A POWERful Women ambassador, Carla Riddell has pledged her support to advance the professional growth and leadership development of women in the UK's energy sector. She has also shared her thoughts about her career journey so far, gender diversity in the oil and gas industry today, as well as her advice for other aspiring women in the energy sector.
Tell us about the job you do
I am the Senior Vice President for Spirit Energy’s West of Shetland’s assets and a member of the Executive Committee, as well as mum to my young son.
The beauty of my role at Spirit Energy is that there is no typical day – there is a lot of variety in what I do from strategic planning to managing relationships with joint venture (JV) partners. One of the most rewarding things for me is knowing that I have a direct role in providing energy to people in the UK.
I’m fortunate to be in a position with the autonomy to face whatever challenges arise. I know that I am making a difference and adding value to the business, but I couldn’t do that without the flexibility afforded by my employer which allows me to balance the demands of parenthood with a demanding career.
What is your background?
I studied Geology initially, because I loved it (and still do), followed by a Masters in Paleontology. While working as a technical specialist in offshore drilling operations, I returned to study to earn my MBA because I wanted to be stronger in the business world and more effective at the job I was doing.
I’ve moved from technical roles in traditionally male-dominated environments to business roles, but each step of my career has been about seeing the bigger picture – from looking down a microscope to developing company strategy.
I was the first person in my family to go to university, so I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t have any real-life role models to follow. Education was vital to shaping my career. It is what gave me the confidence to believe that I deserved a seat at the table. The benefits I gained were so profound that I’ve recently returned to University as a teaching fellow – it’s my way of re-paying all the teaching I received.
What has been your personal experience of climbing the career ladder?
I recognise that in many instances a good education can help to remove barriers and act as insulation against certain biases, so I feel fortunate in that respect.
I think the biggest challenges that I have faced have often been of my own design. Waiting to feel comfortable before taking on more significant roles can be a real impediment to career advancement, and I have waited too long at times. The biggest obstacle I’ve had to overcome has been believing that I deserve a seat at the table and that I have earned the right to be there.
What kind of support have you found helpful in advancing your career?
You can’t be what you can’t see, so having a mentor has been invaluable for me. I’ve been lucky to have had access to some really inspirational people during my career who have helped open my eyes to different paths.
Support and guidance from mentors, managers and even peers to take a step in a different direction has made the biggest difference. I’ve always been happy in my roles, focusing on the job I’m doing, but sometimes you need to be brave and take a chance. Until you are open to a change you don’t know what opportunities are out there.
What advice would you give to aspiring women in the energy sector?
I think the best leaders lead by example, so my top three tips are examples of how I live and work:
- Put yourself first – at least some of the time.
- Remember that what you give attention to grows. If growing your career is a priority, give it the attention it needs. Make the time to understand what you want from your career and then make a plan for how to get there.
- Don’t let criticism hold you back. I have been criticised for ‘wanting it all’, but the truth is I want what I believe I deserve - a career I love and a happy family life that I make time to enjoy.
What are your views on the current state of play regarding gender diversity in the UK energy sector?
I love the energy sector and I passionately believe that this industry should feel accessible to everyone, irrespective of gender.
The industry is in a transition and we need to adapt to make the most of the entire talent pool. Taking a modern approach to working and attracting the best, diverse teams is a big part of this. There are plenty of dinosaurs still roaming around in the oil industry, whether it's attitudes, ways of working and problem solving or technology, we need to evolve to survive in a changing world. We will only succeed if we find ways to nurture the alignment of our unconscious with our conscious values to ensure fairness and equality.