Civil rights leaders press oil industry on diversity but overlook existing numbers


Civil rights leaders are calling on the oil and gas industry — dominated by white men — to hire more women and people of color. The news group Axios used the above picture as a representation of the subject matter.

But what Axios and perhaps some civil rights leaders ignored in the story is how many minorities do work in the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado and other states. Axios paid no attention to the number of Hispanics, Native Americans and others who work in the oil patch. Including women. Take a look at some websites of energy companies and they include pictures of women employees.

Oklahoma has the second highest Native American population in the U.S. so it stands to reason many Native Americans work in the oil patch. The same for Hispanics in Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. Further, the number of executives and employees who proudly take claim to having a true Native American heritage, especially in Oklahoma, is no doubt high. And their claims are more legitimate than the one that landed Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren in hot water with the Cherokee Nation.

Here is how Axios reported the effort of civil rights leaders.

Why it matters: The effort, led by Rev. Jesse Jackson and National Urban League president Marc Morial, has been underway for weeks, though the topic has taken on a new urgency in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.

Driving the news: Jackson and Morial are calling on the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, a trade group representing natural gas transportation companies, to increase racial and gender representation across the industry, including on boards of directors and C-suites.

  • “We believe that through the development of a workforce that reflects the country’s demographics, upward mobility will take place in underserved, urban, rural, middle class and other communities,” Morial said in a May 18 letter to Alex Oehler, INGAA interim president.
  • “I urge your association and member companies to double your efforts to include more women, African Americans, Latinos and Asian Pacific executives amongst your ranks,” Jackson wrote in a May 5 letter to Oehler.

The intrigue: Jackson and Morial are also trying to work with the trade group on ensuring affordable access to natural gas, especially for communities of color.

  • The leaders, along with Rev. Al Sharpton, have recently expressed opposition to a swift move away from natural gas — which is the cleanest fossil fuel, but one that environmentalists nonetheless oppose given its role heating up the planet.
  • Jackson is pushing for a natural gas pipeline in a low-income, largely black community near Chicago.

For the record: Oehler told Axios he plans to respond soon to Morial and welcomes the conversation about diversity. He already responded to Jackson’s letter, though that response was focused on the energy access question.

By the numbers: The oil and gas industry workforce is generally less diverse than the American workforce as a whole, and African Americans are especially underrepresented.

  • The share of African Americans working in the oil and gas industry in 2015 was 6.7%, according to a report published by the American Petroleum Institute, compared to 11.7% of the overall U.S. workforce that same year.

How it works: Ensuring diversity is important for several reasons, experts say, including making sure that organizations’ workforces reflect their customers — as well as the growing evidence that more diverse companies do better financially.

“The argument I’ve made with industry is the importance of trust among communities and the public at large. When you start to try to build coalitions and trust in a community and you bring a monolithic group to that community, then you seem out of step and out of touch, and that’s not the way you build trust.”
— Paula Glover, president and CEO, American Association of Blacks in Energy
Source: Axiom