Strong women; we know them, we are them

two women in personal protective gear at our refinery

What advice would you give your daughter, your niece, a female colleague or friend about entering a male-dominated industry, or the workforce in general, which has been largely a man’s world since the dawn of commerce. After all, it wasn’t until the 1960s that women started to work outside of the home. 

In some areas, we’ve come along way to balance the gender ratio in the workplace. But in many other areas, we have a very long way to go as women are still underrepresented in many industries. 

When Suncor began operations in 1967, the board and executive leadership were entirely male. Now, more than 50 years later, our board consists of 36 per cent women and 35 per cent of Suncor’s senior leaders are female.

To recognize International Women’s Day (March 8), which was first celebrated in 1911 when women and men gathered to campaign for women’s rights, we spoke to some of Suncor’s female workforce to find out what advice they would give to women. Here’s what they had to say:

“First, develop resilience and don’t be afraid of conflict,” says Andrea Decore, Suncor’s VP of Strategy and Corporate Development. “The more senior you become, the more difficult conversations you’ll have, so cultivate your listening skills and be respectful. Show up with confidence coupled with humility.”

Along those same lines, Nathalie Aubrey, the VP of Suncor’s Montreal refinery says that over the years she has found that it is important to “learn to respond instead of reacting.”

seen here working on her property, says learning to respond instead of reacting has served her well over the years.
Nathalie Aubrey, VP of Suncor’s Montreal refinery, seen here working on her property, says learning to respond instead of reacting has served her well over the years. 

Gayathri Shukla, manager of Suncor’s digital mine and strategy, sees International Women’s Day as a time to remember that “women bring diverse perspectives. In a gender-equal world, such perspectives are valued equally, and given the chance to flourish.”

Gayathri’s advice is to know yourself and be true to who you are and “own your narrative. What is the story you tell yourself about your strengths, voice and vision? The way we see ourselves greatly impacts our decisions and influence on others, so it’s important that we take charge of our full and authentic story.”

Sylvie Tran, Suncor’s VP of Environment, Health and Safety, who was the first female drilling engineer to work in the Sahara Desert for BHP Billiton earlier in her career, knows a thing or two about setting one’s own path.

“Think about your career as a journey that is full of choices,” says Sylvie. “There is no one decision that will set your path forever. If you make a decision that you later question or you end up on a different path than intended, there will be opportunities to adjust—your journey will never be linear.”

One final piece of advice to women from Andrea is: “Remember that perfection is overrated. Personally, I don’t think it’s possible to be perfect or to do it all yourself. Women need to be forgiving with themselves. In my experience, you can do a lot of different things at once, but you can’t do it all.”