Tara Cemlyn-Jones, co-ordinator of 25×25, meets Bernard Looney, CEO of bp and a 25×25 Lead Ambassador

 by 25×25 team

We are very proud to have you as a Lead Ambassador for 25×25. Would you tell us why you joined?

Well, thank you, Tara, for your work and your leadership. I think 25×25 has focused in on such an important area around the role of the chief executive. And it’s our privilege and it’s my privilege to be part of it. And if we can help, we will.

Why is this topic so important? I guess it is very simple when it comes down to it, as at its core, it’s about fairness.

I’d like the world to be fair. I would like people to be able to have a chance to do what they want to do. And this chance shouldn’t be based on their gender; it should be based on their abilities. I think the data’s pretty clear. The world hasn’t been fair when it comes to women and careers.

I love bp and I want nothing more than for bp to be successful and to be brilliant. And to do that, you need great people and you need diverse teams with people that have different backgrounds and come from different places. And some of the best leaders that we have in the company are women. I want them to have the opportunity and I want them to help our company be successful. And by having teams that are diverse, we can do that.

Thanks Bernard, this embodies the spirit of 25×25 perfectly. Talent planning is one of the central pillars of the 25×25 framework. Could you talk us through the issues you’ve faced?

So we’ve been focusing really hard at bp to make sure that women as well as men are getting the type of line leadership that may place them on the pathways to CEO i.e.: profit & loss leadership responsibility.

I just came back from Houston last week, and the Gulf of Mexico in bp is one of the most valuable businesses that we have in the company. It’s run by a woman, and she has a team of 14 people, ten of them are women. And really powerfully, the key operational and technical – big roles – are the head of operations, a woman, Laurie; the head of drilling, a woman, Sarah; and the head of projects, a woman, Fiona. And so you have this compelling team of people, and that gives me confidence.

We’ve just gone through a massive restructuring. We have 120 executives in the company. Now 40% of the senior executives in the company, which are P&L roles predominantly, are female. And we actually have an ambition to take that to 50% by 2025 – so gender parity by 2025.

A crucial step in allowing women the right to progress as they deserve is to make sure that they get the jobs that give them the experience that allows them to compete.

Do you find you have to provide specific support measures or redefine the job specs to ensure these women are progressing through the organisation?

We don’t have to redefine job specs for women. Women are as, and in my experience often more, capable. What we need is a system that encourages women to do their best and a system that is fair.


We do this by making sure that throughout the organisation there is an environment that is conducive for women to be successful. A lot of our roles are operational and at our sites, gender differences haven’t always been a consideration. Simple things like restrooms, like sharing cabins in an offshore environment, glove size, coverall size, all basic things, but things that are all too often ignored and send an incredibly disincentivising signal to a woman.

Then obviously at the recruitment stage, we’re targeting and have been trying for a long time to make sure that we try to get parity in our recruits, which is challenging in a technical environment.

Yet would you believe that in in the middle of a tropical rainforest in Indonesia, a place that’s eight hours from Jakarta, we have a technician population of probably several hundred people and 50% of the intake are women. And what I say to my team is, if it can be done there in Indonesia, it can be done in Houston, it can be done in Aberdeen.

If you want to do this, you can do it. But if you don’t set out with that strong purpose, there are so many barriers that are in the way; it just won’t happen. So, we’ve not got it cracked. We’ve got loads of issues. We’ve got things that we need to work on. It’s far from right, but we’ve made some progress.

What a great insight, thank you Bernard. Lastly, I would like your views on whether ESG factors, such as social impact, are being properly measured within the investment community.

I think there is more to be done in this space and I think the work that you’re leading on at 25×25 should help and we should push for it to help.

Data matters and you’ve got a great chart in one of your excellent presentations which compares the percentage of women in roles in government and private sectors. In other areas, this is around 40%, and then you get down to the women CEOs and it’s less than 10%; it’s 6-7%.

It’s hard to ignore that data, because the data is compelling and therefore it’s hard not to want to get into action and do something about that. I’m not sitting here today saying we’ve got it cracked. That’s not the point of us being here. It’s because we’ve made mistakes and therefore we can share some of those mistakes and some of our learnings.

I have had feedback from some investors about this and they can see that the leadership team has to be diverse. I do hear it more than I would have done five or six years ago. But it’s probably not at the level that it needs to be to drive the change that I think it can and should

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