With the North Sea topping the global industry with women leadership, Energy’s new series highlights those forging the path ahead for the sector
Despite being only 20 years old, Leanne Brown doesn’t seem like the type of person who gets fazed all that often.
While she’s certainly surprised to have won the Apprentice Award at this year’s Press and Journal Gold Awards, there’s also a quiet confidence dancing somewhere in the background – the idea that, if it was going to be someone, why shouldn’t it be her?
On the night she picked up her award she even suggested as much. Her winner’s statement not just acknowledging her own right to be there, but also serving as a battle cry to all women who want to work in oil and gas.
“It is not a male dominated sector any more,” she said.
“Women are fighting back.”
At the age of 14, after participating in an engineering team building event during the school day, Leanne came home and told her mum that she wanted to become an engineer. Two years later she would pick her subjects around achieving that objective.
Now a fully qualified hydraulics technician at engineering firm Sparrows in Aberdeen, she’s never let her gender stand in the way of her dream, yet often others haven’t got the memo.
“When I was at college a lot of people would look at me and say, ‘Why are you doing that? Why are you going into engineering?’
“As if I should be doing beauty [therapy] or the admin side of things. I was the only girl in the class. No other girls were even interested. People thought I was weird.”
Yet she soon silenced her detractors.
“Working in this environment where it is mostly men, I’m not discriminated against in any way because I’m a girl.
“I’m not treated any differently, at all. They’ve put together a really good team here,” she said.
“I think a lot of the younger girls who’re trying to get into the industry feel that they’d be treated differently and you’re not.
“There’s a massive opportunity in the oil and gas industry for women.”
Leanne feels a strong sense of responsibility when it comes to dispelling myths about the oil and gas sector with the aim of attracting greater diversity into the workforce.
Leanne said: “If young girls were thinking about this type of career I would tell them to ‘go for it, grab it with both hands’. There’s a lot of stereotypical ‘oh it’s a man’s job’.
A young woman of the north-east through and through, Leanne’s forthright demeanor is perhaps due, in part, to her family’s farming background where there are no particular male and female jobs – if you can be useful on a farm you’re quickly put to good use.
Most days at Sparrows she can be found setting valves, flush-ing cylinders, taking pressure tests or stripping and refurbishing motors.
“When I came in I was really nervous because I didn’t know anyone but I’ve been here three years now, and the people I work with, you could pretty much say anything to them.
“Obviously you have your disagreements sometimes but within five minutes you’re laughing and joking about something.
“When I’m speaking to all of them through there [in the warehouse] and having a laugh about what happened at the weekend or whatever, I don’t necessarily think that I’m speaking to a load of men now. They’re more friends than work colleagues.”
When asked what the future might hold she isn’t thinking any further ahead than getting offshore.
Leanne is determined to travel the world to “go everywhere.”
Yet she also knows she’s not finished here just yet. She’s still got two years of her HND in Mechanical Engineering to complete.
Though clearly delighted, she views winning the Apprentice Award for what it is, evidence that she made the correct career choice and that all her struggle and effort was worth it.
“I’ve worked hard and it’s paid off,” she said.
“I really, really wanted it; I’d never won anything before. I still can’t believe it.”
Too often people see little reward for their efforts, no physical representation of their tough decisions and hard graft.
Leanne Brown is merely at the beginning of her career; and if this is the start, what’s the end going to look like?