By Sarah Byrne
AS A REGIONAL Director of GE Oil & Gas, Mary Hackett is responsible for leading the business and setting strategy. Ms Hackett is a passionate advocate for women, and has mentored over 50 female employees during her time at GE. In addition, she is an executive sponsor of the GE Women’s Network and in 2015 Ms Hackett was named in the Australian Financial Review and Westpac’s 100 Women of Influence Awards.
- What attracted you to engineering, and in particular mechanical engineering?
My older sister encouraged me enormously. However, my older brothers were already doing engineering and I knew if they could do it, then I could too.
Interestingly, research shows the majority of female engineers have either a close male relative or role model, which seems to allow permission or validation to progress into a non-traditional role.
- Was the oil and gas sector an area that you always wanted to work in?
Not at all. Working in oil and gas was very much a function of fate. It was the first opportunity that came my way and the interest just deepened. The vastness and diversity of the industry has held me captive ever since.
- What have been some of the highlights of your career to date?
The best days have been those moments when the impossible becomes possible, when that project ‘they’ said could never be done takes form or when a team binds in such a way that it is a special experience with a special result.
- Are there any mentors who have helped you specifically in your career?
Mentors and coaches have been critical – whether it was purely well timed advice or those who weren’t afraid to give me a reality check every now and then.
- How important is it to have mentors?
There’s this belief when you look at a successful professional or athlete that their skill is innate and it’s just pure talent, which of course is nonsense.
Everyone needs someone to help them with those hidden weaknesses and even over exercised strengths. We constantly build on what has come before, so it’s important to read, to learn constantly, to model on others with moderation, and to continually seek feedback and guidance.
- Is that specifically so for a woman?
The only issue women have in this area is there aren’t always female role models available. Seeking out a female mentor who has succeeded by remaining true to their gender is very helpful.
- Do you believe it is more difficult as a woman to get into engineering and the oil and gas sector?
Getting into the oil and gas sector generally isn’t the problem. However, progressing in the industry can sometimes be a challenge because a female leader doesn’t fit the paradigm. It will take time to eliminate that innate bias we all have.
- What advice would you give to other women looking to join the oil and gas industry?
It is a truly rewarding career. Focus on the upside of being that breath of fresh air and diversity to every team you enter and see it as your unique addition.
I am of a firm belief that as the balance improves, the benefits will become so obvious there will be a tipping point to move the general opinion to seeking out balance.
- Do you believe there is a place for special programs to help young women enter and stay in the oil and gas industry?
We need to use ever lever at our means to redress the imbalance. It’s through lots of angles that we shift long held traditions.
- What more can the industry do to get women interested in the oil and gas sector and to ensure they reach their potential and take on leadership roles?
There needs to be more conscious effort around targeting women for senior roles and ensuring the development mechanism is in place to support them.
The concern is often that the pipeline doesn’t exist to feed the senior roles.
However, regardless of what the diversity gap is – whether it be diversity in age, race, sexuality or gender – a conscious effort to extend and then support the individual will go a long way toward creating role models and debunking long held myths and gender stereotypes.
- Have you come across any programs or initiatives that you believe have made a significant impact for women in this sector or women in leadership roles in general?
Yes, there have been lots of individual efforts which have a great effect. Filling senior roles proactively within the last 18 months in GE O&G has led to a huge shift in acceptance and mindset.
Mentoring, sponsoring and coaching is critical to managing leadership gaps and is important for any leader, but more so for non-traditional candidates because any failure is often seen as a failure of the diverse group as opposed to the individual.
- What mentor programs or groups are you involved in?
I have a large number of mentees but the program I enjoy most is mentoring groups where we have group mentoring for women on remote sites in very non-traditional roles. It’s fun and massively rewarding.
- With regards to your career in oil and gas, what is the next goal you would like to achieve?
My career continues to be a series of goals on many levels, whether it be short or long term. My ongoing focus remains on realising powerful workforce potential. Each new role affords me that opportunity.
- What are your top 5 tips for succeeding in the oil and gas industry?
Get your hands dirty on site early. Embrace technology. Jump out of your comfort zone regularly. Take the job no one else wants to do.