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International Women’s Day 2021

4 March 2021
To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, seven bp employees around the world talk about career paths, work culture, stepping out of the comfort zone – and how they #ChooseToChallenge
International Women’s Day – 2021 logo

Stepping out of her comfort zone throughout her career has helped Carol Howle rise to the top at bp

Carol Howle

With more than 20 years’ experience in the energy industry – including running bp’s shipping division – Carol became part the company’s new leadership team last year.

The executive vice president of trading & shipping says she got where she is today by “taking roles outside her comfort zone, being curious and solving problems, building connections across the organization, having an informal sponsor, advocating for myself – and enjoying what I do”.

Carol is determined to see other women succeed, too. “It is important that we are mindful of unconscious bias and anything else that could compromise the hiring process,” she says.

“We need to continuously challenge ourselves to ensure we provide equal opportunities for everyone to succeed in the organization.”


Having started her own new role in the middle of the global pandemic, what advice does Carol have for ‎coping?


“As COVID and lockdown has extended, I think the work/life balance has become harder to achieve. ‎The key is to be quite strict with yourself – don’t allow meetings to creep to later in the evenings, turn off ‎the computer, go for a walk, cook dinner with the family, load up the next episode of whatever series ‎you’re watching and disconnect your mind from work.”

‎Never be satisfied with the status quo; keep pushing for change.Carol Howle,executive vice president, trading & shipping

Working alongside the bp chairman and CEO is child’s play for mother-of-one Chan Boodhai

Chan Boodhai

Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, now based in London, Chan joined bp in 2005 as a chemical engineer. ‎Last year, she took on the role of business advisor to both the CEO and chairman of the company.

The mother-of-one describes moving across the world for work as both “exciting and scary at the same ‎time, but it has given me a global perspective that has changed my life.”

Working from home over the past year has meant Chan, like countless others, has had to juggle childcare ‎with a busy, full-time job. Asked which role is more challenging, she says: “Definitely taking care of my five-‎year-old, Alex.

“Both Helge and Bernard are excellent at following my instructions; Alex is not!”‎


Describing how she has coped, she says: “I used what we do best in bp – I did a plan and organized a ‎schedule. I also set up a support network of other parents in the same situation. Humour and self-‎forgiveness help!”‎


She adds: “And I have two extremely supportive bosses who just ‘get it’. This makes all the difference – I ‎have been allowed to miss meetings if I have a class with Alex and I just feel cared for with no judgement.”‎

Break the mould and keep going.Chan Boodhai,business advisor to the chairman and CEO

For Harry Maxwell, success is not only her own achievements, but also making sure others get the credit they deserve for theirs

Harry Maxwell

Harry joined bp through the technology graduate scheme in 2013. Working in lubricant and fuels product ‎development, she has had to navigate the nuances of being a woman in a male-dominated field. “It’s like ‎walking a tightrope of being confident, but not bossy; polite, but not overly deferential; presentable but not ‎trying too hard.”

Naturally, unconscious bias exists, and Harry is now a pro at ensuring people’s contributions are recognized ‎as validation of their perspective. She amplifies them by crediting an idea’s originator through repetition ‎and attribution it to ensure they are acknowledged for it.

Alongside her role as a technologist, Harry is a member of the UK Pride committee – a community of LGBTQ+ ‎individuals and allies in the company, she also founded the bp Pride Pangbourne chapter.


“To me, Pride is a ‎shining example of what can be achieved with the passion, commitment and courage of a group of people ‎with a common purpose. It’s also a really brave response to the potential expectation of shame, by ‎choosing to define yourself as proud.”‎

The individual challenges I’ve faced are all related to people’s assumptions of femininity – whether I am ‎conforming with them or contradicting.innovationHarry Maxwell,expert technologist, innovation & engineering

Trying to fit in didn’t add up to success for bp digital foundations programmes vice president Keisha ‎Garcia until she decided to be her whole authentic self – 24/7

Keisha Garcia

Based in Houston, Texas, Keisha has been with bp for more than 15 years, working across some of the ‎most exciting areas in innovation and engineering. She’s now vice president of digital foundations ‎programmes, which supports bp’s net zero digital operations.


“We are expected to bring our whole selves to work, yet for a long time it felt like I was being asked to ‎change who I was to progress. In order to fit into the stereotypical definition of a leader, I felt I had to ‎change the fundamental things that were core to my being, the part of me that makes me who I am, that ‎makes me good at what I do. ‎

“And then, with the support of friends, co-workers and great leaders who accepted the unfiltered me, I was ‎pushed to excel, to be my authentic self, which led to my many breakthrough moments and career ‎progression, for which I am grateful.”


When Keisha is not implementing digital solutions for bp, she is an ambassador for bp recruiting and ‎mentoring the next generation of women technologists and is involved in promoting diversity and inclusion ‎across communities in Houston.

You can’t control other people’s perceptions – so don’t try to.Keisha Garcia,vice president, digital foundations programmes, innovation & engineering

Lloyd Harry-Davis has been inspired by the strong women in his life, whose optimism and determination to thrive he found infectious

Lloyd Harry-Davis

After working as a trainee production journalist at the Financial Times, Lloyd Harry-Davis joined bp’s ‎Challenge graduate scheme last year.


The London-based sustainability reporting advisor was raised in a ‎large family of women and credits their influence for his drive to succeed.

‎“The community of women I’ve grown up around have faced incredibly hard setbacks, from losing ‎everything they owned to familial estrangements and deaths,” he says.

“And, somehow, they’ve managed ‎to transmute so much hardship into incredible wins. It can only inspire the people around them.”‎


But the person he praises the most is his mother, Alma. “My mom was the first in her family to pursue ‎higher education and also faced quite a few barriers in starting her own business, so she’s always been a ‎source of inspiration and a reminder to be resilient,” Lloyd says.


‎“She’s also continuously emphasised the importance of being honest with myself and pursuing the things ‎that make me happy.”‎

Recognizing what I’ve accomplished due to the leadership of women.Lloyd Harry-Davis,comms and EA challenger, communications & advocacy

She may come from a family of doctors, but Ola Balbaa always knew she wanted to be an engineer and deliver the energy vital to her country’s progress

Ola Balbaa

Five years after joining bp as a Challenger wellsite leader, Egyptian-born Ola is now a wells drilling ‎engineer based in Cairo. In that time, she has worked on several types of offshore and onshore rigs in four ‎different regions.‎

Working in this male-dominated environment has had its challenges, says Ola. “Women sometimes get ‎comments or looks that suggest they won’t last in the job, but that just made me more determined to ‎prove them wrong.”

Even Ola’s father, who is her biggest supporter, had warned her against choosing this career path, saying ‎she’d struggle to find a job.

But, she says: “That just inspired me to try even harder and when I received my ‎first acknowledgement for a job well done by the VP of wells, it really boosted my confidence.”


And that’s why she is keen to see more women choosing a career in STEM and advises young girls “to reach out ‎to people who have progressed in the field and try to get a clear vision of the different opportunities ‎available to them.”‎

Most of all, she encourages them “to believe in themselves and never doubt their capabilities to pursue ‎their dreams”.

I #ChooseToChallenge every female to ‘take a seat at the table’ and express herself in a meeting room full ‎of men.Ola Balbaa,wells drilling engineer, production & operations

Safira Vijaya thought she knew what kind of engineer she wanted to be, but a snap decision to leave her ‎‎‘dream job’ in Australia and move back home to Indonesia led her on a different path

Safira Vijaya

In September 2017, finding a new job in Indonesia was proving difficult for Safira.


However, she persevered and was eventually offered a rotating equipment engineer position at bp’s ‎liquefied natural gas plant at Tangguh.


Unsure if she could do the job, she turned to her father for advice: ‎‎“My dad told me: ‘Do you want to learn something new?’

‎“My dad told me: ‘Do you want to learn something new?’ I replied: ‘Yes, but I don’t know if I have the ‎capabilities to.’ He said: ‘You can do it.’ It sounded like a magical spell, and I immediately accepted the ‎offer.”


Safira never looked back. On site she led teams in Tangguh and is now loving her job based in Jakarta, ‎where she hopes to continue to inspire confidence in other young female engineers.‎

We need more women to join STEM so that the field can grow, and so that the world can find the ‎best solutions to its problems.Safira Vijaya,rotating equipment engineer, production & operations

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