Dorothy Thompson
A Chair’s perspective

dorothy-thompson_760x677I became Chair of Tullow in 2018, taking over from Tullow’s founder, Aidan Heavey. When I became Chair, I was the only woman on the Board, with two highly experienced women NEDs, one from the oil & gas industry and the other from the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office having retired shortly before I joined.

My fellow directors and I were agreed that, in considering who to appoint for our new NEDs, important criteria would be achieving greater diversity in terms of gender but also ethnicity given our core business is oil exploration and production in Africa.

Following a robust search process, we appointed Shelia Khama from Botswana and Genevieve Sangudi, who is Tanzanian, to the Board. Sheila and Genevieve were the best candidates in our search which was focused on identifying African candidates with sub- Saharan experience. It should be noted that our search generated a lot of excellent candidates.

The key step towards diversity was making sure that, at the start of the process, our search consultant provided us with a full and diverse list of potential NEDs. This included looking beyond the obvious candidates. It is this vital first step that ensures that boards are diverse. All male, all white boards exist not just because of bias – in fact, my experience is that most boards are now very keen to be much more diverse – but also because they did not ask for and are therefore were not presented with diverse candidate lists.

But, critically, this request to cast the net wider also ensures diversity of thought and experience, which were a key part of why we hired Sheila and Genevieve. In their interviews, they gave us a perspective that was wholly refreshing and wholly different. Accordingly, now that they have joined the Board, we have access to Sheila’s years of experience of working in the wider natural resources arena in Africa and other emerging markets while Genevieve gives us a view from her experiences within African Private Equity, especially in West Africa.

While none of Tullow’s women NEDs, including me, were chosen just because of our gender, there can be little doubt that a more balanced board brings substantial advantages. The first and most obvious advantage is that a balanced board reflects the world in which we live with all the diversity that entails. It reduces the risk of “group-think” and the all risks that that entails. In the case of Tullow, it demonstrates that our commitment to improving our gender and African balance across the Company, at all levels, is genuine. Our women NEDs also provide example role models for women in Tullow’s workforce which is, in common with many natural resource companies, heavily male-dominated. The positive comments I have received from so many staff members about Sheila and Genevieve’s appointment have been truly heart-warming.

So, there’s more that we can and should do. We currently have a 6-3 men to women split on the Board and 7 out of 9 directors are white. As a company with a proud African reputation, we need to do better both on the Board and with our executive leadership as well. We may have met the 33% Hampton-Alexander Review target, but we have more to do. I firmly believe that Tullow’s culture and ambitions are in the right place to deliver good results in our programmes to achieve wider diversity across the Company.