Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

America’s leading civil rights leaders are calling on the oil and gas industry — dominated by white men — to hire more women and people of color.

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: Even while advocating for a more diverse workforce, 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, in particular, is pushing for a natural-gas pipeline in a low-income, largely black community near Chicago.

For the record: Oehler, who is filling in as CEO until the association finishes its process of hiring a permanent leader, 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 American workforce as a whole, and African Americans are especially underrepresented.

  • 6.7%: share of African Americans working in the oil and gas industry in 2015, according to a report published that year by the American Petroleum Institute. That’s compared to 11.7% of the overall workforce that same year.
  • 20.4%: share of Hispanic workers in the sector (compared to 16.4% of the overall workforce that year).
  • 17%: share of women in the industry (compared to 46.8% overall).
  • (More recent numbers suggest roughly the same picture compared to today's overall workforce.)
  • 54%: Share of new industry jobs women and people of color are projected to fill through 2040, according to a forthcoming study from API not yet released.
  • Oehler’s staff of roughly a dozen people and his board of directors are overwhelmingly white; its board is also heavily male. API, a far bigger association, is 33% people of color (18% black) and 47% female, according to a spokesperson.

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

Racial diversity in the industry’s leadership positions and on boards of directors is almost certainly far less prevalent than the sector’s overall workforce, says Glover. She says it’s hard to even track down numbers given it’s such a small share.

  • More data exists for women’s increasing roles on boards and in C-suites. The share of female board members in the S&P Global indices nearly doubled since 2000 to reach an average of 15% for the energy sector, according to a recent report by S&P Global Platts.
  • As part of another recent broader survey on women in energy, McKinsey did a sidebar story on the even greater challenges facing women in color, but that work wasn’t looking at leadership positions and didn’t address people of color generally.

Go deeper:

Editor’s note: This piece was updated to replace 2019's overall employment figures with 2015 ones to compare the same years.

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