KUCHING: In celebrating International Women’s Day today, The Borneo Post spoke to Siti Hurrairah Sulaiman, vice president (VP) of Technical Asset Operations, Shell plc on her experiences in the male dominated oil and gas (O&G) industry.
Siti is based in Kuala Lumpur, originally from Kuching, Sarawak and is a Shell scholar, graduating from Imperial College London with a first-class degree in Mechanical Engineering.
She has been in the oil and gas industry since 1994, started her career as an operation engineer in Shell Malaysia’s upstream business and has since broadened herself in many different areas which include project management, upstream development planning, human resource, business planning, economics, strategy and commercial.
She moved to Shell UK based in Aberdeen, Scotland in 2001 as a development planner & economist, supporting the exploration team in the UK North Sea and returned to Malaysia in 2004 to assume the role of manager for the Economics and Planning group in Shell Malaysia Upstream.
Subsequently, she was appointed as the commercial and strategy manager and successfully led the team in completing and delivering many commercial projects and initiatives for Shell Malaysia Upstream.
In 2011, she was appointed as the first female Malaysian asset manager and became the director of Sabah Shell Petroleum Company Limited, accountable for the upstream oil and gas operations in Sabah, Malaysia and responsible for managing a team of more than 350 people in various offshore and onshore locations.
Siti moved to London to join Shell Trading & Supply in Sept 2015, assuming the role of General Manager Global Operations Commercial Services leading a global organisation of 670 people and accountable for key activities ranging from Trading Contracts, Demurrage & Claims management, Product Quality advisory, road transport scheduling of oil product delivery, all the way to driving operational excellence activities across Shell Trading and Supply operational assets.
In 2019, she was nominated by Shell UK for the Asian Women of Achievement (UK) external award. She then moved to Integrated Gas business in 2020 to assume the role of Vice President of Integrated Gas Ventures East and accountable for a diverse portfolio of Shell Joint Ventures gas assets in four different countries in the East i.e. Brunei, Malaysia, China and India.
She represented Shell as Director on the Board of Brunei LNG (Brunei), Shell Middle Distillate Synthesis (Malaysia) and the ex-BG companies (India).
Effective August 1, 2021, Siti is the VP Technical Asset Operations, leading a large global technical community of approximately 1,400 staff that serves as the delivery engine for technical operations
support to many different businesses across the Shell portfolio and a key enabler for Shell’s Powering Progress strategy.
Siti is married to Feisol Sobeng and is blessed with three daughters, aged 24, 20 and 16. Siti loves to cook and spends her free time outdoors, hiking and walking.
In an exclusive interview with The Borneo Post, Siti shared her experiences moving up the ladder and what she has learned throughout her journey at Shell:
Why do you think it is important to celebrate International Women’s Day?
Siti: It’s not just because it’s important for me personally as a woman but it’s a full recognition of all the contributions from the women out there. Women perform many roles, be it in the family or society and we have seen many successful women who have significantly contributed towards the socio-economic and political development of many different countries across the world.
There are so many great stories around women, many who have been successful in progressing a lot of different agendas, certainly so much to be proud of and to be recognised.
Hence, it’s timely that we celebrate International Women’s Day so that we can take a moment to reflect, to learn and importantly to support each other.
Have you faced any barriers in your career due to being a woman? If so, how did you overcome them?
Siti: I have seen many different aspects of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) at play throughout my 28 years of career in Shell.
I started off in the upstream operations, which is a very male-dominated space, especially many years ago when I started my career. During that time, it was very rare for ladies to go to offshore platforms for instance, or even have technical or engineering qualifications as their background.
So, I was quite nervous and not certain whether I would enjoy my role in the technical space. However, I was willing to give it a try and to move outside my comfort zone. I was lucky that I had a lot of support from my colleagues, my peers, my line managers and superiors.
Acknowledging how challenging it was for me being a female in a male dominated world, some of them went the extra mile to ensure that I was maximising my learning and exposure whilst working in the technical field.
What was encouraging at that time as well, was the fact that Shell was already welcoming more diversity from a gender perspective in the organisation and aimed to have more female technical engineers being developed and being hired into Shell.
That in a way, became an opportunity for me to really drive the gender diversity agenda within the team that I was in and to also work with my other female colleagues to further develop the agenda in relations to female talent progression and development in Shell.
Now, all these did not come without any challenges, in fact, there were plenty of challenges. As I progressed in the organisation over time, I realised that we’ve got to continue demonstrating our willingness to learn and to listen.
And in order for us to be able to role model and lead effectively, women leaders need to be able to work collaboratively with others across the organisation, embracing diversity and hence, promoting trust and fostering long lasting relationships.
How can we encourage more women to pursue senior leadership roles in their career?
Siti: The first thing I would start with is having an ambition and really taking charge of your own career. It is important for all of us to recognise our strengths and further leverage on them.
At the same time, we also need to work on our development areas. We all have strengths and weaknesses, hence it’s important that we recognise both sides, leverage our strengths to the fullest while addressing our development needs.
It’s also about continuously learning. It’s about being curious and not afraid to seek feedback and support and having the determination to succeed. Another key thing for me is adaptability, and this is really based on my own experience of taking on diverse roles in the last 28 years in Shell. It’s the ability to quickly adapt to new environment and to embrace new culture.
I know it’s easier said than done but if we want to be fast and agile, we need to also be flexible and be prepared to adjust and go through the steep learning curve and build new relationships and networks.
It can be hard at times but it’s certainly worth it because that’s how you learn and that’s how you effectively explore new territories.
Why do you think diversity in the workplace is so important?
Siti: For me, diversity in the workplace is important because it will enable the organisation to maximise its performance. Every single company, every single organisation would have their own objectives and whatever the companies’ strategies are, having diversity in any organisation would certainly enable the organisation to be successful in achieving its key objectives.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s not just about having gender diversity but it’s also about having people from different backgrounds, races, nationalities, etc. This is what diversity is all about and every organisation will certainly benefit from it.
I personally believe in the value of diversity and that is the reason why, from a Shell perspective, we are pushing really hard for this whole diversity agenda and we are setting up a very explicit target on gender diversity as well as having other forms of diversity metrics.
What is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking of developing their careers in the oil and gas industry?
Siti: Having an ambition and knowing what you want in life is very important and having the determination is also key. Meaning to say, once you’ve set your ambition, do recognise that it’s going to be a long-term journey and throughout that journey there will certainly be ups and downs.
There will be challenges, there will be times that you feel like giving up but having the resilience is going to be very important and what it means is you’ve got to be prepared, when you make mistakes.
When you make mistakes, you need to bounce back very quickly and learn from the mistakes and not be ashamed about sharing that as well. Reflecting and sharing openly key learnings from the mistakes that you have made would enable you to learn a lot faster and help to mitigate the risk of making the same mistakes in the future.
Additionally, throughout that journey towards your goal, or to your “point C” as I call it, there will be times when you will be celebrating. You will be looking back and saying “I’m really proud of the things that I’ve achieved”.
Do not hesitate to share that experience, the great experience, the best practices that you might have had, that enabled you to actually deliver something that’s great. Through this, you can spread that learning across and help others, be it female or male colleagues, while you progress in the organisation.
Also, I would say ‘don’t be afraid’. I use this term in the context of career, but it’s just to illustrate my point that we should not be afraid to take risks and try out new territories.
Don’t narrow down your options too soon and be flexible. Plan while you can. You should be setting your personal goals not just short term but also long term, for example, besides saying “I want to go for that role next” you should also think broader and aim for a senior role in a couple of years down the road.
Finally, you’ve got to inject some form of flexibility as well in your planning because sometimes different opportunities might come knocking on your door during that whole journey and if you are too rigid about your plans, you might miss a fantastic opportunity that could open up doors to many different areas of enriching experiences and valuable exposure.