By Shell Polymers on Mar 05, 2021
We sat down with several women in a variety of different roles and stages of their careers throughout Shell Polymers. We asked them to share their career challenges and achievements to encourage and advise future generations of women in the plastics/technology industry.
These inspirational women include:
- Kim McPhillips, Regional Sales Manager
- Tasha Thompson, I.T. Logistics Lead
- Brandi Mitchell, Analytical Chemist
- Adriana Velasquez, Senior Technical Service Engineer | Non-Pressure Pipe & Rotomolding
- Georgia Craven, Procurement Manager
- Tobenna Emecheta, Team Lead Instrument & Analyzer
- Komal Balakrishnan, Senior Manager, Brand, Market & Technology
What kind of challenges have you faced as a woman in the industry?
Kim: I faced a pivotal moment in my career that made me think about where I wanted it to go. I was working in Latin America, and my employer pulled me back into the U.S. It was a new position, and I was happy to have it, but I was also enjoying my time in Latin America. The company said they were concerned about my safety since I was a single woman. Later on, a male colleague got the opportunity to go to Europe and mentioned he was initially supposed to be going to Latin America. It turned out that the company wasn’t worried about his safety because he was a man and had a family. That made it clear to me that things would be different just because I’m a woman. Because of this experience, whenever people think I have a weakness because I’m a woman, I want to prove them wrong.
“Whenever people think I have a weakness because I’m a woman, I want to prove them wrong.”Kim McPhillips, Regional Sales Manager
Tasha: Being a woman of color, I struggle with incidents where there is an obvious bias, and I have to figure out where the bias is coming from. I also always have to prove that I’m the expert my resume says I am, while other colleagues are immediately referred to as an expert because that’s what it says on paper. Every new project I came onto required a fight for recognition when it comes to my leadership experience, too. No matter what, I don’t let that hold me down. I keep a positive attitude, and I don’t allow those biases to affect who I am and how I feel about myself. I know who I am, what I’m capable of, and that if I keep speaking out it’ll break through.
Brandi: As a chemist, I frequently deal with the perception people have of plastics. Family members and friends love to bring that up, and I think it’s important to highlight the positives that plastics provide. For example, the increased fuel efficiency in cars afforded by lightweighting or making your food safer. These essential benefits cannot be stressed enough. We need to convey the excellent advantages plastics afford in our daily lives. We also need to talk about how Shell Chemicals is putting time into making plastics more recyclable or the industry focus on making better products out of recycled plastics. A focus on our part in the process but also what all individuals can be doing in terms of sustainability can create big changes.
Tobenna: Work/life balance with regards to my children has always been the biggest challenge. It can be hard to manage a career around children. It's gotten more doable as they've grown up, but it was tough to work as an engineer while also being on call during nights when they were babies. Not to mention that I traveled worldwide for my previous job while raising a 1-year-old and a 5-year-old. A nanny and supportive friends helped during those situations.
Georgia: I agree with Tobenna. Being a working mom and balancing work and family responsibilities is a serious challenge. Setting boundaries is essential and an excellent first step. Another challenge I’ve had to deal with in my career is equity as a woman of color. When I started over 20 years ago, I felt like I couldn't bring my whole self to work. I wasn’t always welcomed or heard in meetings either. It has changed a lot, but it’s been an uphill battle in my career.
Adriana: One of the biggest challenges on the job was saying ‘no’ to an attractive position that didn’t fit my work/life balance aspirations. I had 3 children under the age of 5 at that time and the role demanded >70% travel, I was scared that saying “no” would hinder my career growth but learned that I have to stand up for what is right for me as a whole both professionally and personally. A mentor helped me focus on my priorities and skills, giving me the courage to speak openly with company leaders about why I turned down the position. Unfortunately, although some leaders understood and applauded me for my decision, some others didn’t.
“I was scared that saying “no” to attractive opportunities would hinder my career growth but learned that I have to stand up for what is right for me as a whole both professionally and personally..”Adriana Velasquez, Senior Technical Service Engineer | Non-Pressure Pipe & Rotomolding
Komal: Getting a work/life balance has been a challenge, but i would like to reframe it to be life work balance as my family comes first. I am lucky to be with strong women like these in a company that allows me to be flexible and put family first. Another challenge has been that digital technology has always come easy to me. I credit this to being raised by my computer-savvy parents. However, that can lead to a period of time as I wait for others to see what’s special about a technology I understood right away. It’s great to hear that the work our small team is doing is considered visionary, but I’m also aware that I still need to collaborate with others to get the work done collectively.
What is the biggest achievement or highlight of your career to-date?
Kim: I could highlight a lot of things, but all of them come back to the achievement of being brave. My bravery is what created who I am today. It’s what helped me live and work in Latin America, move companies, and move countries. All those moments have been intense and stressful, but they were also exciting and rewarding. Some people are comfortable doing the same thing every day, but that just wasn’t me. Fueled by this determination, I’ve been able to travel the world and experience it up close, which has been amazing.
Tasha: Seeing the industry’s become more inclusive is a real highlight. I feel personally blessed to be where I am. I would’ve never imagined it as a Black girl growing up. My great-grandmother was born into slavery and I’m just a few generations removed from that. To see the progression from my history to where I am today, I am incredibly proud.
All of the women here are trailblazers. We’re some of the first women in our field. Hopefully, the next generation does not face the same uphill challenges. I didn’t have a mentor or someone who I could get wisdom from. I hope we can all help that change.
“We’re some of the first women in our field. Hopefully, the next generation does not face the same uphill challenges.”Tasha Thompson, I.T Logistics Lead
Adriana: There are a lot of professional achievements that I could point out, but they all started with the most important one, and the one that changed my life. I was born and raised in Colombia and I had to see my mom struggle financially raising 3 daughters as a single mother since my older sister and I were in high school and my little sister was still in elementary school. Universities are very expensive in Colombia, I knew going to college would be a challenge, but it was also my goal not only for me but also to help my mom, so instead of being discouraged, I worked very hard to make it happen, I worked nights and weekends as a waitress and at a call center, I drove a taxi. I faced an additional challenge because some of my classes were in English and so were the text books and I didn’t know the language, so I worked hard, and paid for a year in England where I studied to learn English while working at the same time, all with the focus of getting my degree. I know it was a lot of work back then, but I did it, and I am very proud of it. The best learning I had and the way I approach everything I do in life is: setting myself stretch goals and putting a plan in place to achieve them. There is nothing you can’t do, and when people doubt I can do something, I always prove them wrong.
Brandi: At my last position, I saw an opportunity to make a change in the catalyst we were using on our products. I ran with that project and ended up getting three patents out of it. I was proud of that work because I dug into it just out of interest, which led to some great work.
Georgia: I have to say it’s working on the Shell Polymers project. Being a part of this greenfield project with the size and impact it will have on both Shell and this region of the country is by far my best achievement.
Tobenna: In my previous role, I was the first female head of instrumentation. However, my most outstanding achievement is being the first external person appointed to Regional Subject Matter Expert for Shell globally!
Komal: The biggest achievement at Polymers has been the change I have seen in the focus on the customer experience, and the brand team plays a big part in that. We have worked with our colleagues to bring a B2C mindset to B2B, and it’s been exciting to see the opportunities that we are exploring with that. My current role as a team leader has been fulfilling as I get to bring my vision to life with a team of incredible professionals. I hope to continue to grow as a leader to be an example for other women of color, but also as an example for my own girls, so they can see that they too can do anything.