Mobilizing one million STEM mentors

Last edited: 19 May 2015

Are you a mentor in the workplace? Meet two engineers who play their part in encouraging others to explore careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM)

BP America has formed a new partnership with Million Women Mentors, a national initiative designed to help girls and young women learn more about career paths in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The goal of Million Women Mentors is to mobilize more than one million mentors, including men and women, to offer guidance and advice to girls and young women on STEM learning and job opportunities. BP’s partnership, building on six decades of support for STEM-related subjects, gives employees the chance to inspire and instill confidence in girls of all backgrounds. 

Leigh-Ann Russell, vice president of performance for BP’s Global Wells Organization, is a founding member of BP’s Million Women Mentors Leadership Council and a mentor to Barbara Lasley, drilling engineering team leader for BP’s Mad Dog field in the Gulf of Mexico – who also has some experience as a mentor. Here, they share their thoughts on the importance of mentorship and the meaningful impact it can have on a person’s life. 

"I found that engineering was math, it was language, it was physics and so much more. There was an element of creativity to it and opportunities to travel abroad, which interested me as well."

- Leigh-Ann Russell

As a student, what sparked your interest in STEM?

Leigh-Ann: 
What attracted me to engineering was that it was so diverse. I couldn’t decide on a single subject at university, and I found that engineering was math, it was language, it was physics and so much more. There was an element of creativity to it and opportunities to travel abroad, which interested me as well.

When you were growing up, did anyone inspire or impact you in a special way?

Barbara:
I grew up in a small town in Wyoming, which is nicknamed the “Equality State” because it was the first state to allow women to vote. Growing up, I didn’t feel any type of differentiation just because I was a girl. As a woman, you’re expected to show up, work hard, and you get rewarded.
Leigh-Ann:
I grew up in Aberdeen, Scotland, which is a relatively small city. There, the two primary professions are to be a fisherman or work in the oil industry. My dad wasn’t a professional engineer, but later in his life he worked in the oil industry. My dad is my absolute hero. He loved everything about working in the industry – his work, the people, the opportunity – so it was easy to be inspired.

Why do you think mentoring is so important, especially for young women?

Leigh-Ann:
There are so many misconceptions of the oil industry, of STEM careers, of what it’s like to be a working mother. [Leigh-Ann has a 9-year-old daughter.] Mentorship is so important to me, because I want to help dispel some of those myths and help people through challenges that may be similar to the ones I’ve faced along the way.
Barbara:
It took me a while to find out just how important mentorship is. I was very independent when I first began my career. But then as I progressed and started getting mentors of my own, I quickly learned how important a mentor can be to building confidence in areas where you need a boost – or tempering your confidence if you have a bit too much.
Leigh-Ann: 
The glass ceiling isn’t broken from below, it’s broken from above. And as I get more senior in my career, that responsibility weighs even more heavily on me. There’s absolutely no way I would have been able to do what I’ve done in my career without my mentors and sponsors, and I want to do that for other people. Apart from mentors, sponsors are people who act directly on your behalf and can have a strong impact on your career. It’s very important to have a sponsor along with a mentor, because they can advocate for you in ways you might not understand at the time but are critical to ultimately achieving what you want to achieve.

"It’s so rewarding. Nothing feels better than mentoring somebody and seeing them achieve what they set out to do. Just playing a small part in their success is extremely gratifying."

- Barbara Lasley

What would you say to a young woman who thinks subjects like science and engineering aren’t for girls?

Barbara: 
I actually had this same conversation with a young lady just a couple months ago. I just very bluntly told her that she is every bit as capable and qualified as any boy to take those courses and be successful. You can’t listen to anybody, even your own inner self, tell you you’re not good enough.

Leigh-Ann: 
I would say three things. First of all, why would you limit yourself? Why would you think you couldn’t do something any other boy or girl could do? Secondly, I would tell her to have a look at future career salaries, because careers that are a result of STEM subjects often pay massively more than non-STEM subjects. Thirdly, jobs stemming from STEM subjects offer the broadest spectrum of opportunities all over the world.

What does mentoring personally mean to you?

Barbara: 
It’s so rewarding. Nothing feels better than mentoring somebody and seeing them achieve what they set out to do. Just playing a small part in their success is extremely gratifying.

Leigh-Ann: 
We have such a great resource in BP – and I’m not talking about financial resources, I’m talking about human resources. We have so many great leaders, so many great women, and harnessing that power to advance STEM education in our communities is what our Million Women Mentors campaign is all about. 

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