Women in the workplace - increasing representation in Brazil

We are working with the communities surrounding our sugar cane ethanol mills in Brazil to help women overcome the challenges of joining the workforce

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BP became the first international energy company to operate sugar cane ethanol mills in Brazil in 2011. We currently own and operate three mills.

The expansion of our Tropical mill saw capacity double and the number of employees at the mill increase by over 600 between 2013 and 2015. In 2013 approximately 30% of our senior leadership and 17% of the entry-level leaders in our biofuels business were women, however, women made up only 7.5% of the administrative, agricultural, industrial and maintenance workforce, largely based at the three mills. Within the agricultural workforce, which has been historically dominated by men, this figure was even lower at 2.5%.

It was these operational areas that presented the greatest challenge in attracting more women. 

Sugar cane ethanol mills in Brazil owned and operated by BP

Developing a meaningful programme

In response to this challenge, we launched a programme in 2014 to promote the value of women in the workplace and support and inspire women in our biofuels business.  Working with the local community, the government and our employees, we began to increase our understanding of the job opportunities that were available to women and build the relationships we needed to develop more opportunities - both at BP and in the community.

In March 2015 we held networking events at our three mills and biofuels headquarters in São Paulo, attended by around 600 female employees from all areas and levels of the business. The events marked International’s Women’s Day and provided an opportunity to share real stories of challenges faced and victories won. Five employees from across the business were announced as ambassadors to help promote the programme for a two-year period, after which new ambassadors will be appointed.

Over 300 attendees responded to a survey that aimed to provide more insight into the challenges women needed to overcome to work at the mills. We then held three forums where representatives from across the business discussed the survey results and possible strategies for addressing the issues raised. These discussions set the agenda for the programme for the next few years. 

The final action plan was presented back to employees and focused on three key areas:

  • Addressing a lack of skills by building capabilities.
  • Improving infrastructure for communities, including the availability of child care.
  • Engaging communities and families to help support women who would like to work at the mills.

Building capability

Around 30 communities live in the areas surrounding the three biofuels mills, including in the main cities of Edéia, Itumbiara and Ituiutaba. The cities each have fairly small populations - around 11,300, 93,000 and 97,000 residents respectively - and improving, but still relatively low, educational and income levels compared to more developed parts of Brazil.

To help address this issue, we are developing specific training programmes to make it easier for women to enter the workforce and learn the skills they need while on the job. For example, we have introduced a programme at our Tropical mill to train women who have not worked in the agricultural sector before as tractor drivers. The first 25 women have successfully completed the programme and 10 more positions have been made available to existing female employees who would like to develop their skills.

“It's something I've always wanted to do - work on agriculture machinery, and never had a chance. So I am finding this very good. Now we have a profession, right? We're being more valued and so when they ask, 'What do you do? I say: I am an operator!’ This career is a guarantee for me. I have a formal contract. I have health insurance. I have a dental plan... I really want to grow. In the future I want to operate a harvester.” 

Cristiane de Araujo, agricultural machine operator, BP biofuels

We are currently working with some of our commercial suppliers to build a suite of technical training opportunities for employees. Delivered by the suppliers, the training will build on our standard courses by focusing on the suppliers’ specific machinery, on topics such as operating and maintenance and how to use different attachments and implements.

Improving infrastructure

We are improving infrastructure within the communities surrounding the mills in a number of ways. For example, we are supporting schools to implement a nationally-recognized syllabus that aims to increase the standard of education. We are establishing partnerships with British language schools to offer employees and their families the opportunity to learn English as a second language - noted as a useful skill by employees during the forum discussions - at significantly discounted rates.

As part of a pilot programme in the communities around Tropical, our largest mill, we are working to increase the availability of childcare resources by providing training to more than 40 teachers and childcare assistants. The training aims to improve their skills and knowledge in the areas of first aid, teaching and working with children.

Engaging communities and families

We are working to build better relationships with our stakeholders in the local communities and consulting with them to identify, prioritize and help address issues - both in support of women in the workplace and more generally. For example, in 2015 our stakeholders raised the issue of the large number of motorcycle accidents occurring within the community. We worked with local road authorities to develop a campaign to raise awareness of motorcycle safety.

Seeing results

We are seeing positive results, with 757 women employed in administrative, agricultural, industrial, or maintenance roles as at June 2016. This brings women's participation within these areas up from 8% to almost 13% in three years. We have increased the number of female agricultural workers to 336 or 7% of the workforce as at June 2016 (2015: 325; 2014: 216; 2013: 78).

Number of women working in agricultural, industrial, maintenance and administrative roles in our biofuels business

Figures are an average for the year
We have more than doubled the total number of women in our workforce at the mills since 2012 but women still only represent 13% of the total number of employees. We have a long way to go but we are on the right path.
Carolina Fratta, director of strategy, communications and social responsibility, BP biofuels

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