To mark International Women’s Day, Energy Voice has carried out a series of interviews with female industry leaders.
Sharon Weintraub is Eastern Hemisphere CEO for BP Supply and Trading.
After initially studying chemical engineering, she switched to economics and went on to a career as a trader before moving to BP 15 years ago.
Ms Weintraub has spent time across the globe working for the energy giant.
She is involved in BP’s employee-led women’s network, and during her time in the US also set up an accessibility-focused employee network within BP. Recently, she was the Executive Sponsor for BP Singapore’s partnership with the Singapore National Paralympic Council.
Why did you decide to join the oil and gas industry and what advice would you give to women and young girls considering it?
I have been working in energy trading for over 30 years and I joined BP 15 years ago. At that time, I had worked for many banks in Chicago, and I knew I would have had to move to New York if I wanted to progress in this field. That is when I decided to give BP and the physical energy markets a shot. Ironically, four years later, I took BP up on the offer move to London to serve as the business lead for a major systems project for the global oil trading business. If I had seen the job spec I would have probably never have applied for the role let alone made the move, but the business CFO really supported me and encouraged me to take the leap. The best part about having spent 30 years in trading is that every single day has been different. Even though I no longer work on the frontline trading desk, every problem, every challenge, every day is unique.
My advice for females who are interested in the energy industry, or any other field for that matter, is to take up challenges and career risks. To do this, it helps to find ways to cope with lack of confidence. One of my many tools is when I sit in a meeting at the table, and not feeling all that secure, my approach is to drape my arm behind the chair and take a more open pose which can relax both the body and the mind. That way, you can project a certain aura even at a time when you’re not the most confident. If you can get beyond those less confident moments with a set of tools that work for you, then you can achieve the greatest career trajectory, and your only barrier becomes yourself.
Between your time in the US, UK and Asia, have you noticed any differences in the proportion of women working in the energy sector?
My observation is fairly consistent in that the women in each of the regions still have hurdles in making it to the most senior of leadership roles or in the most revenue generating commercial positions. We need to ensure that when drilling down into the diversity metrics, you don’t find all of your female talent in mid-back office operational roles. In my first few months in Singapore, my sense is that there is a significant population of working women – possibly more than in the US and UK in part due to cultural differences including access to affordable home and childcare.
What more could be done to bring more young women into the industry?
When I started in trading 30 years ago, I was one of the only females in a sea of men and I have experienced some biases. Additionally, I couldn’t see what I wanted to be due to a lack of senior female role models. At BP, I’m proud to say that the culture has evolved over the years, and it’s been an intentional shift and we are continuing to work on that. As an organisation, we encourage our staff, men and women, to find more agile, flexible ways of working, because we now have the technology to make careers and life a more balanced platform. For example, if someone can go home at 4pm, have dinner with their family, then get back online at 7 for an hour, then why not? It works for the business, it works for the individual – it’s a success on both fronts and we should do more of that.
We also need to continue to work on creating a space where people can bring their whole self to work and contribute to their fullest. To me, that’s what an inclusive environment looks and feels like – It’s collaborative, it’s respectfully challenging, but it’s also caring.
You chose to switch your major from chemical engineering to economics – can you explain that decision?
I was really into chemistry in high school, partly because my chemistry teacher sparked an interest in me. So, when I went to university, I decided to study chemical engineering. Frankly, I probably didn’t even really understand completely what a chemical engineer did. Meanwhile, I was reading the Wall Street Journal and following financial markets and dabbling in managing a small personal portfolio. After a summer internship at Merrill Lynch, I found myself convinced of my passion for financial markets and trading, so I switched my major to economics.
It has been noted here in the UK that more should be done to promote energy as a career for people from various educational backgrounds as the sector needs people in a wide variety of roles. Would you agree?
Yes, I agree. It’s not solely about achieving gender balance. We need to work towards achieving diversity of ethnicity, experience, age, and education to name a few. We need a balance of people with varied personal experiences and perspectives. You can’t just have a single mind-set or type of individual – you need good team collaboration where they also respectfully challenge one another. If you hire solely based on a similar set of criteria, you create an organization that thinks the same way and approaches issues the same way. So, balance means having a mixture of people that give that rounded thinking and approach to problems and delivery. Having diversity of thought achieves the most optimal business outcomes.
What do you see as some of your proudest achievements in the industry?
Over the years, I am proud to have mentored and developed talent for the organisation and I feel this in part leaves a legacy of sorts. In my view, this is even more meaningful than the myriad of commercial or project accomplishments to mention. Also, I was very proud to have been recognised by the National Diversity Council in 2017 as one of the top 15 businesswomen in Houston as well as one of the six most Powerful and Influential Women in Texas.