Respect everyone. Regardless of their age, ethnicity, beliefs or sexual orientation, it is fundamental that everyone is shown the same amount of respect you would want to receive in return.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Fiona Odeyomi.
Fiona is a Senior Process Engineer at Shell Oil Company. With over a decade of experience with the company, her responsibilities include supporting producing assets in Upstream Deep Water with a primary focus on the Gulf of Mexico (GoM), and the Brazil Shell Operated Ventures (SOV) and Non-Operated Ventures (NOV). She oversees the delivery of process engineering solutions to the operating assets that directly impact process safety, reliability and production optimization, in addition to providing guidance for the Greenhouse Gas and Energy Management Plan (GHGEMP) development, GHG benchmarking and emission control.
In 2013, Fiona moved into a developmental role as the Environmental Data Manager where her focus was on greenhouse gas (GHG) and environmental reporting and management with a focus on the Upstream DeepWater, Exploration and Unconventional businesses. During that time, she pioneered the first Environmental Reporting Network (ERN) to enhance cross learning and collaboration across diverse divisions and regions within the upstream business. Additionally, she has represented Shell Upstream in the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (IOGP) Environmental Subcommittee — providing environmental data used for performance benchmarking amongst major oil and gas companies.
Pulling from her own experience and career path, one of Fiona’s greatest passions is inspiring younger generations to pursue careers in STEM. She is active in Shell’s partnership with Great Minds in STEM and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). She also serves as a mentor and inspires students as a volunteer and guest speaker at school events that encourage the pursuit of careers in energy.
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 first taste of a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) profession, and more importantly my first exposure to understanding where oil and gas came from and how we use their derivatives in our everyday lives, came in the form of one of my neighbors. Growing up, most women tended to follow a very particular type of profession in my community and STEM was not that career path. Fortunately, when I met her, she opened my eyes to a world of new possibilities, specifically in engineering.
I was really inspired by her role as a production engineer and how she used her to make decisions on where to find oil, along with the extraction and refining processes that coverts the crude oil and gas into our everyday products. She became my unofficial mentor and with her influence I was driven to excel in my STEM classes.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
When I first started at Shell, I was assigned to a remote location in the field and I had never felt more out of my element than in those beginning moments. Joining directly after graduating from college, I quickly realized that the several internships I had completed in college partly prepared me for being a full-time engineer. I was as lost as Alice in Wonderland until I was assigned a mentor who guided me through the technical and non-technical items of the job. This mentor became one of my best friends, and our relationship helped me settle in and learn quickly.
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?
Every five to eight years, engineers are required to inspect equipment for potential service/repairs. As a young engineer, I was excited to crawl into the vessels and get a first-hand look at the theoretical processes. I even volunteered to inspect the tallest column in the plant with a senior engineer to accompany me. After completing a safety briefing, we were ready to climb and my adrenaline was high. While we ultimately conducted a successful inspection, my biggest mistake was looking down when we were only halfway up the column — I never thought I had a fear of heights until this moment! Still, this was a great learning experience and I was able to enjoy a beautiful view of the city.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Shell is a company that prioritizes the care for its people and it’s safety performance– it’s a “people’s company” that invests in its employees. Since my first encounter with Shell as a scholarship recipient to becoming a full-time employee, the company has supported me in my training and development that has led me to my current position. I’ve always felt valued as a person and employee, and I’ve developed countless strong relationships as a result.
Even going beyond myself, Shell has helped countless people and communities through its diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) programs. A long-time advocate, Shell supports a variety of programs and initiatives that range from fostering an interest in STEM in school-aged students (K-12) to providing scholarships and mentoring during higher education and creating professional development resources for those in the workforce.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m currently working on a power generation strategy with colleagues both within and outside Shell. It’s exciting to be on the cutting edge of the development of cleaner power generation technologies. While this transition is a top priority for Shell’s business, it is even more important for society at large. Our goal is to produce power efficiently, with a low carbon footprint. Shell provides me with the resources to explore renewable and greener power sources, and I share the company’s vision of reaching a net-zero emissions future — quickly.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
While I’m not satisfied with the status quo of women in STEM, I think we are at least seeing a greater emphasis from companies, especially global entities like Shell, making diversity, equity and inclusion a priority. However, that does not mean we should stop empowering and advancing women in STEM.
After all, from my own circle of associates I’ve noticed that from my time in college to now there has been a decline in the percentage of women that have started and stayed in STEM for the duration of their careers. This has been echoed across the board as according to a study from Nature, more than 40 percent of women with full-time jobs in science leave the field or switch to part-time work after having their first child. Even from my own experience, I’ve seen these women leave their career in STEM to join other industries.
To address this, I believe we need to start by understanding the “why.” From my perspective, part of the “why” is generated from the misconceptions around women’s ability to excel in STEM. However, I encourage the industry to conduct studies and focus groups that will provide quantifiable data that can then be used to create mitigation plans.
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?
One of the biggest obstacles I believe women in STEM face are stereotypes, specifically that “STEM is a man’s job.” For example, one way we enforce this idea — maybe without even realizing it — is that from a young age, boys are given cars and trucks while girls receive dolls or kitchen sets. However, this perpetuation is having a lasting and damaging impact on the talent pipeline and advancement of science-based fields.
Part of the solution is better recognizing the contributions of women in STEM to encourage growth. This is so important because it is easier for young women to aspire for success when they see someone that looks like them already achieving it. Another facet of this is creating a safe space where women can speak openly about obstacles and feel a sense of kinship. After all, it can be hard changing the status quo if you don’t realize others are experiencing the same scenario. Finally, there needs to be more purposeful training, mentorship and promotion of deserving women.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
It is heavily believed, especially in my field that as a woman in STEM that “I can’t have my cake and eat it too” when it comes to work-life balance. However, I don’t believe it is so much of a “balance,” but more of an “integration” of the two. It is my belief that in life, there is truly no balance or equilibrium. Instead, it’s about integrating the different parts or moving components around as you progress and find happiness.
I feel that I am probably one of the luckier ones because at Shell they provide the care and support needed to integrate our professional and personal life so that we can excel in both.
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.)
- Respect everyone. Regardless of their age, ethnicity, beliefs or sexual orientation, it is fundamental that everyone is shown the same amount of respect you would want to receive in return.
- Set the right expectations and be clear about them. Your team members are not mind readers, so it is vital that, as a leader, you are being clear about your expectations from the get-go. In turn, ensure that they are being clear and realistic on what they are able to deliver. This will provide an open and transparent dialogue.
- There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to management. Instead, try to figure out early which of your team members will need a more hands-on approach and which would prefer their space. However, even when providing them room to grow, be there to guide and steer them to ensure the task is being completed.
- Learn to say no to ensure you are not over-committing yourself. It’s okay to pass on a task and admit that you may not have the bandwidth. It’s important to understand what you can handle and what you can’t so that you don’t get burnt for not delivering on time.
- Strive to respond, rather than react. When a situation is not going as expected, it is important to take a breathe, assess the situation and potentially move to plan B. I’ve often found that I need to catch myself when I am stressed out and remember that getting upset will not solve the issue at-hand. Instead, my team is looking to me for direction and I need to set an example by maintaining a level-head.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
I am going to cite my current boss and advise other women leaders to “be simple.” What this entails is to lead by example and be goal-oriented and results-driven, as this will help you build your brand. Part of that is being the leader that takes responsibility when something goes wrong rather than pointing a finger. After all, passing blame will only serve to burn bridges — one of which you may need in the future. By accepting the responsibility, you are not only showing your team members that you stand with them, but it fosters a stronger relationship that enhances growth and development from both sides.
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?
Starting from my dad to my current mentor at work, I have been blessed with a great support system that has both pushed and lifted me to get to where I am today. I am especially thankful to my current mentor, who even through her hectic schedule has always found the time to listen, counsel and offer suggestions. As a woman in STEM with a senior leadership role, she understands many of the challenges I am going through and by learning from her experience I’ve been able to improve my performance at work and even at home.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Coming from a minority community, I understand what it’s like to have the tenacity, but perhaps not the proper guidance and support to make my dreams a reality. Luckily, I was encouraged to pursue my STEM career and motivated to succeed by people’s belief in me. Looking to pay the help and encouragement that I received forward, through Shell’s programs/initiatives I spend time mentoring and participating in STEM programs in under-served communities’ schools. I was once told by a student that seeing me volunteer has motivated her to continue pursuing a path in STEM. It’s moments like these that make me believe that in life the little things we do can go a far way in inspiring others to dream — and dream big.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The motto of my life is to “never give up and to always do my best.” Being the only female child in my family, I had to compete for almost everything. My dad would simply say “always do your best.” That has since stuck with me and whether it’s a project at work, working out in the gym or chasing after my kids I always strive to do my best.
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 be ecstatic to dine with Oprah Winfrey. As a child, I have always admired her and even had pictures of her by my mirror so that I got to see her every day. What really spoke to me is that despite having a tough childhood, she was able to rise above it and become one of the most influential women in the world. She was a big influence during my teenage years and had inspired me to pursue my goals and live my dreams. To this day, I am motivated by her love for people, her charity works, achievements, and lifestyle.