Take Five: "Private sector must plan a transition and transformation culture to establish equal opportunities for women and men"

Date: Friday, April 9, 2021

Tüpraş, the largest industrial company in Turkey and a supporter of the HeForShe-Fenerbahçe Sports Club partnership, continues to be an exemplary role model for ensuring gender equality and women’s empowerment together with UN Women Turkey. General Manager of Tüpraş İbrahim Yelmenoğlu, spoke to UN Women about the private sector’s role and Tüpraş’s roadmap for ensuring equality and women’s empowerment.

General Manager of Tüpraş, İbrahim Yelmenoğlu. Photo: Tüpraş
General Manager of Tüpraş, İbrahim Yelmenoğlu. Photo: Tüpraş

How should the private sector empower women and ensure gender equality? What is Tüpraş doing about this?

We believe that the equal participation of men and women in business and social life is essential for sustainable economic and sociocultural development. To achieve this, companies need to promote social awareness projects for equality, inclusive actions, and social empowerment of women. As Tüpraş, we support gender equality in line with pioneering gender equality projects of our parent company, Koç Holding. Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace with equal opportunities is an important target on our sustainability agenda.

For this purpose, we aim to increase the number of women employees and leaders at every level by preventing all kinds of discrimination in the workplace, supporting the presence of women at all levels, improving development opportunities, and strengthening professional working life. We carry out projects that will raise awareness and start transformation in society, which also contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality. We reaffirmed our goal of becoming an inclusive workplace in the energy sector by signing the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) in 2017.

The energy industry in general and our sub-sector, refining, is a male-dominated field. The ratio of women in the energy industry is around 22 percent, globally.

As a company, we take every necessary action to increase women’s employment and the number of women leaders at every level.

  • The ratio of women recruits was 30 percent in 2008 whereas women made up nearly half of our total recruits in 2020.
  • The number of women employees increased by 78 percent since 2008.
  • As of today, 10 percent of our employees are women. The ratio is 30 percent in our offices and 67 percent in our Research & Development department.

Given the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women’s employment, what measures does Tüpraş take?

I believe that the private sector must adopt and promote business models that allow for greater participation of women in all aspects of life. At Tüpraş, during the COVID-19 Pandemic, protecting the health and safety of our entire workforce is a top priority, while also ensuring the supplies of energy for our country without interruption. 

All women and men employees who have children under the age of 14 have been working from home since the very first day of the pandemic. We have conducted surveys to address the needs of our employees during the pandemic and have taken necessary steps to connect our employees with the resources that support their health and well-being.

We observed the health status of our employees through a health tracking mobile application and supported them to work from home. To support the well-being of the employees by lowering anxiety and stress during the COVID-19 pandemic, we organized a ‘mindfulness seminar series’. To support all our employees with children, we organized an online seminar together with AÇEV (Mother - Child Education Foundation) titled: ‘Parenting During the Coronavirus’, on how to cope with children at home during COVID-19 and with the increase in housework and care needs for children.

As Tüpraş, we also supported the #HeForSheAtHome awareness campaign on equality in household chores and childcare, both of which spiked during the pandemic. We began hosting Gender Equality Workshops to understand the expectations of the women in our workforce better and improve their experience at work.

Can you tell us about the Women Field Operators and Technicians Project carried out by Tüpraş?

While the women employment ratio is structurally low in the refinery industry, Tüpraş contributes with its efforts to maintain an upward trend in this regard. By employing women operators and technicians at our refinery sites, we aim to create a difference in our industry, which structurally holds a smaller number of women field employees. We believe our field operators and technicians will be the forerunners working in this field in Turkey. As a close follower and supporter of gender equality, we maintained our cultural transformation during the pandemic, as well. We are working to outperform our targets to increase the number of women in our organization. We have always had women engineers, but introducing women working in shifts to the field has been a pioneering and exemplary step for our industry and our company. Beginning in Batman [a city in eastern Turkey], we had women operators and technicians join our teams in İzmit, Kırıkkale and İzmir [cities in north-western, central and western Turkey respectively] refineries. We are thrilled and proud of this and we will continue our quest to increase the number of women workers each year.

As the CEO of Tüpraş, what do you think are the main challenges facing the private sector in achieving gender equality?

I believe that social perceptions play a big role in gender discrimination. There are several social roles, which associate women with domestic chores, and men with work outside the home. These traditional roles put women in a disadvantaged position and push men forward. Changing the male-dominated culture and business models, which have become a convention in some private sectors, are unfortunately impossible without adequate infrastructure.

Spreading the culture of change to all departments, adapting employees to the transformation, showing that women and men can work together in every business field, and continuously boosting motivation and increasing awareness on this topic cannot be achieved all at once. The private sector should have these perspectives. A company vision focusing on equal opportunity will benefit both companies and our country in the medium and long run. Many industries are taking important steps on this issue. However, many also find it difficult to restructure their operations and systems. Thus, providing support for companies that are working towards women’s employment and gender equality will be extremely helpful.

I believe that the private sector must plan a transition and transformation culture to establish equal opportunity immediately, and systematically follow the results. We must remove all barriers to opportunity to establish a stronger social welfare and a modern society.

What would you like to say about the project “Our Endless Energy for Equality” and your contributions to the HeForShe-Fenerbahce Sports Club partnership?

Enjoying wide backing from society with over 25 million supporters and 9 different sports branches worldwide, Fenerbahçe Sports Club committed itself to becoming a global role model in mobilizing the public on gender equality with this collaboration. Fenerbahçe became the first sports club to enter a long-term cooperation to achieve gender equality in sports with HeForShe. Fenerbahçe’s gender equality messages, women- and children-friendly field practices and their zero-tolerance approach to all types of discrimination against women continue to set an example for national and international clubs.

As Turkey’s largest industrial company, Tüpraş continues to bear the responsibility of leading the social transition and transformation. We are carrying out many projects in areas such as education, health, arts, and sports to support the social development of our country. In a sport branch with a great following like soccer, we believe that this cooperation and project creates awareness among a considerable portion of the country, thanks to the millions of Fenerbahçe’s supporters. We continue to chant our motto “Our Endless Energy for Equality” on our road to bring gender equality into our social agenda and maintain our support for the HeForShe movement with the Fenerbahçe community.