WGLC 2023: Women in energy must “take a seat at the table”

Bethany Fischer, Digital Editor, World Oil November 03, 2023

(WO) – On Nov. 1-2, Gulf Energy Information held its 19th annual Women’s Global Leadership Conference in Energy (WGLC). The event brought women from around the globe to discuss the unique female experience in an industry that has historically been dominated by men. Held in Houston, Texas, at the Hilton Americas Hotel, speakers from international energy companies such as Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil, bp and more shared personal stories, struggles and triumphs in hopes of encouraging the female leaders of tomorrow.

While sessions varied in subjects from work/life balance to oil and gas trading, one theme prevailed across the panels: passion and resilience are the keys to success. “Taking a seat at the table,” as many speakers put it, requires women in energy to use their voices, be brave, and rise to various challenges. What follows is coverage from Day 2 of WGLC, including practical advice from our industry’s leaders on taking a place at the proverbial “table.”

Being vulnerable is an asset. The day kicked off with an impassioned keynote address from Emma Lewis, Senior Vice President, U.S. Gulf Coast, Shell. Lewis shared hard truths about her early career, admitting that she failed to report harassment out of fear of others perceiving her as “difficult.” Even in the midst of personal tragedy, Lewis soldiered through the beginning of her career in the oil and gas industry with a brave face, for showing emotion would be seen as weakness.

However, her outlook changed as she climbed the corporate ladder. As time went on, she found opportunities to express her vulnerability, and found that others appreciated her authentic approach. Lewis said that bringing her “whole self” to work made her better at her job. As Lewis put it, “vulnerability is the greatest strength you can have as a leader.”

Build your network. Multiple speakers expressed gratitude for mentors and sponsors that supported them throughout their careers, and encouraged other young, female professionals in the energy industry to build their networks. In a career development panel moderated by Energy Workforce & Technology Council President Molly Determan, speakers from Baker Hughes and Tenaris spoke about the impact that allyship had on their respective careers in the energy industry.

Following up with connections, building a diverse network, and leaning on peers were some bits of wisdom that Amanda Kite, Sales & Commercial Senior Learning Director, Baker Hughes, and Shellie Clark, Commercial Vice President, Tenaris, gave to young professionals, regardless of gender. The speakers across all panels at WGLC Day 2 made it clear that, in this business, relationships are just as important as experience.

The only constant in life is change. WGLC attendees got the pleasure of hearing from many female industry veterans. It’s no secret that the energy landscape looks much different today than it did 30 years ago, a fact that speakers such as Worley’s Tracie Griffitt pointed out.

Griffitt, Worley’s Senior Director, Global Inside Sales, Growth Center of Excellence, discussed how values commonly held by women (collaboration, emotional intelligence, etc.) weren’t always seen as strengths in the industry. However, now that female professionals are encouraged to “bring their whole selves” to their jobs (a sentiment also expressed by Shell’s Emma Lewis), women in technical fields are emboldened to ask questions, build communities, and become industry innovators.

Still, there’s a long a way to go to reach ideal inclusivity across the sector. While female participation in STEM fields is increasing every day, only 25% of the sector, as a whole, are women. To boost participation, Griffitt said that female professionals must get comfortable with being uncomfortable, encourage other women to join the field, and support their current colleagues.

Qualities of an effective leader.  Griffitt wasn’t the only speaker that emphasized adaptability as a key strength to success. In a keynote address titled, “Shifting the focus inward in times of change,” Dr. Nagore Sabio, Vice President, Blackrock, gave practical mindfulness tips to help emerging leaders ground themselves. Doing so, she said, allows us to put our best foot forward for ourselves and our team.

Kendra Lee, CEO of Merichem, said that young professionals must have “contagious passion,” if they want to rise through the ranks. Passion isn’t only for the young and the educated, she insisted. No matter where you are in your career, you must love what you do, and if you don’t, it will show. However, Lee cautioned against confusing passion for ease. Just because you’re excited about an idea doesn’t mean the road won’t be rough.

Tenaris’ Shellie Clark gave six concrete tips to be a successful leader:

  1. Communication is key.
  2. Develop emotional intelligence.
  3. Master critical thinking skills.
  4. Be adaptable.
  5. Be resilient.
  6. Take care of your team.

As the only male panelist of Day 2, Birlie Bourgeois, Asset Manager – Permian, Chevron, told the audience to be curious and flexible. At the beginning of his career, the Permian basin wasn’t the production capital of the U.S. like it is now, and horizontal drilling was only in its early stages of development. It took the curiosity of ambitious professionals to bring innovation to an ever-changing industry.

Worley’s Grffitt told the audience to be “ladder builders” instead of “ladder climbers.” Effective leaders must adjust their management styles to their circumstances and create opportunities for their subordinates to succeed.

Diversity and inclusion are assets to the energy industry. While the esteemed speakers of WGLC 2023 had different journeys through the industry, they all agreed that diverse perspectives only make the sector stronger. It’s up to women to support each other to make their voices heard, and up to leadership to foster a healthy environment that cultivates change. As Worley’s Griffit so poignantly said, “don’t delegate yourself to the back of the room. Take your seat at the table.”

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