The 3W's: Web Women and Weather - IEDP
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The 3W's: Web Women and Weather

The seeds of disaster at BP


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An interesting blog from Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, who leads the rational (as opposed to bra-burning) championing of greater roles for women in business through her 20-First consultancy, on the great corporate story of the moment - the BP disaster.

Not surprisingly Ms Wittenberg-Cox has idenitfied the departure in June 2009 of her namesake Vivienne Cox, head of alternative energy business at BP and at the time their most senior woman, as when the seeds of the disaster were, if not sown, then laid bare. Clearly the poor safety culture goes further back - look at the Thunder Horse platform sinking and the Texas oil refinery explosion in 2005. But the dropping of the "Beyond Petroleum" tag, a line invented by Ms Cox, when Tony Hayward took the helm from Lord Browne does suggest that the company was going back to its original mission - and in the mid-noughties that was what the market wanted. The black stuff was where the money came from, was what they did best - why hide behind a renewables facade?

As Ms Wittenberg-Cox points out it should not have been a facade but a mission. The fact that BP could drop "Beyond Petroleum" so easily confirms what we all suspected that it was just a nice bit of public relations. Had there been real leadership the company should have changed this tag line into a central theme of the corporate culture but old habits die hard.

It is in defining these old habits that Ms Wittenberg-Cox comes up with her neatest concept - the 3W's, not for world wide web, but the three great driving influences of the changing corporate world today - the web, women and weather.

The next generation of leaders is completely attuned with the web - it is no more interesting or revolutionary than the TV is to us today. More intriguingly, the gender gap does not exist amongst bright 20-somethings - and if it does it is probably an acknowledgement that the girls are better on detail and focus than the boys; the weather as a euphemism for climate change is ingrained in all the conscious and conscientious members of that generation as the real danger ahead. If companies fail to build their organisations around these three powerful influences now they will fail to have organisations to do anything with in the future.

Irritatingly for Ms Wittenberg-Cox's argument BP actually had some strength in depth in women executives as Ms Cox was replaced by her deputy Katrina Landis. However the concept still stands that the 3W's will shape future organisations more than most other drivers.

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