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Inspiring Leaders Blog – Reflections and learnings

09 August 2021

About the blog series…

On the 29th April, six female leaders came together to chat and answer questions on our careers, what inspired us, what drove our decision making and many more topics raised by the audience. We weren’t able to get to all of the questions, so we each agreed to take one key question topic from the event and address it. Our next guest blog is by Deirdre Michie OBE, Chief Executive at OGUK…

I’m often asked about my own personal journey into the oil and gas sector. How did I end up in what is often perceived as a male-dominated technical industry? Why did I stay? And most importantly, what advice do I have to share from this journey? I want to explore a few different aspects of my career, and then share some reflections for you on my own key learnings that I have picked up and held on to.

I was initially introduced to the industry by my university professor, who was a former senior counsel at bp. This professor would often regale us with stories about this fascinating and compelling industry, full of dynamic and pioneering individuals who were powering the nation – what wasn’t to like? The picture he painted of the sector sparked a level of curiosity that has stayed with me throughout the entirety of my career.

So, I began my journey at Shell, as a graduate trainee with a law degree.  My path within the company was fairly unconventional, to say the least. I worked in some very diverse roles during my time there, in both the upstream and downstream sectors, in commercial, in communications, in contracting and procurement.

I never really had a great end-game in mind.  I knew I wanted to progress, and presumed things would fall into place and that my career would move ahead – the naivety or arrogance of youth!  A nice steady progression, with no surprises. I felt like I had a good answer whenever anyone asked ‘where do you want to be in 10 years – even though I didn’t quite believe my own words.  In reality, my career took a slightly different path to that which I might have imagined

During this period in our early careers, I think we all inevitably ask ourselves the same challenging questions. Am I doing the right role? Is this the company or organisation I want to work for? Is it better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to be on, rather than halfway up one you don’t? During this period of my career, I found a number of roles that really challenged and stretched me. However, it’s only with hindsight that I appreciated what they did for me in terms of personal and professional development, even if I did not always enjoy them at the time! 

If I have any regret, it’s that I did not immediately understand that life comes in these often challenging phases, and you should be thoughtful about which phase you are in, and make sure you prioritise accordingly – and enjoy accordingly! This piece of advice was given to me by a mentor, and it’s one that stays with me even now.

Throughout my career, I’ve always found mentorship to be a fantastically valuable tool. This is why mentors and support networks are crucial to provide help and insights into your own career journey, and in picking you up when you do fail. These mentors have often experienced these same challenging phases you may find yourself in, they’ve likely asked themselves the same fundamental or superficially questions you may find yourself asking, and crucially, have the experience to support you.

I always thoroughly encourage people to get mentors as they go through their careers.  In fact, people should have many mentors!  I have reaped the benefits from my own as they have provided a safe space to discuss my job and career.  There are lots of different ways to go about getting a mentor.  Asking someone you look up to is a great place to start – I’ve often found that mentors are quite flattered to be asked and they learn almost as much as the mentee. If you are reluctant to ask one directly or are unsure of where to start when looking, there are lots of mentoring schemes that can help.

So, in summary, my reflections and learnings would be – be present in the moment you find yourself in, recognise that everything comes in phases and enjoy it. Through a mentor, learn from their invaluable lived experiences and use this to empower yourself and continue your own personal development. And finally, be sure that no matter how far you soar – humility always remains a key trait – in the good and the bad times!


If you missed the Inspiring Leaders event which took place back in April, catch up here:

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