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Choose to challenge: International Women’s Day 2021

Release date:
11 March 2021
Employees from around the world shared their stories of challenging the status quo as part of an Instagram Live to mark International Women’s Day. Meet the seven change-makers and watch excerpts from their interviews, in which they talk about career paths, work culture and stepping out of their comfort zone

Safira Vijaya

Safira 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 

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?’ 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,” says Safira. 

She never looked back. On site in Tangguh, she became a team leader and is now loving her new 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.” 

Lloyd Harry-Davis

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

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 emphasized 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.”

Chan Boodhai 

Working alongside the bp chairman and CEO is child’s play for mother-of-one 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 bp CEO Bernard and chairman Helge.  


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.”

Ola Balbaa

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

Five years after joining bp as a Challenger wellsite leader, Egyptian-born Ola Balbaa 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 vice president of wells, it really boosted my confidence.” 

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 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.”

Carol Howle 

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

With more than 20 years’ experience in the energy industry  ̶  including running bp’s shipping division  ̶  Carol became part of 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.”

She 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 she 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.”

Harry Maxwell 

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

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,” she says.  

Harry is also a great believer in making sure others get recognition for their accomplishments by championing their ideas as much as possible.

Alongside her role as a technologist, she is a member of 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 to them or contradicting.”

Keisha Garcia 

Trying to fit in didn’t add up to success for Keisha until she decided to be her whole authentic self 24/7

Based in Houston, Texas, Keisha Garcia 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.”  

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