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BP Australasia's Sustainable Workforce
Oil giant BP has more than 83,000 employees in 30 countries; 5,000 of those employees work in Australia. The Australian employees "work well together," notes their boss, Paul Waterman, the president of BP Australasia. Waterman, who is originally from Michigan and has held various positions with BP around the world, notes several distinctive qualities of the Australian workforce. Compared with Americans, the Australians are quicker to comply with requirements, but less driven by their work.
BP Australasia is growing, and it readily attracts new talent. However, retaining employees can be difficult because a strong mining industry in Australia competes for experienced workers. To keep employees, BP focuses on combining training, work assignments, and career management that will help employees see and follow an attractive career path. BP also tries to ensure that its compensation package is attractive relative to the competition.
BP Australasia seeks the broadest talent pool and excellent employee retention by valuing diversity. According to Waterman, ethnic and gender diversity is a newer concept to Australian culture than in the United States, so many employees are just grasping its importance. This is a significant challenge. Many companies are surprised when they roll out diversity training to their international operations and discover that the programs don't work because they are not speaking to the issues faced by employees in other cultures. For example, gender roles differ from one part of the world to another, and race is not a major issue in many parts of the world. Ethnic identity plays a role in most cultures, but its meaning differs in a homogeneous country such as Japan, a culture with much immigration such as the United States, and a country where immigration is seen by some people as compromising national identity, as in France. Sexual orientation is accepted as a concern for diversity training in much of the West, but is a sensitive issue elsewhere. The United States, in contrast, tends to downplay diversity in terms of social class, but in some parts of the world, that is a major component of diversity.
In Australia, one measure of which issues are important for valuing diversity is the legal environment. Laws in Australia promote employment opportunity for women. The Workplace Gender and Equality Act requires that companies with at least 100 employees create a workplace gender equity plan and prepare reports detailing the participation rates of men and women, as well as the availability of flexible work practices. Australian employers are required by law to consider employees' requests for flexible work arrangements if the employees are responsible for children under the age of 18 or with a disability. The Australian government also has created a plan for paid parental leave for primary caregivers of children born or adopted after January 1, 2011. Employees can receive up to 18 weeks of leave at the national minimum wage.
BP Australasia is committed to more than just meeting legal requirements. The company in 2009 established a five-year plan for ensuring an organization that is diverse and inclusive. The company conducts an annual analysis of its pay to ensure parity for male and female employees, and it sets targets for increasing the number of women in managerial and executive positions. In filling its leadership development program, it ensures that at least half the participants are women. Benefits include generous maternity leave that offers half pay for up to eight months, as well as flexible work arrangements and an affinity network for part-time workers. With measures such as these, BP Australasia was recently named an Employer of Choice for Women for the second year in a row by an organization called Equal Employment for Women Australia. More significantly for the business, Waterman notes that the number of women applying for technical jobs at BP has been rising-a sign that efforts to be inclusive are attracting a wider pool of talent.
One woman who has risen through the ranks at BP Australasia is Brooke Miller, the company's chief financial officer. Before joining BP, Miller was a landscape architect who wanted a career in a major corporation. She was interested in how businesses make investment decisions, and she made a point to learn as much as she could as she took on management jobs. This, coupled with BP's formal training programs, enabled Miller to learn enough about financial structures and reporting to become CFO after 12 years.
What are some challenges Waterman faces as a Michigan-born executive leading an Australian company?