Women Leading in Energy

Plan it Around Purpose: Thoughts on Women Leading in Energy and Work

If your family is anything like mine, the holiday season is a non-stop rush from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. It’s great – but I try to make time to reflect, just the same.

I have been at BP 35 years as what we call a downstreamer — someone who’s worked in the refining, processing, marketing and distributing side of the business.

I’m a chemical engineer, a wife, the mother of two boys, and a grandmother. I also happen to be chairman and president of BP America.

As the first woman in this role, I want to share some thoughts for women who might also be making time to reflect this holiday season — whether on career, family or both.

To offer some advice: plan it around your purpose. 

What do I mean by that? Perceptions of what you’ll need for success will shift over time; purpose usually doesn’t. Purpose sticks.  

Navigating as a young engineer

Starting out as a young female engineer in a heavily male industry, my role models were either single, had no children or great at golf.

I was none of those things. I was married with young children. I was passionate about my work and my family. (Thirty-five years later, I still am.)

The first 17 years of my career were at BP’s Green Lake Chemicals plant near Victoria, Texas. I specialized in production of acrylonitrile, acetonitrile and hydrogen cyanide — highly hazardous chemicals. My husband owned and operated a successful small business where we lived.

The work was physically and mentally rewarding: I qualified as a certified welding inspector (the only woman with that cert at our facility) and, alongside an innovative team, filed two patents. But five years into my career, after the birth of our second child, I made the decision to pursue part-time employment.

It wasn’t easy. I was cautioned of lasting impacts, and I’ll never forget one co-worker’s comment: “I thought you were more serious about your career.”

But in my heart, I knew I could never regain those years or experiences with my young children. 

BP worked with me to design a work schedule to accommodate my request. It had never been done at our facility.

And when the time was right for me and my family, I chose to return to full time status, and eventually to be mobile.

I have never doubted either decision.

Finding my professional purpose in energy

When it comes to my purpose today, it’s my family and then it’s energy. 

I believe energy is one of the most impactful sectors for our world.

When we think of the world’s greatest challenges — climate change, income and gender inequality, poverty — energy, or the lack of it, affects them all.

On climate, humanity faces a dual challenge — a global need for more energy and fewer emissions. We need to harness all the talent and diversity of thought we can, and women provide a previously under-utilized talent pipeline.

So it’s deeply problematic that women comprise less than 25% of our industry worldwide.

Research shows gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform those that aren’t. This should be surprising to no one. In my career, my attributes and experiences — including those of being female — have given me a different perspective on issues, problems and possible solutions.

The future of our planet requires that we make energy an industry that attracts all available talent. 

That’s just what we’re doing at BP.


Today, 35% of BP employees are women, the highest it’s ever been. We still have work to do, but I’m proud of our recent progress.

Thanks to our global gender ambition, we’re on track for women to represent 25% of our most senior managers by 2020. This has helped us move from good intentions to accountability.

Today, women lead some of our most critical U.S. businesses. Starlee Sykes heads our Houston-based Gulf of Mexico business, one of BP’s most profitable, and Janet Kong leads our 3,000-person trading team in Chicago.

We also implemented a new parental leave policy: 16 weeks for mothers who give birth and eight weeks or hourly equivalent parental leave for all other new parents.

I know from personal experience how helpful balancing your professional and personal life can be. Further, ensuring a diverse, inclusive workplace ultimately helps us reach more creative solutions to highly complex problems — like the dual challenge.

Starting out, I never imagined I’d be the first female chairman and president of BP America. The opportunities and responsibility have been incredible. One of the most important is advancing gender diversity in our sector.

For women planning their future, there are plenty of factors to consider. In the end, you have to live your life. It will be full of different seasons and constantly changing circumstances.

In my experience, people who pursue purpose are more fulfilled and successful anyway.

I’ll be writing more about the intersectionality of women and the energy transition. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Talk to you soon!

This original post was presented on LinkedIn.

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Diversity, Inclusion, and Ally-Ship, Storytelling & Personal Branding, Member Insights

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