Z on supporting women working in the fuel industry

Diversity and inclusion March 28, 2024

When your job is to receive, store and dispense thousands of litres of fuel every day, it can make for busy work. The team on the ground at Z Energy’s (Z) fuel terminals and airport bulk storage sites know these challenges well – with the work being both physically and emotionally demanding, given the important role they play in keeping the country moving.

For women in these traditionally male-dominated workplaces, the challenges can be even greater. While part of a large organisation, Z’s bulk fuels teams work in small teams at their storage facilities and are spread out across the country. A female staff member may find herself the only woman on the team.

In that sort of environment, “it can be really isolating”, says Patricia Green, Z’s National Operations Manager. Through her conversations with women working at terminals around the country, one thing became clear: “They just wanted somewhere where they could connect with fellow female colleagues.”

So, Patricia decided to do something about it – she set up Z’s Women in Supply forum.

The forum was established as a place where women in all areas of fuel supply – from logistics to engineering to operations – could come together to discuss the unique issues they face.

“Some of it is really practical things like, ‘What personal protective equipment (PPE) are you wearing to work and is it comfortable?’” says Patricia. While it might sound like a trivial concern, when you have to wear PPE every day, getting PPE that fits is vitally important. PPE that is designed for male body shapes isn’t just uncomfortable for women – it can be actively dangerous.

The forum is also concerned with broader issues affecting women in the Supply team. “It’s thinking about development opportunities, or learning how to deal with awkward conversations,” explains Patricia. “A lot of women in supply are new to the industry. How do we help them build confidence in the workplace? How do we make sure that they feel safe and that they’ve got relationships they need to thrive?”

The Women in Supply forum isn’t a one-off. According to Z, taking a stand on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) means creating an environment “where our people can bring their true selves to work each and everyday without the need or feeling like they have to hide any part of who they are”.

As one of just 13 business signatories to the MindtheGapNZ campaign calling for the government to legislate pay gap reporting, Z is also walking the talk on fairer pay. The company publishes its gender pay gap data annually, and has detailed plans in place to completely close this gap. Its efforts haven’t gone unnoticed, with Z receiving an Innovation Award for their pay gap initiatives, along with a Supreme Award for Z’s overall approach to HR in 2023.

The Women in Supply forum is another strand of Z’s company-wide effort to support women in the workplace – including in areas where female workers are still far from the norm. It’s not just those at the start of their careers who can need support. Patricia might be one of Z’s senior managers, but she also has recent, first-hand experience of what it’s like being a woman in a male-dominated environment.

“Just last year, early on in my current role, I had a meeting with my terminal managers. For the first time in years, I was the only female around the table. It was really confronting,” she recalls. “I found myself worrying, ‘Am I being too much? Am I drawing attention to the fact that I'm a woman? Are they going to criticise what I'm wearing? Do I need to be in trousers?’ – all that stuff. It distracts you from what you actually need to be doing.”

That experience got her thinking about the difference between diversity and inclusion, and why the latter, can at times be harder to address in the workplace. While diversity can in part be addressed through initiatives like better hiring practices, creating an inclusive environment where all kinds of people feel welcomed and respected requires an ongoing and ‘always on’ approach.

The Women in Supply forum is just one way Z is creating change. It’s still early days for the forum, but Patricia has high hopes. “I want it to be a place where we share experiences, support each other and inspire each other to do things in a new way. If there’s a problem, we can be part of the solution.”