Lighting up Women’s Careers in the Energy Field

High expectations circle women workers, and career development can conflict with parenting. Because there were fewer female models and support group in workplaces to develop science, technology, engineering and math interest in the past, young girls now sometimes feel discouraged from pursuing STEM degrees. In traditionally male-dominated fields, some women have to make way for the next generations to come.

Dawn Constantin, head of partnerships and analytics at BP Energy Company, paved her way through the multinational organization, offering a perspective from a job where she was frequently the only female in boardroom meetings. She is part of many initiatives at the BP that support women, diversity and inclusion. A big encourager of young girls taking on STEM classes, she is the parent, with a stay-at-home husband, of a 7-year-old daughter.

Diversity Executive had the opportunity to discuss Constantin’s dynamic career and her experienced perspective. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

In a field that’s been historically male-dominated, what was it like at the beginning, and can you tell us a little about your career trajectory?

I have never been a shy person. However, when I entered the workforce and the trading industry as a young female professional, I had to learn to be confident and relate to the people I worked with. Admittedly, several of my co-workers at the time were very seasoned males, therefore I had to adapt my style to relate to them and become part of the team. This is where my interests in sports helped — often times on Monday mornings when my male counterparts were discussing the weekend’s hockey, baseball or football games, I could contribute to the conversation because I had watched the same games. You have to be able to speak up for yourself while also advocating and marketing your skill set. I learned to be vocal and promote myself early on in my career, and that has been very helpful to me.

I started my career as a facilities engineer working for a natural gas pipeline company. I quickly learned that I was not suited to sit in front of a computer running hydraulic modeling simulations all day, so I explored other opportunities within the company. Soon after, I joined the strategy and planning team as a market analyst, where I learned about North American natural gas supply, demand and pricing dynamics. I found my passion: The energy markets are like one big puzzle to solve, and I was enthralled with all the moving parts. I grew as a subject matter expert and a leader, and took my experience to BP in early 2000.

Dawn ConstantinI currently serve as head of partnerships and analytics at BP Energy Company and am based in Houston, Texas. I work within BP’s Integrated Supply and Trading, or IST, business unit, one of the world’s largest physical traders of oil and gas. Our team works in close partnership with the upstream and downstream business units and provides the commercial face for BP’s trading activities.

Did you have any female models to look up to? What are some good qualities a model in the workplace can have?

When I first started my career, I admit that I did not have a female role model to look up to in a leadership role. As I was making the transition from university to working life, I relied a lot on my female co-workers to share experiences and lessons learned to help me navigate the corporate world. In addition, as I was growing my career as an energy market subject matter expert, I was often the lone female in the room at various business meetings. I knew that I worked in a largely male-dominated industry, and I recognized that I would likely have many male bosses and colleagues over my career. I sought male and female mentors both inside and outside of the organization to be my sounding board for questions and career guidance.

In my leadership role today, I strive to be that role model for younger female employees who are navigating their careers. I believe a good mentor asks many questions but provides few answers, instead leaving the mentee to drive to their own conclusions and determine their way forward. I remember how frustrating it was for me to initially experience that from my mentors, but it is extremely empowering to be introspective at times and work through issues to achieve your goals.

I think mentorship for women in energy and IST is very important. Women relate well to each other, and it is valuable when you create a safe space where one can share feelings or concerns. I also think women can learn from women just as well as they can from men. I encourage people to have more than one mentor so they can experience working with individuals with many different styles and approaches.

What are some of the ways BP has made the workplace more inclusive to diversity, as well as working mothers?

BP supports working parents through a variety of channels, including maternity/paternity leave, agile working and flex hours, on-site childcare and even “bring your child to work day.” The company also supports business resource groups, or BRGs, for working parents, including “Working Parents” and “Parents to Be.” The BRGs are voluntary, employee-initiated and driven groups open to all interested employees across the organization and are aligned with BP’s broader diversity and inclusion organizational strategy.

One of the largest and most active BRGs at BP is the Women’s BRG. Whether it’s hosting women-centric events such as the Global Connectivity Event, globally bringing knowledge and recognition to International Women’s Day or regularly holding focus groups and roundtable dialogues to proactively understand and regularly address the concerns and challenges facing women in the oil and gas industry, this group works with HR to advance, retain, develop, share and inspire women every day.

In my marketing & trading business unit, employees have the opportunity to get involved in our Diversity, Inclusion & Meritocracy Council, either as a member or as a champion within their respective teams. We have also created a Women’s Leadership Group, which meets on a monthly basis to discuss issues relevant to career development, such as self-advocacy, speaking up and presentation skills, among others. Initially the attendees were female employees who sought a safe space to share personal stories, but the group has evolved to include male colleagues as well.

How has the arrangement with your husband as a stay-home dad worked out? Any tips for others who might look to do the same?

After moving to Houston for my career a decade ago, my husband effectively retired from his career as an industrial salesman and now stays home with our 7-year-old daughter. We have been very fortunate to be able to have one parent stay at home and maintain our family lifestyle with one income. My husband and my daughter have a wonderful relationship as a result. I could not have accomplished what I have in my career without his support; I am able to be focused at the office or travel for the job that I love to do, knowing that he is available to respond to our daughter’s needs. The most important piece of advice that I can impart to working parents is to “find your support system” — whether it is friends, family, neighbors, nannies or daycare providers, for single parents or dual-working parents. The value of knowing that your children are cared for while you pursue your career aspirations cannot be understated.

How can we further encourage young girls to pursue STEM degrees?

The best way to encourage young girls to pursue STEM degrees is to expose them early in their lives to female leaders with STEM degrees; to help them recognize that it is OK to like math and sciences in their pre-teens because it can lead them to achieve whatever it is they desire to do. These young girls use math and science in their everyday lives; exposing them to role models who have followed their passion in this area can be empowering. I am passionate about the advancement of women and am committed to helping young girls pursue STEM degrees. I have a chemical engineering degree that I believe has opened many doors for me in my career. I want these young girls to recognize the value of a STEM education and the doors it could open in their future career paths. I truly believe that we can all do whatever it is that we want to do in life — we just need help to believe in ourselves.  

Recruiting top female talent doesn’t start upon graduation; it begins much earlier. BP works with schools to encourage more young people to pursue a career in STEM subjects and we have an extensive program of activities with universities to encourage STEM graduates to entire the oil and gas industry. Events such as BP’s Discovery Days expose university students to the broad opportunities and diversity of ideas that make the energy industry such an exciting career choice. IST Discovery Days are also designed for students in their first (freshman) or second (sophomore) year of university or college where they can learn about the exciting challenges that we face, meet recent graduates, hear about the different work streams and walk the trading floor.