of colour. So when you think about these numbers we have to level the playing field, as they are way down.
“Diversity is an issue which has to be confronted and not sugar-coated. You look at a company’s website and they’ll be black people, Asian people, all looking like they are integrated and having a good time. But then you look at the board of directors and they are all white men. 
“You have to address the status quo. You have to get up there and be honest. I had a speech prepared but you know what? I bet this audience is the people who feel that diversity is important. The choir as we say.
“So what information can I give to those who are already singing? What is the message? It’s that diversity matters. Companies which are diverse are more effective.
“When I started off in the workplace a person said to me ‘do not touch diversity it makes people nervous’. I thought ‘that’s crazy’ and I decided I would jump all over it.”
Edwards said that in her home state of Illinois there is a system where CEOs are called in every year to explain how they are adopting diversification processes in the workplace.
“One told me it was a terrible idea, and quotas are not the way forward,” she said. “But in the end he admitted it was what pushed his company to make changes. People get so comfortable and they do not want to be a change agent but someone has to be the first. You have to be a change agent, because otherwise there will be no change.”


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