People and projects from around the PETROFAC world

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WHere we work




Suhail Ahmed has ruffled a few feathers in his time.

The Aberdeen-based employee relations specialist is a big supporter of Petrofac’s first Employee Network Groups (ENGs), voluntary employee-led associations made up of people who come together based on shared values and interests, or demographics such as gender, ethnicity or sexuality. He joined Petrofac from Network Rail, the UK’s rail infrastructure operator, where he helped lay the foundations for the excellent reputation for diversity and inclusion the company enjoys today. Not everyone, in the early days, approved.

“Network Rail in Scotland was 99% Caucasian. It was 82% male. And some people liked it that way, so yes I made enemies in the organisation. But we simply weren’t reflective of society,” says Suhail.

With a few like-minded colleagues he started to spread the word that the company was open to everyone. They went to mosques, gurdwaras and churches, organising carol services followed by multi-faith (including humanist) readings. They held after-hours scripture readings in the Glasgow office, celebrated Nowruz and Chinese New Year in Edinburgh, invited the local community to use meeting rooms in the evenings and weekends, held trans-awareness sessions and ran a women’s network event that attracted more than 100 delegates to make the six-hour trip from Head Office.

Suhail, a barrister by training, held CV workshops – ‘what your career advisor won’t tell you’ – to encourage people who might never have considered certain career routes, indeed wouldn’t even have known they existed, to apply. He still runs them today.

“Some jobs you don’t know about unless you know someone on the inside. You won’t have the right conversations. Employee Networks can help surface this, and put up signposts for people outside the organisation who may not be looking in. This is not about positive discrimination or giving anyone an unfair advantage. It’s about opportunity – and creating a stronger, happier, more representative workplace.”

This is exactly what Anna Douglas, Head of Diversity & Inclusion and the driving force behind Petrofac’s new ENGs, intends.

“These groups will be forums, spaces, for diverse opinions. It’s all about making Petrofac a better place to work, a better partner for our clients to work with and a better neighbour and investment for the communities and partners,” she says.

“We’re very fortunate to have great commitment from senior leadership across the company and we all know what we want to achieve. But one size definitely doesn’t fit all. We’re designing our programme and efforts so they fit into, and enhance, our workplace wherever that might be in the world.”

First to be launched is the Women’s ENG. “We want to provide a forum for women in our business to network, problem-solve and mentor each other,” explains Anna, “but this will be open to all Petrofac employees, regardless of gender. Just come with an open mind!”

You’ve got to be vulnerable to be brave




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“It’s all about making Petrofac a better place to work, a better partner for our clients to work with and a better neighbour and investment for the communities and partners.”

Anna Douglas


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“I’d like to see more conversations opened up about neuro-diversity, social class, age. And open to all.”

Suhail Ahmed

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One of Petrofac’s projects in New Zealand

Leading the way: American University of Sharjah working with Petrofac to optimise solar farm efficiency

Leadership backing
The ENG launch has the enthusiastic backing of Petrofac’s leadership team. Announcing the launch at the end of April, Petrofac’s Group Chief Executive Sami Iskander, said: “I truly believe that this initiative will help us to build an inclusive and open workplace culture, where we value our colleagues for who they are and the differences they bring.”

And in a clear sign that the ENGs play into a triple bottom line approach to measuring Petrofac’s performance, the Women’s ENG is sponsored by Chief Financial Officer Alastair Cochran.

“At Petrofac we’ve always worked hard to attract the best talent and once they’re here, we want them to stay,” he says. “To support this, it’s vital we build diversity and inclusion capabilities among all our people, from managers and leaders, to frontline human resources. This has to be absolutely essential to any business today.”

While engineering and the energy sector have traditionally been male dominated, the picture is changing fast. In Petrofac, recruitment at graduate level today is almost evenly split between men and women. But retaining women as their career progresses, and recruiting women for more senior roles, is more challenging says Anna. The Women’s ENG has an important role to play here.

“We need to make sure we’re focusing on diversity across all levels of Petrofac,” says Anna. “We have to be feeding the whole talent pool and making sure we’ve got enough women who are coming in at graduate roles as well as at management level, because that’s the only way we’ll really change at scale.”

The planning behind the launch of the ENGs was itself a demonstration of the power of pulling in diverse ideas and experiences. Along with Suhail, Claire Phillips, General Manager of Petrofac’s Scotvalve Services in Aberdeen, has also been a key figure in their development, bringing experience from energy technology company Baker Hughes.

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“We really can’t afford to be careless when it comes to nurturing our most important resource – our people.”

Alastair Cochran

Elevating the conversation
Baker Hughes has a well-developed network of Employee Resource Groups. Associations such as the African American Forum, Enabled, Pride@Work and Veterans – a network of former Armed Services people - are regarded as key to maintaining an inclusive and diverse workplace.

Employees are invited to take an active role in shaping the company’s priorities through their participation in one or more groups, “elevating the conversation” around key issues and “strengthening our service to the communities where we live”.

Claire led the Women’s Network there. “I’ve always been very passionate about the power of these groups. One of the first questions I had when I joined Petrofac was ‘Is there a women’s network? –because it’s the best way to meet people, and to grow and embed yourself in the business. I joined during Lockdown so it was even more important for me.

“At Baker Hughes, the CEO would hold a roundtable with the networks. It gives you exposure to senior leaders. It’s also really helpful for career mobility - for example, if you’re an engineer looking to potentially change roles into a new function like project management, there’s always an opportunity to engage with others in the network with the experience you’re looking for. Someone who can support and coach for that next career progression.”

While the ratio is improving, “we’re still only around 13% when it comes to women in the business,” says Claire. “The further your career progresses, the more challenging it becomes.

“By using the network in previous roles I’ve been able to help support others to find suitable roles. I still connect with people I’ve met just through networking over the years, and we continue to help and support each other even now.”

Claire is especially keen to reach out to girls still in education: “When you start to help girls understand how they can change the world within the energy industry, then you start to change the discussion. You have to make sure that you’re giving young women the confidence to see success in themselves. This isn’t just about helping them with their skills, but giving them the confidence to drive change – and the business benefits too because greater diversity makes us more innovative.”

After the Women’s ENG, more Employee Network Groups will be rolled out in quick succession, each with its own senior leader sponsor whose role is to listen, support and represent the views and issues of the ENG at Group Executive Committee level.

Look out for the LGBTQ+ network, which will promote a safe and inclusive workplace for this community; and a Cultural Fusion group to champion and raise understanding of our diverse cultures. Groups organised around disability and parents are also being discussed.

Alastair Cochran believes investors are increasingly aware of the link between initiatives like these and the performance of a business.

“Inclusion and diversity is seen as absolutely critical by investors, so if we’re to attract financial capital we have to make sure we can provide proof of our commitment and efforts,” he says.

“Investors ask what we’re doing to attract the best talent from the broadest pool, and to retain talented people who we’ve invested a lot in. We really can’t afford to be careless when it comes to nurturing our most important resource – our people.”

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“I’ve always been very passionate about the power of Employee Network Groups. It’s the best way to meet people, and to grow and embed yourself in the business.”

Claire Phillips


One of Petrofac’s projects in New Zealand

How it works: the solar/gas hybrid solution

Compared to refineries, solar photovoltaic farms are relatively simple projects, and Petrofac has the in-house capability to develop, design, construct, and procure the materials and equipment needed for solar projects.

“We are focused on promoting our solar PV capabilities to oil and gas companies and have a competitive advantage in this area compared to organisations that build solar farms for the generation of electricity for the public,” explains Mark. “We are very familiar with the construction and operational challenges of working in a major hazard industry.”

“We can offer end to end services that support the full life cycle of solar projects, from system and technology assessment and selection, to project development support through to design, construction, operation and maintenance.”

Mark believes that the research AUS is carrying out will be invaluable in maximising the life cycle of solar farms in the future. Manufacturers claim very high efficiency rates, but these are in perfect conditions, and of course perfect conditions don’t exist, he says.

“The degradation in performance can be quite dramatic, so it’s equally important to consider those aspects in your design and construction. If you can squeeze more economic value out of a solar farm in terms of performance, revenue and power output, this equates to cost behind the meter – as you’re saving gas which is itself a commodity.”

“Clean energy and renewables are a burgeoning market globally as countries strive to achieve the climate objectives agreed in the Paris Agreement.”
Mark Cowley

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Be brave, be vulnerable
One of the most inspiring champions of employee network groups outside Petrofac is award-winning mentor and race equality campaigner Nichole McGill-Higgins (she/her).

Nichole co-chaired EmbRACE, championing racial diversity and inclusion at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), a UK charity, before setting up her own consultancy. But, as she told Petrofacts, she was initially sceptical about the idea of staff networks.

“There was a BAME group – I don’t really like the term – and the LGBTQ group had just started. I thought, do we really need this? Isn’t it a bit divisive? I didn’t realise how powerful they could be. They are fantastic places to unite people in a common cause, normalising experiences like being part of the ‘sandwich generation’ (raising children while caring for parents) for example and humanising the organisation.”

Four times a year, the chairs of all the groups met to discuss their mission, values, and to share research. In CEO Peter Cheese they had a strong advocate, “someone who could speak for us in rooms we weren’t in”. They worked closely with HR and Communications to spread the diversity message in easy to grasp ways, including stories around a shared diversity calendar – “Pride month, Diwali, international miscarriage day, you name it.”

Diversity and inclusion can seem big concepts but in practice are about the personal and the particular. “In one panel session I ran someone said at the end that actually no-one, ever, gets her name right,” Nichole recalls. “We’d all be pronouncing it wrong. I get a bit Diva-ish when anyone leaves out the ‘h’ in my name, so I can only imagine what it was like for her.”

“Don’t be afraid to have the conversations. It takes bravery to make yourself vulnerable – and you’ve got to be vulnerable to be brave. The first time I found myself speaking about race to a room full of white people, I was petrified. All that anger, anxiety and guilt. It’s not a comfortable conversation. But it has changed my personal and career growth immensely.”

Like Suhail Ahmed, Nichole may have made a few enemies in championing diversity, but they’ve made many more friends - and for life. “It’s about being open to and interested in other ways of life and ways of thinking,” says Suhail, speaking to Petrofacts during Ramadan (if your team doesn’t know this, he says, how can they put in place the right risk assessments during fasting for example?). “I’d like to see more conversations opened up about neuro-diversity, social class, age. And open to all.”

Nichole agrees. “It doesn’t have to happen to you to matter to you”.

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“It doesn’t have to happen to you to matter to you.”

Nichole McGill-Higgins

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