The importance of allies for underrepresented people in the energy sector was a key takeaway from SPE Aberdeen’s ‘You & I and Our Workplace’ event.
Keynote speakers Shell’s Samantha Nelson and BP’s Dushyant Sharma both shared their own experiences of working in an industry dominated by white men.
Offshore installation manager at Shell, Ms Nelson is a trans woman, having come out while working in the energy industry, she spoke on how she was treated before and after her transition and the importance of having someone to talk to.
When she first started working in the energy sector the Shell offshore installation manager was outwardly male presenting and now that she has transitioned, Nelson feels like she’s “been on both sides of the table.”
While, vice president of transformation implementation at BP, Mr Sharma shared stories of times when he was subject to racism and how others around him have been impacted by racial discrimination.
Transitioning in the energy sector
Nelson told attendees: “I did have this dynamic of ‘how can I bring together my technical capabilities with this personal divide in myself?’
“I was very fortunate that one of my colleagues reached out to me as an ally, I was in this turmoil and wouldn’t speak to anyone but this individual created a safe space to build trust.
“They said nothing more than ‘I know there’s something and if you need to talk to anything or if you need anyone to be there for you, I’ll be there’ and that changed my life.
“It was an interaction where someone did not need to go out of their way to do it but they recognised there was something and they took it upon themselves to get involved.
Once I had that interaction and I had that support, I knew I wasn’t going to lose everything because I believed at the time if anyone found out about my feminine side I would lose my job, especially in the space I was working in.
“The lifting of that weight allowed me to really step in and own my narrative.”
After coming out as a trans woman Samantha Nelson’s “productivity went through the roof” as she became more comfortable in her workplace and “wanted to be there”.
The ‘lifesaving’ role of an ally
Nelson told attendees that “allies can be lifesavers through their actions.”
When asked about the importance of allies, she said: “It’s about looking out for one another, it’s about being willing to step in and say are you okay?
“Allyship is nothing more than humanity, I would never expect an ally to have solutions and don’t think that if you’re an ally you’re supposed to be this source of knowledge.
“As we move through life we learn things and sometimes people get themselves into a hole where they feel squashed, sometimes all you want is someone to climb down and sit beside you.
“The listening piece of being an ally is the most important thing, never put yourself in danger, don’t declare you’re an expert, just be there for one another.”
Sharma answered the same question with: “For me, it’s not so much about declaring my anxiety but stepping towards these individuals and getting to know them and building up that rapport, from there you can start to ask those probing questions.
“I’ve had this experience before as well where someone comes up to me and says ‘you must feel really bad about this, how do you know? Don’t force yourself upon anyone either.
“Let’s just get the allyship going because there’s not enough of it today, society is telling us that, there are still incidents out there that we need to stamp out and it’s going to happen because although we’re in a workplace as soon as we step out of that we are part of it, they are not mutually exclusive, one feeds the other.”
During his introduction, those in attendance were told about how Dushyant Sharma has experienced racism from a young age.
In his youth, Sharma had tryouts for various professional football clubs, however, has pushed back despite being as good, if not better than the others vying for a spot on the team.
Noticing that there were not many others in these trial sessions from ethnic minority backgrounds, in one instance, Mr Sharman was told he should “stick to playing cricket” despite having never played the sport.
The BP vice president of transformation implementation said if he could talk to himself at that time he would say: “For me, having that particular feedback was like having the brick come through the window with the words ‘go home p***’ on it, it was like that sort of smack in the face.
“I was looking around thinking, where’s my ally? But I had a conviction to keep going and not lose belief, that is a part of my life where I look back and wish I’d listened to some of my own advice.
“My parents always taught us that patients and tolerance are two very important attributes in all that we do. Going back to facing racism in the east end of London, I could have retaliated fire with fire but we were told we must educate and let people know what they are doing and help them understand what they are doing and why it is wrong.”
SPE Aberdeen will be hosting a similar event in January with a focus on neurodiversity.