Karrie Trauth: “Dream big and recognize the shadow you cast”

Dream big and recognize the shadow you cast. When I was a little girl, my father and I were “reading” a picture book on airplanes before bed. This happened during a presidential election and I remembered announcing to my father that I would be the first female President of the United States. Without missing a […]

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Dream big and recognize the shadow you cast. When I was a little girl, my father and I were “reading” a picture book on airplanes before bed. This happened during a presidential election and I remembered announcing to my father that I would be the first female President of the United States. Without missing a beat, he told me that I could be “anything I want to be, even an airplane pilot.” I have the opportunity to reach and inspire little girls to dream big and create ideas that have the potential to change the world.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Karrie Trauth.

As the General Manager of Shipping and Maritime for the Americas, Karrie leads a community of maritime and commercial professionals who provide operational and technical maritime solutions across Shell’s businesses in North and South America. Her organization is responsible for a wide range of shipping activities including chartering of ships and barges, providing operational support in terminals and refineries, emergency response services, and operational and behavioral safety. Karrie and her team also work in the Upstream maritime space, contributing to design and asset integrity of new and existing floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) units.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My career has truly been an evolution as I originally thought I wanted to be a marine biologist but that quickly changed when I attended a ship design class in my freshman year of college. The professor was fantastic and as they say, ‘the rest was history.”

My journey did not end there though. As I continued to grow as a person and discovered my personal drivers, values and beliefs, I made sure to align my career growth with that. For example, my early ship design and construction days were focused on protecting the women and men who were serving our country. Nowadays, while safety continues to remain at the front of everything I do, I am also cognizant of the impact of shipping on the environment and am very purposeful about leaving the planet a better place.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

For me, the people I have met and interacted with are the most interesting. Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to meet individuals from a variety of different cultures, with very different experiences and backgrounds. Yet, we all came together to use our engineering skills and creativity to solve pressing societal and business challenges.

Regarding an anecdote, one particularly memorable instance was my first trip to Qatar during Ramadan. Starting from our counterparty requesting that the head engineer attend the trip as they would like to speak with “him” to wearing a conservative black suit for an outdoor dinner in the middle of June — I can unequivocally say it was quite the experience! However, I will say that even though the night was a “bit” warm, to see the souk come alive after sunset was amazing.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I received my first structural engineering analysis assignment, the only way I knew to solve the problem was through differential questions as I learned in school. So, I broke out my textbooks and spent the next two weeks running through the equations, double checking my work to ensure it was accurate. I then gave it to another woman engineer in our office.

Her response, “well, I looked at your math, and I think it’s right, but I don’t really remember — it’s been years since I’ve done that. So, I checked against these beam bending calculations in this reference book and your answer is good enough,” taught me a valuable lesson. Ask for clarification before starting a task!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

For me, Shell stands out because we are a company of action. We see an obstacle and make plans to address and overcome it. For example, understanding the importance of clean and renewable energy, we are at the forefront of the energy transition. Approximately 80% of the world’s trade moves by sea, so our work on the development, design and construction of ships and ports that include low-carbon and low-emission ship fuel is not only important, but it is genuinely moving the needle. It has been fantastic to see these concepts become reality in ports and ships around the world.

In parallel, I am extremely proud to be part of the growing number of women in Shell who work in commercial business development and technical project delivery parts of shipping sectoral decarbonization. Diversity and inclusion have long been issues in shipping and maritime, but as a long-time advocate of diversity, inclusion and equity (DE&I), Shell is actively addressing this not only in shipping and maritime, but throughout all the STEM fields.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

With decarbonization becoming a bigger priority throughout shipping and maritime, my focus is on working with the industry to achieve this goal. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has announced an ambition to reduce CO₂ emissions by at least 40% by 2030 and by 70% by mid-century. Additionally, the plan is to reduce absolute international shipping greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least half by 2050.

To reach these lofty goals, Shell and Deloitte released a study, “Decarbonizing Shipping: All Hands on Deck” that laid out viable pathways for the shipping industry. From advocating the adoption of liquid natural gas (LNG) to providing solutions for the industry to become digital-first, my team and I will not be resting until we realize our goal.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

Although women are roughly half of all STEM college graduates, I feel that:

  • There is a lack of awareness and encouragement in girls between the ages of 8 to 12. The Society of Women Engineers has done a lot of fantastic research into this area and found that this is the age range where most girls form opinions about their careers. Early education on the benefits of STEM is important because it has been shown that unless these girls have already made up their minds on the value of STEM, it is difficult to change their opinion after the age of 12. Therefore, encourage your daughters, your nieces, colleague’s daughters, etc. Offer to be a mentor and share the cool things we do in our profession!
  • There are insufficient role models — both in senior technical roles and leadership. I have long thought that hiring managers and senior leaders need to consciously seek out diverse candidates for leadership roles — so that those entering their careers can see someone who “looks like me.” However, the same holds true for senior technical roles too.
  • There needs to be more opportunities for sponsorship, and in some cases mentorship for women. My hope is to see corporations, as well as academia, be more intentional about sponsorship for female candidates. Additionally, in-line with my recent post for International Women’s Day, I believe those in positions of leadership can play a larger role.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

  1. Myth #1 — Field jobs are not suitable for women. In my opinion, the best experience comes from hands-on work — whether it is working in the construction department of a shipyard, in a lab running experiments or taking a field construction job for a major infrastructure project. Field work allows an individual to gain invaluable practical experience and understand the entirety of the science or design lifecycle.
  2. Myth #2 — Women need to “act like one of the guys” to fit in. I hear this one all too often. Women thinking that they need to learn or pretend to like activities that are traditionally seen as male-oriented in order to have a successful career in STEM is not true. The beauty and power of diversity comes from having different experiences, different perspectives and different backgrounds. The best thing we, women, can do is to simply be ourselves. While we grow and change over time, being authentic and true to ourselves is the biggest gift we can give ourselves and others.
  3. Myth #3 — STEM is limiting. This one really surprised me but I recently heard the comment that STEM, and engineering in particular, is niche and once a student chooses her field, she is “stuck” doing those analyses. In my experience, this comment could not be farther from the truth. An engineering education creates a toolset, platform and framework for how we look at the world and is a fantastic foundation for anything a woman might want to do.
  4. Myth #4 — STEM is not creative. I had the opportunity a few years ago to listen to Melissa Nobles, MIT Dean for the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. She was speaking to an audience of people who had graduated about 25 years earlier and she told us that they see a big difference in how students have been approaching college. When I was an undergrad, my classmates wanted to be a computer science major or an aero-astro engineer. Now, students go to MIT wanting to solve, what I call “big problems,” many of which fall into spaces like the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This will require all of our STEM skills and our creativity!

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Dream big and recognize the shadow you cast. When I was a little girl, my father and I were “reading” a picture book on airplanes before bed. This happened during a presidential election and I remembered announcing to my father that I would be the first female President of the United States. Without missing a beat, he told me that I could be “anything I want to be, even an airplane pilot.” I have the opportunity to reach and inspire little girls to dream big and create ideas that have the potential to change the world.
  2. Work hard. If you are offered a role that you think is too hard and scares you a little, then that is exactly the job that you should take. A mentor of mine once told me — when I start a new role, where I’m a little nervous, where I realize I don’t know “everything” and where there is a little personal risk — I am motivated to learn.
  3. Be Authentic. There is a statistic that closeted LGBTQ+ staff spend up to 30% of their energy simply working to hide their “whole selves” from their coworkers. This resonates with me for two reasons. First, before joining Shell, I was closeted at work. I know firsthand the effort I had to put into casual conversations at the office — how to share enough to seem human but not so much that I came out. Another reason that the statistic resonates with me is that I feel it for everyone who feels that they need to put on a front at work. Trying to be someone or something that you are not is exhausting and comes with a loss in productivity. Additionally, others can sense if something is “off” and wonder whether to trust you. Recognize that as you grow in your career, you will learn more about yourself and you’ll change.
  4. Get to know yourself and follow your passion. In-line with my last point, we are all a work-in-progress and it will take some of us longer to understand what makes us tick. I am fortunate to have found work in shipping safety and decarbonization at this point in my career. When I told my friends that I was leaving to join Shell, they could not believe that I was walking away from my passion of protecting the sailors of the U.S. Navy to work for an oil company. However, I have realized that the best way to make a positive impact is to implement change from within. I am honored to work with a team of incredibly talented and dedicated men and women who are working hard to improve safety within the industry and help address the challenges of the energy transition.
  5. Tell stories! I hope by now you see the importance I place on answering questions through storytelling. It is easy to talk in numbers, statistics and facts, particularly in STEM, but when we do that, it is hard for our audience to hear those granular details and absorb them. I have learned the hard way that telling a story, giving the audience context, offering interesting details and making facts personal helps make a difference in how long that story is remembered after the conversation!
  6. Bonus lesson: Do not be afraid of politics. “Politics” is simply the art of getting things done. It is more about knowing how to work within an organization and less about the other common negative perceptions.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

  1. Make sure the mission and objectives are clear. If they are not, take the time to clarify them.
  2. Get the right mix of skills on the team — both technical and creative.
  3. Give the team space to find their own solutions. They may not always do it “your way” and often times will come up with something better!
  4. Consciously allow your team to make mistakes. Mistakes help people learn and grow and will ultimately make your team better.
  5. Set clear expectations for governance and review. Decide what content you want to approve and review and how frequently the team should meet.
  6. Remember to have fun!

What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Taking my previous answer a step further, as your team gets larger, it can become harder to connect with individual members on a personal, one-on-one capacity. Therefore, it becomes important to trust your team leaders to lead their individual teams, deliver on the business objectives and ensure your messages are fully understood throughout the larger team.

For new managers, it can be hard at first, but it is important to understand that your role is changing and your focus is needed at a more strategic level. Therefore, your communications need to become more intentional. We have all heard the phrase “that which interests the boss fascinates the subordinates” — recognize that even your casual words can have an impact. Lastly, be cognizant of your time as how you spend your time and how you engage with the larger team, in turn, becomes more intentional. Often through no conscious change of your own, your actions with the extended team becomes less spontaneous.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

The list is long — there is my 7th grade math teacher, my grad school advisor, my first Navy boss who challenged me, my mentor from the shipyard, my dad and my wife. And so many more.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I am currently using my success and influence within the shipping and maritime industry to drive the conversation and activities related to decarbonization. If the world is to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, it is crucial that sectors, such as shipping, cut their carbon emissions and do so quickly. After all, the industry is facing a race against time. Due to the scale of the challenge, solutions will need to account for cleaner fuels, regulation, government action and societal shifts. At Shell, by helping the industry improve safety and reach their decarbonization targets, I will hopefully be able to leave this world in a better shape for the next generation.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Building on my last response, if my actions could inspire a movement, it would be focused on decarbonizing shipping and pushing the industry to zero carbon by 2050. Global trade predominately flows via our world’s water ways and achieving decarbonization will truly benefit society and the environment. After all, simply because most people do not see or think about the impact of shipping on the environment, does not mean it is not there — “out of sight” should not mean “out of mind!”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

During my freshman orientation at MIT, we were given t-shirts that said, “Study Hard, Party Harder.” Over the years, I’ve taken this to heart and adopted a “work hard, play harder” mentality. Therefore, while I work incredibly hard, I have also made it a point to enjoy my life. Whether it is a Rim-To-Rim-To-Rim (R2R2R2) hike through the Grand Canyon, cycling from London to Paris or just a simple Zoom call with friends and family, enjoying your life only makes your work life easier and more effective.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to sit down and have a meal with Bill Gates. He is such an innovative person and has been at the forefront of the fight to reduce carbon emissions around the world. I would love to pick his brain on some better ways we may be able to decarbonize maritime shipping that both benefits industries and the environment. I think that he and I could change the world and make it better for the next generation!

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