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Fifth Annual Women in Energy Seminar

By 03/07/2011March 9th, 2018News

Over 150 women, including a number of WIM members, participated in the fifth annual Women In The Energy Sector Seminar on 19 May 2011, around the ambitious topic of “Having It All“.

The day of seminars and workshops was held in the prestigious Royal School of Mines at Imperial College, and organised by the Society of Petroleum Engineers. Throughout the four sessions, speakers, panellists and participants had an opportunity to discuss a variety of topics focusing on career progression and the skills and tools that may be necessary or helpful to achieve it. A number of professions and businesses were represented among the participants, allowing constructive debate and the sharing of different experiences and approaches.

The first speakers tackled the recurring myth of “Wonder Women: Fairy Tale or Urban Reality”.

Emma Fitzgerald, Vice President of Shell Global retail network, discussed her experience over an 18 year career with Shell, and some of the lessons she learned along the way. During this time, she has worked in a variety of roles spanning R&D, sales and marketing, M&A and general management based in Asia and Europe, including a three-year posting in China, which was a transformational experience for her. Some of her recommendations to women were to:

  • Be clear on is important, in order to be able to make choices, trade-offs and compromises that work for ourselves and the people close to us, whether it’s in the organisation of a day or making life-changing decisions;
  • Always be open to new experiences and take every opportunity to learn… which often entails taking risks;
  • Make sure you have the right support, personally and professionally: each relationship brings something unique; while personal relationships are vital to many to create stability, it is important also to consider other sources of support; for example, rather than burdening a loved one or family member with every professional experience or problem, a coach or a mentor may help in managing difficult times or unlocking talent; professional success is rarely achieved alone, and in fact often measured by the quality and achievements of a team, and Emma underlined the importance of being surrounded by the right people, but more importantly the right attitude to achieve success together;
  • Treat people in the way we want to be treated: the best way to gain respect is to give respect; and
  • Dare to win: by being ourselves, empowering our team members and believing in success, there is nothing that cannot be achieved!

Iman Hill’s career has spanned more than 20 years in the oil and gas industry, working for BP, Shell and BG in a variety of roles including petroleum engineering disciplines, general management in Egypt and Brazil and Senior Vice President for BG Group Well Risk Management Team. Following the tragic events around the blow-out of the Macondo well, Iman was leading the way to establish and guide a team of experts focused on the consequences for BG Group and the wider industry, and was the focal point for engagement with governments and other international oil and gas companies. The mother of five children, Iman explained that striving to achieve work-life balance for her has focused on her will to be a strong, visible parent while accepting that professional drive is a key part of her identity. Some of the tips she would share include:

  • The importance of setting clear boundaries… with everyone, including colleagues and family members;
  • The vital necessity of being focused: when face time is not a plus… or even an option, work time has to be centred on delivery;
  • Reliability and accountability, which also entails honestly managing expectations;
  • The need to establish a pattern that works for us, allowing us to be the person we need or want to be in each part of our lives;
  • The benefit of a strong support network, which requires learning to ask for help;
  • Refusing to live with the constant feeling of having to prove ourselves, which also means learning to say no and giving ourselves permission to be less than perfect;
  • Resisting the temptation to overcompensate, particularly by trying to be “just an employee” when at work without bringing to the job the many other roles we fulfil in our personal and social life: in fact strong value definition is the foundation for decision-making in all aspects of our lives, and different experiences enrich us as an individual… and an employee!
  • Creating a culture, within our team and work environment, that allows diversity and creativity to flourish: empowering team members also entails respecting their own work-life balance and allows productive, happy teams to work better together.

More than anything, both of the first speakers encouraged participants to get out of their comfort zone in order to develop as individuals and professionals, including taking on jobs for which they felt less prepared or roles in which they have no previous experience.

This theme was also picked up in the panel discussion on whether “Nice Girls Get the Corner Office”, when Demos Pafitis, VP of Engineering at Schlumberger and a member of the Schlumberger gender diversity committee, observed that although his female colleagues regularly asked “do you think I’m ready?” when offered a promotion, he had yet to hear it from a man…

Panellist Cheree Stover, Exploration and Appraisal Manager for BP’s Algeria business, discussed the challenges and opportunities of managing dual careers: when both partners are engaged in growing careers, managing moves and changes can entail complex compromises, and it is important to be open and honest in discussing them.

Liane Smith, founder and director of Intetech, and engineering consultancy and software company for the upstream oil and gas industry, focused her panel introduction on the importance of knowing when to change careers, and the rewards of setting up one’s own business.

WIM director Barbara Dischinger was the fourth panellist, where she discussed her experience as an executive search consultant in a number of industries, including mines and metals since 2005, and the importance for recruiters to focus on professionalism and for female professionals to build competence and depth of skills without losing their identity.

Jennifer Coconnier-Thomas, Business Career Manager for Total E&P, lead discussions in a session entitled “Gaining, developing and nurturing women in the energy industry – E&P experience”, during which she provided an overview and statistics on Total SA’s initiative since 2003 of actively managing its recruitment, development and retention of women working in E&P. On recruitment, recognising that 50% girls in high school take science subjects, Total SA arrange school visits for its female engineers and sponsor female science teacher and lectureship positions. It has established recruitment targets for women in E&P, having found that a non-target driven approach was ineffective. Though resistance was initially voiced by women in the company to the introduction of targets it is Total SA’s experience that male managers understand and accept the necessity of targets. Total SA provide training to its managers on a range of skills and approaches including diversity awareness and of the different career patterns/dynamics of male and female employees. Total SA’s career planning for women in E&P is a structured approach – providing 2-3 years in a role before transitioning to the next, with the support of coaching, training and mentoring.

Discussions about the different measures – or combination thereof – to actively recruit and retain women in all parts of the Energy sector continued throughout the day, as the benefits and disadvantages of targets and quotas were debated, the issue of maternity and paternity leave was examined and the importance of mentoring and senior sponsorship was highlighted repeatedly. It appeared in these conversations that rather than a gender agenda, the goal of many participants and their companies is to promote flexibility of work, creating a better work environment for all employees and allowing individuals’ needs to be met by the organisation.

Participants scattered into different workshops in the afternoon, before coming together to network and continue discussions around drinks.

The workshop focusing on “Following your Dream; getting from where you are to where you want to be” was guided by Anita Edmonds of Penna Consulting. There were four elements to this session:

  • Assessing barriers to women’s progression that might exist in an organisation and finding solutions (e.g. through mentoring, networking, flexible working);
  • Assessing personal and career resilience to determine strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement;
  • Identifying career anchors – the decision-drivers for career moves (e.g. independence, technical expertise, security, lifestyle) that we may not always be conscious of – and the career values that determine them; and
  • Analysing a range of career paths and weighting them against the anchors and values to determine short and medium-term career goals.

Participants found the activities and discussions enlightening, especially where they brought out previously sub-conscious motivations, helping to explain past choices or showing present jobs in a new light. The materials and exercises were the basis for continuing assessment of goals and options after the workshop and in consultation with friends and colleagues. Overall it was a session packed with useful exercises and information to give us more focus in setting and achieving career goals.

In a workshop on “Effective Communication Skills”, Elizabeth Kuhnke, founder of Kuhnke Communication & author of international best seller “Body Language for Dummies” analysed the two intentions for a successful communication: the existence of information to convey and/or the intention to convert. Effective communication is linked with successfully combining:

  • the 3 ‘C’s; Clear – Confident – Credible; and
  • the 3 ‘R’s: Respect – Rapport – Results

Participants were encouraged to tune in to their audience, and strive to match or mirror the interlocutor’s behaviour. As beliefs impact on our behaviour, it was demonstrated that moving with purpose (i.e. when moving hands) is a key part of non-verbal communication, and that gestures can bring strong energy to a conversation.

Another workshop focused on “Achieving the work-life balance”, lead by Karen Richards and Natasha Cleeve of Penna Consulting. Although often referred to, work-life balance has as many different meanings as there are people discussing it. Karen proposed that participants work on their own definition and ideas of work-life balance by responding to the following questions:

  • What is really important to me?
  • What do I really want in my life? If we envisage ourselves a few years from now, the proposal is to form an idea of what we want to be doing, where and with whom and to define what we want to be like.
  • How and where do I want to be spending my time? We all have many roles in life (partner, worker, parent, friend, citizen, etc…), we can decide which ones we want to have and how we want to live them.
  • What do I want to accomplish in each chosen role over the coming years? It’s important to set ourselves goals that are realistic and stretching enough to be rewarding and interesting.
  • What systems or routines will help me stay focused? And on the opposite, what patterns of behaviour will get in the way and how can I change them?

Of the discussions of the working groups emerged several ideas or descriptions of work-life balance; all of them circled up on choices: it was proposed to define work-life balance generally as “the awareness that different demands are made on our time and energy and the ability to make choices in this regard by understanding which values apply to which choice”… Quite a challenge! Participants also agreed that each person’s work-life balance is a constantly evolving reality, as situations progress and circumstances change: there is no single “solution” to having choices. Some of the tips that were discussed to find this balance in our lives included:

  • Slowing down
  • Prioritising physical health
  • Decluttering and simplifying whenever and wherever possible
  • Deciding what is “good enough”
  • When reviewing a to-do list, deciding what someone else could or should do
  • Keeping spaces in our life, not filling every waking moment
  • Planning ahead
  • Setting expectations – for ourselves and with others

We would like to once again thank the organisers of this excellent day, and in particular Bunmi Titiloye and  Clara Altobell, for their hard work and bringing together so many interesting speakers and participants!  We would also like to thank Michelle Witton, Sarah Eastabrook and Alexandra Vidrago Rodrigues for participating in putting together this report.