The inclusive language that sets the oil industry’s lone female CEO apart from the rest

A team player.
A team player.
Image: Michael Kovac/Getty Images
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Vicki Hollub is the first woman to hold the top job at a major international oil company, Occidental Petroleum. That’s just one of the ways she’s shaking up Big Oil. In addition to her ambitious strategic moves at the company—which, if successful, will transform its fortunes and operations (Quartz member exclusive)—she brings a distinct management style to the industry.

“Women don’t say ‘I.’ We say ‘we’ did this,” said Heidi Heitkamp, a former North Dakota senator who has worked with Hollub on passing low-carbon legislation. ”Vicki doesn’t want to diminish the contribution of others.”

But what CEO doesn’t say that their company’s greatest asset is its people? Is there anything to this somewhat clichéd observation?

To find out, we collected every transcript of major oil CEOs speaking with shareholders over the past two years available via FactSet. The CEOs we included in our analysis came from ExxonMobil, Anadarko, BP, Total, Chevron, and Occidental. Hollub is the only woman in the bunch.

Here’s what we found. Over the two years of shareholder calls, Total CEO Patrick Pouyanné spoke the most—enough to publish a novel-length book of some 74,000 words. BP CEO Bob Dudley spoke the least—only a third as much as Pouyanné.

Then, we counted the number of times each CEO used the words “I”, “me”, “my”, and “mine”, which we grouped as first-person singulars. The same went for “we”, “us”, “our”, and “ours”, which we grouped as first-person plurals. We then calculated those groups of words as a share of the total number of words spoken by each CEO.

As expected, every CEO used first-person plurals—”we”, “us”, and the like—more than first-person singulars. So far, so selfless.

The simplest way to show whether Hollub speaks more in terms of “we” than “I” is to calculate the ratio of first-person plurals to first-person singulars. The results are clear, and support the notion that the oil industry’s lone female CEO uses more inclusive language than her male counterparts.