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Women’s Global Leadership Conference in Energy

Release date:
6 November 2020
bp’s Carol Howle, executive vice president of trading & shipping, has spoken at the largest women’s event in the energy industry about how career success came after she learned how to ‘get comfortable’ with talking about her strengths and sharing her ambitions
🕒 25 min watch| 🎥 Video| 💡 Why it matters

Carol was appointed to her position in February, following an already impressive 20-year career. For her WGLC appearance, she discussed what the role of women in leadership could look like in bp and the wider industry as we reimagine energy – as well as sharing her career journey so far.


“[Growing up] I wanted to be an archeologist, or an explorer, or a teacher, but I never really thought about being an executive vice president at a multi-national.


“I was born in Zimbabwe and spent most of my formative years in the UK, but then we also travelled around a bit and I spent some time in Papua New Guinea. Because we did move around a bit, I remember that feeling of being the new kid on the block…and I think it’s important to remember things like that because it translates into the workplace as well.”


She went on to land her first job with an oil and gas major and wasn’t the new kid for long – there she gained both on-the-job and vocational training, as well as qualifying as a chartered management accountant. But making her voice heard wasn’t always easy.


One of the things I actually struggled with as I was going through my career was my own mindset. I used to find it difficult to talk about my strengths, what I thought I was contributing to the business, but actually it is your own responsibility to advocate for yourself.”


Carol Howle, EVP of trading and shipping

As Carol has evolved over her career, she has also seen immense change in the industry itself, particularly around diversity and inclusion, with an increase of women in leadership roles – in an historically male-dominated arena.


“[At bp] we’ve made a lot of progress. Looking at the Executive team now – a third of which is female – this is a huge change from the past. We’ve taken out 50% of the senior layers as well, going from 240 group leaders to 120. Around 40% of that team are women and about one-third ethnically diverse. 


“So, I’m not saying we don’t have more to do in the space, we absolutely do.” 

💡 Why it matters

The energy sector is broadly regarded as one of the least gender diverse industries, with women’s participation in the sector below that of the wider economy, varying hugely across sub-sectors. And yet gender diversity in our industry is vital for driving more innovative and inclusive solutions through the energy transition.


At bp, we believe that diversity and inclusion is fundamental to our values, our strategy and the success of the company and we understand that better outcomes are achieved when we have different people, with differences of opinions from different backgrounds.


The gender balance across bp as a whole is improving, with a third of our Executive team, 37% of our new extended leadership team, and nearly 40% of the next level of newly appointed leaders now women. Our goal is to continue to increase this proportion throughout the organization.

It bodes well, then, that more women are pursuing STEM than at any other time in history. As we move towards a low carbon world, Carol believes there are lots of reasons why energy should be the sector of choice for top talent.  


“We want people who are innovative, creative – thinking about solutions. There is no bigger challenge to anybody in the world today than the need to provide energy to people but to do it cleaner, more efficiently and more cheaply. If people are interested in looking at new technologies, creating new solutions for the industry, for society today, I think STEM is the place to do it in. If people are looking for a challenge and something that’s going to contribute to society for the long term, then our industry is the place to be.”

Carol’s top tips for career success

  1. Stay curious, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo.
  2. Look for ways to understand the broader business you’re in, how you’re contributing to it, and what could be done to improve it.
  3. For me, leadership is about the purpose, not the ego, so being in service of others – of our people and our business – this is absolutely critical.
  4. Develop informal and formal mentorships and networks – leveraging others’ experiences. 
  5. You have to advocate for yourself. People don’t know what your aspirations or ambitions are unless you tell them. It’s not about being arrogant – it’s your own responsibility. 
  6. We have long working careers ahead of us – do something you can have fun with!

And there are multiple opportunities to drive progress on the path to net zero beyond STEM, she says. 


“We are looking to attract people form diverse backgrounds, diverse experience sets. What you want is people who think differently. It’s a whole group of people that we need to come together and collaborate – because there is not a single solution on the way to net zero, there are multiple opportunities and multiple pathways. Some of it will be digital and technology, some of it will be around lower carbon, and some of it will be around newer areas for us, such as hydrogen production and carbon capture, utilization and storage.”


As the energy landscape evolves over the coming years and decades – and we look to a future post-pandemic – Carol sees the potential for an industry that really includes women. 


“In 20 years’ time, we’ll have more women from more diverse backgrounds on executive teams across the industry, and I think we will also have a flexible work environment where we make full use of technology and agility. We’ll be well on our way to a net zero future and we’ll no longer have to explain to anyone why diversity and equality – in whatever form – is important.”

Watch Carol’s full conversation with bp’s Danielle Jones-Hunte for the Women’s Global Leadership Conference in Energy, which was filmed prior to the new COVID-19 restrictions being introduced in the UK on 5 November

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