At BP, we are working towards a better gender balance by creating an inclusive culture where every employee’s voice is heard and respected
We are a diverse, complex business which values the different skills and experiences people bring. We also want our employees to thrive in their careers and their personal lives – and not have to choose between the two.
In support of International Women’s Day 2019’s #BalanceForBetter campaign, we asked our employees to tell us what balance means to them, and why balance makes us better as an organisation. Here are their stories.
Bhairavi Popat is Vice President of Customer Excellence & Operations for Castrol in India. Having joined as a graduate back in 2002, Bhairavi has worked at BP for almost 17 years and has been motivated by the opportunities to work in different functions during her career
After becoming a mother, Bhairavi has manged to maintain a healthy work-life balance whilst still making her way up in the organisation.
This year’s IWD theme is ‘balance for better’ – what does ‘balance’ mean to you?
Whilst having an even split of men and women is important, Bhairavi believes that balance is more than just about achieving gender diversity. As she explains, “balance is about finding the winning combination between work and life, leading and following, and rational thinking versus following your heart.”
What makes BP stand out for her is the corporate culture that focuses on respect and inclusion: “We don’t just work towards having more diversity in the organisation, there’s a huge focus on inclusion – with Respect being one of our core values.”
As she explains, “It is not just about having gender balance in terms of numbers, but about being a great employer and supporting individual employees, regardless of their gender. It is important that we recognise, understand, accept and even encourage individual differences to deliver the best possible outcome.”
Life as a working mother
After 10 years of working in BP’s Castrol business in India, Bhairavi took a career break to have her daughter. When she returned to work after maternity leave, BP supported Bhairavi to manage the transition back to work and into her new role: “What was great was that I was given confidence and reassurance to take my time, have my break and know that BP had my back.” She points out that “no one questioned if I was able to manage the opportunity along with my new commitment as a parent.”
Bhairavi adds: “An organisation needs to recognise these critical junctions in employees’ lives and support them. This makes a company move from being a mediocre employer to an exceptional employer.”
Speak your mind to make a difference
Bhairavi is proud of BP’s open and collaborative culture that encourages employees to speak up and be heard: “Since the day I joined to today, I have never had to stop and think twice about sharing my honest opinion,” she says. “I have never found someone stepping back or thinking they shouldn’t be speaking up. It doesn’t matter if you are a trainee or senior level executive, everyone has equal opportunity to share an opinion.”
Daniel Sprich is a Solutions Manager in the Global Operations Organisation (GOO), part of BP Upstream IT&S. Originally from Germany, Daniel joined BP in London after completing his MBA in 2011
Up until recently, Daniel was co-chair of BP’s LGBT employee network, BP Pride, in Sunbury. He continues to be actively involved in raising awareness of LGBT issues in the workplace, a cause which he believes passionately in.
Bringing your whole self to work
“In my career prior to BP, I didn’t have the courage to be out at work – as a gay man - because the environment didn’t feel right,” says Daniel. “I just experienced how difficult it was not bringing your whole self to work. You make up stories all the time about your private life. Your mind is constantly busy so your employer loses out on you. I thought, since I have experienced this, I want to get involved in the BP Pride network, and I have made that step to be out at work.”
Finding your inner balance
Daniel points out that diversity and inclusion in the workplace is not just about one minority group. “We are not only one thing, we all tick a lot of boxes.” To him, an inclusive workplace is one where everybody has the same opportunities, “no matter their gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, skin colour, background, or beliefs. In terms of behaviour, it's about listening, encouraging people, and being respectful, but also questioning the status quo.”
He believes the key to achieving greater diversity and inclusion is to create an environment where employees can also focus on their inner balance. “I think it's important that you share with others what's important for you for your inner balance, what drives you, and what makes you get up in the morning. If the people around you know how you can be at your best, they will create an environment where you can achieve that. If my colleagues, teams, and stakeholders are happy, it makes me happy as well.”
“From a broader perspective, balance means that we should, as an organisation, reflect the communities we represent and live in.”
A supportive employer
When it comes to being supported at work, Daniel points to BP’s open and respectful culture as a key enabler: “BP is very open at providing a platform where people can talk about issues, where the problems are, and what we need to do to tackle them. I think that's the most important thing – BP is truly a business that wants to improve itself as an employer and make itself a better place for employees.”
“When it comes to gender balance, I would say that BP is quite self-aware: there is still a lot to do, but as long as we recognize that and continue the work, the situation will improve.”
Donald Parton is a Process Optimisation Manager (ANZ Midstream) at BP. He has worked at BP for approaching 20 years, during which he has held many different roles. He currently works in a job share, with a secondment two days a week in an operations role, which allows him to spend time with his young family
“I work four and a half days a week,” says Donald. “On Mondays I work from home which is my opportunity to see my five year old son and do his school drop offs and pickups, and then half a day later in the week to take him to swimming lessons. I also have twin two year old girls.”
A change of perspective
While Donald was working full time, enjoying a great career with BP, significant changes in his personal life made him take stock and led to a shift in the way he worked: “Three years ago I had open heart surgery and just four months after that our twins arrived. As soon as I sat in front of the cardiologist and heard him say that I needed surgery, thoughts of my career just washed away. My partner was sitting next to me and we thought: let’s get through surgery recovery and then have the twins. It was a pivotal event that put everything into perspective.”
“I was at a bust because I had a full time job and difficult big changes happening in my personal life. So I started putting my hand up to BP to ask if I could maintain my employment while making them aware that I couldn’t work five days a week anymore. I managed to get a job share in 2017 and BP has been brilliant in helping me balance my two lives.”
Flexibility for everyone
According to Donald, being given the flexibility to take care of himself and his family has been a great opportunity which has kept him at BP. And he’s not the only one: “Around 10 years ago, I was working with two women who were job-sharing their role. It worked brilliantly. They maintained exclusive areas of responsibility but were really good at updating each other, where required. It’s funny that this happened nine to 10 years ago and now I find myself in the same scenario!”
A truly inclusive workplace
That’s what real inclusion looks like to Donald: “A truly inclusive workplace embraces diversity at the core. Even if it might go against the status quo or societal norms, to me inclusivity is when people of all genders, backgrounds and perspectives come together and feel confident to speak up. Inclusivity also means consideration of people’s circumstances – it needs to become the norm for somebody to say in a job interview that he or she can only work part-time.”
He also believes that this type of inclusion can help drive a company to be more successful: “Diverse teams are more successful because people don’t feel like they have to cut back – professionally and personally. If I have a part-time job and have time to support my family and be a happy dad, I’m obviously more happy and successful in my job.”
Based in Houston, Kathleen Martinez is a Senior Director of National Strategic Relationships and Executive Director of the BP Global Foundation
When she joined BP almost seven years ago, Kathleen first worked in Government and Public Affairs before moving to her current role, where she works in the office of Diversity and Inclusion. Kathleen says, “I'm passionate about my work as I have the privilege of leading BP America’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) national strategy, encouraging young students across the United States to pursue STEM education.”
Including diverse perspectives
When it comes to creating diversity in the workplace, Kathleen believes that having a range of points of view is key: “For me, balance in the workplace means ensuring that we have a balance of perspectives, a balance of ideas, and, most importantly, a balance of people at the table.”
A balance of perspectives helps businesses avoid ‘group think’ and results in better decisions, as Kathleen explains: “If you don't have diversity at the table, it's impossible to be inclusive, because you don't have the dynamic perspectives of stakeholders.”
“A truly inclusive workplace to me is more than a look, it’s a feeling. A feeling where everyone can bring their whole selves to work, a feeling of being listened to and heard.”
Balancing work and home
For Kathleen, it’s crucial to manage work and personal lives equally, something that BP has enabled her to do through flexible working: “Sometimes I really need to work from home to get more things done throughout the day and not be taken off track. I think that work-life balance and having the ability to work from home whenever necessary and having resources to be able to do that well, is something that really brings balance in the workplace.”
Kathleen adds: “I feel that balance is the quality of life and really taking each day and seeing the benefit of that. You can be wonderful at the office, but that’s not your only role.”
The confidence gap in STEM
When it comes to gender balance, Kathleen points out that men and women approach applying for roles differently: “There is a definite confidence gap. A study done at Cornell University found that men overestimate their abilities and performance, while women underestimate both.”
To address this, what Kathleen advocates for is mentorship from an early age. “I’m particularly passionate about mentoring students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, girls specifically, because you can’t be what you can’t see! If a student doesn't have a STEM professional in their family or know someone in STEM – they may go through life unaware of these great career opportunities.”
“Balance for gender begins with us and needs a lot of advocates that are male and female who are being supportive of seeing more women get involved in STEM careers.”
Sharon Weintraub is CEO Eastern Hemisphere at the Supply and Trading office in Singapore. She started at BP’s Chicago office 15 years ago and also worked in London and Houston over the course of her career
Working across so many geographies, Sharon learnt to adapt to different ways of working. Through these experiences she has found that, “appreciating cultural differences in communications, adjusting your leadership style, and continuing to be inclusive are important for success.”
Reflecting on her wealth of experience and what keeps her at BP, Sharon notes: “Having spent 30 years in trading, I would say that the best part is that every single day is different. Even though I no longer work on the frontline trading desk, every problem, every challenge, every day is unique.”
Not only does Sharon enjoy the challenge, but also developing strong work relationships with her colleagues. “In my opinion, the people with whom I work on those challenges are some of the smartest, most talented, and most collegiate in the world. Everyone in the organisation is happy to answer any questions along the way and try to help you out. That’s very important to me – the meaningful relationships.”
This year’s IWD theme is ‘Balance for Better’ - what does ‘balance’ mean to you?
“To me, balance is not just about gender, but also diversity of ethnicity, experience, age, education – a balance of people and where they all come from. You can’t just have a single type of mindset or individual – you need good collaboration and respectful challenges from different perspectives. So, balance means having a mixture of people that give that rounded thinking and approach to problems and delivery.”
Sharon adds that another way to look at balance includes the way we manage our work and personal lives. “You can also interpret it in terms of work-life balance. If flexible is good for the business and works for the individual – it’s a success on both fronts and we should do more of that. That's balance.”
“I am proud to say that the culture has evolved over the years, and it's been an intentional shift of the culture – we are continuing to work on that.”
What does a truly inclusive workplace look like to you?
There are many ways to create an inclusive culture, and for Sharon it is about allowing people to be themselves. She notes: “Creating a space, so that 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 respectful challenge, but it's also caring for one another.”
“When I first got to Asia, I was asked what I stand for. My strapline really connected into the values and behaviours of the organisation. Respect, excellence, safety, one team and courage - these are all related to the 3Cs: caring for people, collaborating as a team, and respectfully challenging each other.”
How do you promote balance in the workplace?
In her role, Sharon mentors individuals across the business and spearheaded the Accessibility Business Resource Group in the Americas, focusing on disability, both visible and invisible. “For me, driving this agenda is important because the way people overcome challenges and personal circumstance through creativity and resilience is just amazing. We have to keep bringing that talent to the workforce, because it's not represented enough.”