Breaking barriers and driving success

PETRONAS cultivates a diverse, inclusive and equitable work environment

UNITED NATIONS secretary-general António Guterres once said: “The fact that societies are becoming increasingly multi-ethnic, multicultural, and multireligious is good. Diversity is a strength, not a weakness.”

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has become increasingly critical in the workplace of businesses all over the world not only to create positive employee experience but also to help ensure their sustainability.

For Malaysian organisations, a diverse and inclusive workforce is more than just good optics. Those with sound DEI policies and initiatives in place have experienced increased creativity, innovation and productivity, boosting their business outcomes.

Although it can be challenging to implement and develop a more representative and high-performing workforce, organisations like PETRONAS have successfully embedded an inclusive culture in the workplace. The energy company’s Project Delivery & Technology (PD&T), Global HR Partner Senior General Manager Maria Teo shares her insights on creating an inclusive environment at PETRONAS.

Having a passion for people, PETRONAS (Project Delivery & Technology) Global HR Partner senior general manager Maria Teo spends her downtime volunteering and organising charity events.Having a passion for people, PETRONAS (Project Delivery & Technology) Global HR Partner senior general manager Maria Teo spends her downtime volunteering and organising charity events.

Opportunity beckons: A journey shaped by diversity

Hailing from Kota Kinabalu, Teo grew up immersed in a diverse community that shaped her perspective on life. “I had the privilege of spending my formative years in KK before moving to Semenanjung to study in Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS (UTP), under PETRONAS’ education sponsorship programme,” she says.

In 2001, Teo was in the first batch that graduated from UTP, subsequently joining the company shortly after. This year marks her 22nd anniversary working with PETRONAS.

“Throughout the years, I’ve been on a diverse and dynamic journey within the organisation, covering everything from upstream and downstream, especially in corporate settings with experience in business strategy and planning, as well as management roles,” Teo says.

Teo began her journey in human resources (HR) in 2017 with the company’s Group Human Resources Management (GHRM) division after completing a secondment stint from 2007 to 2010 with the East Coast Economic Region Development Council (ECERDC).

In GHRM, Teo was motivated to improve the existing people’s policies and practices, and after gaining experience in different departments across the company, Teo said that being in HR provides her the rewarding opportunity to be part of the team that not just improves the organisation as a whole but also individual employees.

In her current role, her team serves as a Global HR partner to PETRONAS' PD&T division.

The division brings together a talented workforce of approximately 5,000 individuals dedicated to project delivery, technical solutions, research, technology and digital innovation.

PD&T is uniquely positioned as a centre of excellence for PETRONAS’ three core business functions – Upstream, Downstream and Gas – playing a role in shaping and safeguarding the company’s value chain, on top of delivering solutions to the businesses.

“Ultimately, my role lies within the GHRM, where I partner with PD&T leaders in providing consultation, steering, and delivering solutions on human capital and organisational matters.

“Human capital is the delivery arm of the business, so organisational and human matters pertaining from recruitment all the way to employee exit, are under my care,” Teo continued.

Teo: “Change is difficult, so at the start of your DEI journey, you may want to include targets to achieve to encourage certain behaviours until your organisation’s culture has matured.”Teo: “Change is difficult, so at the start of your DEI journey, you may want to include targets to achieve to encourage certain behaviours until your organisation’s culture has matured.”

Building the future: Empowering growth and inclusion

Opportunities for growth and inclusion are what spurred Teo to continue pushing for progressive people practices in the workplace.

While the energy industry remains male-dominated, PETRONAS welcomes and embraces diversity in age groups, ethnicities, gender and even nationalities.

With her experience, Teo recognises that a diverse and inclusive workplace benefits employees and contributes to the overall success of the company. She believes an inclusive culture begins with shared values that are fostered by open communication.

“As an organisation, we uphold our shared values of ‘Loyalty, Integrity, Professionalism and Cohesiveness’. We have in place the code of Conduct and Business Ethics (CoBE) which outlines the expectations and standards of behaviour that PETRONAS employees are expected to adhere to as they carry out their work and any business dealings.

“Beyond that are the hard targets that a company can introduce to jumpstart and drive certain behaviours to create a safe and inclusive environment.

“We try to address unconscious bias in the workplace by alerting colleagues through focused feedback on certain things they say or do that can be inappropriate, so we address the problem then and there,” says Teo, adding that informal mechanisms help the culture grow more organically.

Empathetic leaders like Teo also recognise that providing equitable opportunities is crucial for ensuring all employees can succeed based on their capabilities and merit, beginning at the selection stage.

After all, effective DEI practices also need to address ageism and ableism, as these groups are also often overlooked despite the many different ways they can enrich and contribute to an organisation’s success.

Teo concluded saying, “I am looking forward to the step-changes in this direction for the organisation and if – no, when – that happens, I hope that other organisations in Malaysia and beyond, will be inspired to follow suit.”

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