PETRONAS harnessing diversity, equity and inclusion to remain competitive
A person of strong vision and purpose, Charlotte Wolff-Bye is not one to shy away when given the formidable task of embedding sustainability into the core of Petronas, Malaysia’s national energy group.
Since her appointment in June 2021 as vice president and chief sustainability officer, Wolff-Bye has championed the company’s decarbonisation and social progress efforts, turning its Net Zero Carbon Emissions 2050 (NZCE 2050) aspiration into action to accelerate a sustainable energy transition.
“Pressing matters on climate change and rising inequality worldwide has led to the need for a just transition of the global energy system, not just in Malaysia.
“I believe businesses have such a power in society to create positive change, so it is important to act responsibly and make impactful decisions while we forge partnerships to help achieve all our pursuits and remain competitive amid this energy transition.
“Ultimately, we need all the best minds and workforce to be able to achieve that,” says Wolff-Bye.
This is where diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) comes into play: it is about organisations tapping into a wider pool of talent, fostering innovation, and improving decision-making.
“A diverse and inclusive workplace is essential for creating value and driving sustainable growth.
“At Petronas, we strongly believe that embracing diversity brings new perspectives, fresh ideas and a wealth of talent to our organisation,” she notes.
A journey in sustainability
Growing up amongst a family of entrepreneurs in Finland, where there are vast green forests, beautiful Baltic islands, windswept arctic fells, and countless blue lakes, certainly made a profound impression on Wolff-Bye.
From a young age, she realised how good business practices can positively empower society and acted on it.
“My strong interest in bettering society, the environment and business drove me to combine them.
“I became very active in international student union activities during the formative years of my life - pursuing projects, partnerships and engagements with universities across the world.”
Wolff-Bye started her career working in telecommunications, including roles at Telefonica and O2, and in multilateral lending, music marketing and diplomatic affairs.
Since then, Wolff-Bye’s journey in sustainability has perpetually flourished and led her to roles such as the general manager of corporate responsibility for global steel and mining company ArcelorMittal, and Norwegian energy entity Equinor’s vice president in sustainability - where she delivered the first sustainability strategy that laid the foundation for the company’s low carbon focus.
Wolff-Bye’s achievements in the field of sustainability have been widely recognised. In addition to receiving the Devex leadership award for her contribution to international development, she has also represented Equinor on the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative and the World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Initiative.
She currently serves on the board of trustees of the United Nations’ Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
“All the roles and responsibilities I have held have helped me learn that to do big, one must think big, deliver with impact, and not let others limit or squash your vision - which is also true in a corporate environment.
“Do not say ‘No’ when opportunity comes knocking on your door. Instead of saying ‘Why should I?’, say ‘Why not’ - because it is a guaranteed 100 per cent missed opportunity if you do not take the shot.”At Petronas, Wolff-Bye’s role includes implementing sustainability strategies, embedding sustainability culture within the company, as well as capability development and talent upskilling to accelerate a sustainable energy transition.
“We have to continue to strengthen the capability of the whole organisation, and this is all about making Petronas sustainable and resilient for the future and also to remain competitive internationally.”
Diversity in sustainability
Malaysia holds a special place in Wolff-Bye’s heart. The nation’s diversity in people, culture, religion and cuisine never ceases to amaze her.
But it is the warmth and care of Malaysians that leave a deep mark.
“I’m well-travelled, lived in many countries across the world and I find Malaysians to be quite special. The collective and communal spirit can be felt here, and there is a lot of empathy and care amongst colleagues.
“It’s heartwarming and wouldn’t happen in every culture.”
Noting that the Malaysian mentality is conducive to further establishing an excellent collegial environment for a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce, Wolff-Bye says an environment where everybody feels they can fit in and contribute in their own unique way is critical for an organisation to stay competitive and sustainable.
“At Petronas, we emphasise Speak Up - an ongoing initiative to address unconscious biases and create psychological safety to enable our workforce to contribute and bring views forward in a meaningful and professional manner.
“People need to realise that we are not copies of each other and we will have differing perspectives which can lead to tension.
“But it can be turned into positive tension that can strengthen conversations on strategic issues and implementation plans, as well as bring about a lively and vibrant working environment.”
Wolff-Bye emphasises that DEI through the lenses of race, ethnicity, ability, gender, neurodiversity and beyond, can help strengthen organisations, as studies have shown time and again.
“People who think differently and who have a different social background, or people who act differently - all can emerge with strengths. Even if you lack experience, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a voice or something valuable to contribute,” she opines.
The company, in partnership with Ernst and Young Malaysia, has also recently launched a centre for neurodiversity, which is one tangible delivery towards fully embracing DEI.
Wolff-Bye concludes that DEI helps form better policies and strategies to support society and the environment.
“Having a workforce representing the different demographics, communities, and locations that we operate in helps us to better understand the actual positive and negative impacts the company and its operations have on the surroundings,” she says, “which enables us, collectively, to take actions that will lead to a more just and sustainable energy transition.”