The Future of Plastics: A Fireside Chat with the Women of Shell Polymers
As part of our commitment to a culture of diversity and inclusion, we’re celebrating the accomplishments and efforts of our talented female employees in a series of interviews.
By Shell Polymers on Mar 04, 2021
We sat down with several women in different roles and stages of their career throughout Shell Polymers to understand their personal experiences and advise future generations of women in the plastics industry.
These inspirational women include:
- Kim McPhillips, Regional Sales Manager
- Tasha Thompson, I.T. Logistics Lead
- Brandi Mitchell, Analytical Chemist
- Georgia Craven, Procurement Manager
- Tobenna Emecheta, Team Lead Instrument & Analyzer
- Komal Balakrishnan, Senior Manager, Brand, Marketing & Technology
Can you tell us a little about your career leading up to your current role?
Kim: I joined Shell in 2019 as an experienced new hire with over 30 years in the polymer industry, in which I held a variety of roles. These included sales, product management, market management, commercial director, business director, chief of staff, and supply chain roles. I was running the ethylene business in Calgary, Alberta, Canada before I transitioned to Shell Polymers in July 2020.
Get to Know Kim McPhillips, Regional Sales Manager
Tasha: I also joined the Shell team as an experienced new hire, with over 20 years in I.T. and technology-related roles. I’ve been in the trading world for 22 years and a part of the Shell family for six and a half years. While I was originally hired into the trading and supply space, an I.T. reorganization brought me into the Shell Polymers project.
Brandi: I’ve been with Shell Polymers since March 2020. I’m an Analytical Chemist and I’ll be working in the quality control lab once it’s up and running. While the polyethylene plant is in construction, I’m laying the groundwork for product testing. Prior to joining Shell Polymers, I worked in the polypropylene space, primarily with catalysts and end-use products.
Tobenna: Even though I started my role with Shell Polymers in January 2021, I’ve worked on various projects and systems throughout Shell. Prior to joining Shell Polymers, I was working for Nigeria Liquid Natural Gas (NLNG), a Shell non-operated joint venture, and was also on an international assignment with Shell Project and Technology (P&T) in the Netherlands. My first time working with Shell Chemicals was supporting the project in Germany and France in functional safety. My last role in Nigeria LNG was as Head of Instrumentation before transitioning to the United States for this role with Shell Polymers.
Get to Know Tobenna Emecheta, Team Lead Instrument and Analyzer
Georgia: I’ve been with Shell for 22 years. Out of those 22 years, 15 were spent working with downstream operations. In late 2016, I joined Shell Polymers as a Procurement Manager. I was proud to be the first person brought on to lead contracts. I’m excited to play an instrumental role in creating the contract strategy and selecting the third-party suppliers that will support Shell Polymers. Even though most of my experience is in refining, I jumped at the opportunity to dive into the chemicals space, especially since it was a greenfield project.
Komal: I joined Shell in 2017, after almost 11 years working for an oilfield services company. My career was at a point where I needed to leave to progress, and I was also looking for a more positive culture. The opportunity from Shell was too good to pass up, as the chance to build a major business for one of the largest brands in the world only comes once in a lifetime. I had spoken to many people about Shell, and not a single person had anything bad to say. Almost four years later, and I’m glad I joined as this team goes above and beyond to show care. We aren’t perfect, but no team is, however this team is serious when we mean we put people first. I have experienced that many times personally, and I cannot wait for customers to do so also.
Get to Know Komal Balakrishnan, Senior Manager, Brand, Marketing & Technology
What pushed you into the polymer industry?
Kim: Back in the day, the plastic industry was much smaller. I started in the industry right out of college after landing a job in the polyethylene business and my career trajectory just took off from there.
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Brandi: Right out of college, I worked with organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) and this mixture of organic and inorganic materials was my first experience with polymers. Being able to work with liquids and gases that aren’t much on their own but mixed created and extremely useful polymer products was truly amazing to me. It’s such a wide field and the chemistry of it was exciting to explore. After that initial experience, I moved to a company that worked with polypropylene and that’s where I learned about the applications of plastics—they’re in everything we do all day long and we don’t think about it unless it’s our job to think about it.
“Plastics are in everything we do all day long and we don’t think about it unless it’s our job to think about it.”Brandi Mitchell, Analytical Chemist
Georgia: Unlike my fellow panelists, I’m not an engineer. Therefore, my motivation to join the industry stemmed from my kids. I have three kids, all in their early twenties now, and they’ve always challenged me for working in fossil fuels. Since Shell Polymers is committed to produce polymers in a responsible and sustainable way, I thought this could be my way to be a part of this green movement and make a difference. My motivation was to support a company that is involved in something that is important to my family.
Get to Know Georgia Craven, Procurement Manager
Tobenna: As an electrical electronics engineer, the bulk of my working life has been in the Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) field - turning gas into liquid. I got involved with Shell Polymer (then the Franklin Project) when it was just in the project phase. Turning gas into plastic was interesting and changing substances in that matter was exciting. Plastic is so valuable and in everything around us, so the work in the polyethylene industry is meaningful because it affects everyone in some way.
Komal: A large part of the motivator was getting out of a negative culture in my previous role. After some discouraging experiences and a stagnant career path, I was ready for a new company with a better culture and more opportunities to grow. I was always the only woman on the team, and never saw any movement in my career, even though people were always moving and coming in above me. When the opportunity at Shell Polymers came around, I could immediately tell it was different. The four lines of direct reports from my position to the top were all women. That was the complete reverse of the industry standard I experienced.
Have you experienced progress towards more opportunities for women in the industry?
Kim: I think there’s progress in the mindset, but there are still a lot more real-world gains to be made. It’s not just the female point, but the diversity point as a whole as well. What I’m seeing at Shell is that we’re making progress. We need to understand that it takes time and we have to applaud the successes as we see them. Things will never be perfect immediately.
Tasha: Yes, definitely. In previous years, I’ve been called just “she,” “her,” and even “gal,” rather than by name. As the workplace has become more diverse, I’ve seen that begin to change. I’ve been really proud of the objectives and changes Shell has been making for diversity and inclusion. But for a Houston-based team, we’re doing well and we need to be the standard bearers around this kind of inclusivity and diversity. We have an incredible team and it has more women on it than I’ve ever worked with before. It’s usually a male-domtinated field, so it’s been nice to work with this many women.
“I’ve been really proud of the objectives and changes Shell has been making for diversity and inclusion.”Tasha Thompson, I.T. Logistics Lead
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Brandi: I have seen a lot of work in this industry towards better diversity and inclusion. It’s new to talk about so it has to be consciously brought up, then people need to have continuous conversations about it, then it has to get put into practice. Especially with the new generation coming in, they’ve grown up with diversity and inclusion as a focus and with their push for change, I think it will be a lot better than it has been and even is now.
Get to Know Brandi Mitchell, Analytical Chemist
Georgia: There has been progress. In many ways it’s changed and in many ways it’s stayed the same. What’s encouraging for me is speaking with young professionals that I mentor about their challenges and seeing their willingness to have that open dialogue. Nothing changes if people don’t talk about what is a challenge or what is halting them. Today’s Shell is a different Shell than the one I joined 20 years ago. It’s encouraging and I think that change will continue to happen because people are talking openly and honestly about it which is important.
Tobenna: Some things have definitely changed and some things have not. I am still the only female engineer on my team, so there is still some work to be done in getting more females engaged in engineering. However, in my earlier years at my previous company, I remember my female coworkers struggling with the company when they had children and needed to manage both their career and their children. Now, it has a child care facility, so that’s a big step in terms of progress.
“Yes there has definitely been progress and the fact that Shell Polymers is led by strong women like Laura Chamorro and Hilary Mercer is proof. However, we still have a lot of work to do.”Komal Balakrishnan, Senior Manager, Brand, Marketing & Technology
Komal: Yes there has definitely been progress and the fact that Shell Polymers is led by strong women like Laura Chamorro and Hilary Mercer is proof. However, we still have a lot of work to do, especially when it comes to diversity. It won’t happen overnight, but it’s encouraging that the conversation is happening daily now for the first time in many of our careers. I’ll admit that as a woman of color, the extra thick glass ceilings get frustrating, but I have to remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Until then, I continue to use my voice and my position to affect change the best way I can.