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Engineering change

Release date:
23 June 2020
For International Women in Engineering Day, we celebrate diversity. From a vice president who went from humble beginnings to being responsible for billions to a young mother starting out her career in Mauritania and Senegal  

Diving into the unknown

Virginia Moore, risk management advisor


While working as a diver at NASA’s Natural Buoyancy Laboratory, training astronauts underwater in preparation for the zero-gravity environment of space, Virginia was pretty sure she had found her dream job. But after five years she realized she wanted a new challenge.


And instead, despite no previous experience of the industry, plunged into engineering by joining bp’s Wellsite Leader of the Future programme in 2009, where from a class of 1,100 candidates, 19 graduated and only two of those were women. “It was a huge learning curve for me,” She says. 


She later went on to become a rig engineer. In her role as an auditor, she worked both above and below the water, “similar to my job at NASA,” she says, but instead of astronauts, ensuring that rigs were fit for flight. 


While Virginia shone at work, it was three or four years before she shared her personal life. “I think being a woman, but also being an LGBT woman, makes it a little bit more challenging to express yourself. But once I became more open about who I was, it actually built the bond of trust and respect with my crews.


“Initially, my hesitation was that I felt like I had to prove that I was a high performer and that I produced quality work before giving up information about myself.


“I didn’t want to be judged about being a female and being gay. The thing is, bp embraces diversity. The business is really what makes me feel comfortable, as there is zero tolerance for disrespect here.”


Today, Virginia is part of bp’s Houston-based rig management team, leading incident investigations and ensuring that rigs continue to operate while effectively managing risks. 


“I have definitely seen more women being hired in the past few years at bp, both in the field and in the offices. I’ve also witnessed more women in leadership roles than before.”

Taking risks reaps rewards

Leigh-Ann Russell, incoming senior vice president of procurement


As bp’s incoming senior vice president of procurement, Leigh-Ann Russell is responsible for a team of 1,100 and a budget of $30 billion a year.

Growing up on a council estate in Aberdeen, it is a very different role to the one her family planned for her. She had turned down a secure job in a bank to go to university to study engineering, a decision her family called ‘risky!’ But at that time the driving force for Leigh-Ann was the fact that careers in STEM were well paid.


“When you come from an environment like I grew up in, being able to improve your standard of living and help your extended family financially has been one of the most wonderful things,” she says. 

After a degree in engineering at the University of Aberdeen, Leigh-Ann worked for a number of companies, including Schlumberger, before joining bp in 2006. 

Leigh-Ann worked as a completion engineer. “The drillers find oil and gas. The completion engineers remove it from the ground as safely and efficiently as possible,” she explains.


She went on to lead engineering, operations, process safety, and strategy and performance for bp drilling operations, before taking charge of the supply chain for its Upstream operations in 2018.


She takes up her new role as SVP of procurement on 1 July.  

In this position, she hopes to help with bp’s pursuit of net zero, leveraging the entire supply chain. It is bp’s job, she says, to help suppliers to understand where they can play a part.

One thing that’s not in question, according to Leigh-Ann, is the importance of diversity. 

“We know that having that mix of men and women and different backgrounds is what makes companies really successful. That doesn’t need to be debated anymore. There are many studies that show that companies with diversity are stronger financially, less likely to go bankrupt. We need to move past the justification and into action on improving diversity and inclusion.”

Bernard’s view on LinkedIn

“It’s a big day for us in bp – we have almost 600 women in engineering roles in our company, and many more women engineers in other roles. They help make our company what it is.” 

Championing inclusivity

Mariely Salgueiro, development engineer Tortue phase 2 project Mauritania and Senegal

Engineering was an obvious career choice for Mariely. She says: “I liked maths and science in general and loved chemistry. Combining all to solve problems and create something new was an attractive proposition. I knew very little what a chemical engineer really did and, indeed, what job opportunities it would bring. I had no role models, but that did not put me off having a go!”

When she started 13 years ago, there were few young female engineers to look up to. “It is great to see that it is changing, not only in bp, but also in the industry. 


“I got used to be the only female working on a site or offshore with very little female representation in the leadership teams,” she says.


Since joining the Mauritania and Senegal team in 2018, Mariely has been the carbon champion for the Phase 2 project – that means putting concerns about greenhouse gas emissions at the very heart of the project design. 

She says: “During the engineering optimization of the project, I pushed for carbon emissions to be one of key drivers for decision making. I had huge support from the engineering team, from top to bottom, as well as the project management team.


“And last year, I had the privilege to talk to the Environmental Minister of Senegal and government representatives about how we are determined to find a low carbon solution when engineering the design. This part of my role has been most rewarding.”  


On diversity, she says: “It is very important in engineering and it goes beyond gender. Engineers are programmed to solve problems and approaching them from different angles through diverse thinking is key for finding the best solutions. It has been proven, diverse teams are more efficient and tend to achieve more through diversity and inclusivity.”

First steps in engineering

Khadijetou Cheikh Mohamed Vadel (known as Tata), trainee technician

Just starting out on a journey she hopes will take her to a career in engineering is Khadijetou Cheikh Mohamed Vadel (known as Tata). She joined bp’s National Technician Training in Mauritania and Senegal that was launched in 2019 as part of a campaign to recruit 50 national apprentice technicians to support the Greater Tortue/Ahmeyim LNG project.


Spanning three years, the course includes an English language programme, three-month introduction to oil and gas module, and both theoretical and technical training, which will ultimately provide candidates with an internationally recognized qualification.

Here’s what Tata had to say about her hopes of becoming an engineer:

“When gas was discovered in Mauritania, it was exciting to see my country enter an industry that can help it to develop, and being part of that through the bp programme is a dream come true for me. 

“It hasn’t been without its difficulties. In such a traditional society as Mauritania, it is hard for girls as there are not so many opportunities for their education or in the workplace. I had to make some difficult decisions but luckily I was supported by my family making the process smoother.

“As a mother of three, being an apprentice of one of the biggest companies in the oil and gas industry will be challenging but I am determined to show everyone that Mauritanian women can achieve their goals.

“And things are beginning to change; the demand for engineering specialities in universities is increasing, especially among girls, and that makes me proud. 

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