The recently appointed chairman and president of BP America shares her thoughts on diversity, mentorship and, when it comes to advice, weeding out the good from the bad.
A chemical engineer by training, you’ve acquired extensive experience in both operational and commercial roles, spending the last three years at the helm of BP’s shipping business. How were you able to transition so seamlessly from one position to another? And what has motivated you to continually push the needle throughout your career?
I’ve always been a chemical engineer at heart, and I love exploring the nuts and bolts of what BP does. One of the great things about our company is the ability to learn about all different parts of the business. For example, many of the roles I held in manufacturing and operations also exposed me to our commercial activities, which really paid off later in my career. For all the different jobs I’ve had over the past 34 years, my primary motivations have stayed the same. As an engineer, I get satisfaction from helping our teams solve complex challenges. As a person, I get satisfaction from helping colleagues realize their full potential.
You’ve been described as a champion for women in the energy industry. In your view, how should female executives and managers address common stereotypes and biases about women in the workplace?
I think all women engineers have had to hear some variation of, “Thanks for your opinion, but now let’s hear from a real engineer.” We’ve all been forced to deal with those kinds of stereotypes. When you’re a leader, you have an obligation to cultivate and maintain a diverse, inclusive, respectful work environment — an environment in which everyone receives equal treatment, equal support and equal opportunity. Throughout my career, there certainly have been times when I’ve called out inappropriate comments and behavior. In my experience, it’s often best to do so privately and respectfully, while being crystal clear about your expectations.
How does BP communicate the importance of ethics and safety to its employees?
BP has always been very clear about our core values, including safety, courage, respect, teamwork and excellence. The message our employees hear is: “It is both what we do and how we do it that really matters.” As we go about our daily jobs, we want our people to remember that they have not only the right but also the responsibility to speak up and raise concerns if they feel something is wrong. We recognize that the culture of any organization flows from the top. In other words, if the leaders demand and demonstrate certain values and behaviors, everyone else will follow suit. I keep that in mind wherever I go.
When building and leading a team, what kinds of people do you look to surround yourself with? Why?
Diversity is key. With diverse teams — diverse in terms of skill set, background, viewpoint and life experience — you can create a collaborative environment in which everyone complements each other. That helps an organization maximize its talent and optimize its performance. BP’s support for a diverse, inclusive workforce is rooted in our core values. It’s who we are as a company. We also understand that it’s good business. After all, in the increasingly competitive race for talent, we want to do everything possible to attract, develop and retain high performers.
What is involved in creating an effective organizational strategy that promotes longevity, ensures employee satisfaction, stimulates growth, and is open-minded and inclusive?
Culture and trust play a huge role in creating an effective organization. Everyone needs to feel engaged, empowered and appreciated. And everyone must be treated fairly, equally and honestly. When leaders uphold that type of culture, they earn credibility with their employees. That credibility, in turn, helps them build support for tackling big challenges and pursuing big opportunities. After 34 years at BP, I appreciate how much culture and trust shape performance. And I realize that, in my new role at BP America, one of my most important jobs will be to align our organization around a clear vision for the future.
How important is mentorship to professional development? What has mentorship looked like in your career?
I think mentorship is a key responsibility of being a leader. I’ve had people look me up when I’m visiting a site or walking through the lobby and say, “Hey, I just want to thank you. Five years ago, you gave me some great advice that really made a difference in my career.” I’ve also had young women ask me the tough questions, such as: “When do I tell my boss I’m pregnant?” Or, “How do I tell my boss I’m pregnant?” Navigating the business world as a young woman can be quite complex, and having a mentor can help. It certainly helped me.
What insights or advice would you give to your 20-year-old self, or to young women considering a career in the energy sector today?
Have confidence, be self-aware and don’t believe everything you hear. To this day, I remember being three weeks into my first job and having another engineer pull me over and say, “We’ve been watching you, and we just don’t think you have what it takes.” I’m glad I ignored that. It’s encouraging to me that more and more young women are pursuing jobs in the STEM fields. For a well-educated engineer or scientist in a rapidly changing world, the career possibilities are endless. Such rapid change makes the energy sector in particular an exciting place to work. There really is something in it for everyone.