Watt Women Industry panel: Pandemic Edition

The start of semester kicked off with the first of our Be Future Made: Global Industry Panel Series spanning across our three campus locations in Edinburgh, Malaysia and Dubai. The theme of the panel was ‘Pandemic Edition’ where our panellists discuss how life has been adapted from a personal and business standpoint.

This series of panels hopes to unite female students from all over the world to meet and listen to influential women in science and engineering answer key questions.

Without further ado, let’s meet our fantastic panellists:

Leigh-Ann Russell FREng, FEI, Senior Vice President Procurement, BP (UK)

Leigh-Ann Russell is the senior vice president, Procurement for bp. In this role, Leigh-Ann is accountable for maximising the value from around $30 billion in third party annual spend through a safe, ethical and competitive supply chain.

In her previous role as Vice President of Technical Functions and Performance in BP’s Wells organisation, she led the safety, engineering and operations function together with the business support function for BP’s global wells business.

A diversity champion within and outside of BP, Leigh-Ann has been a long-time supporter of gender balance in the Energy Industry. Leigh-Ann holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering and is a Chartered Petroleum engineer. She is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering as well as the Energy Institute. She currently resides in London with her daughter.

Victoria Laila Neill, Fourth Year Undergraduate Chemical Engineer, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh (UK)

Victoria was named one of the Top 10 Female Undergraduates in the UK 2020 after making it to the final of the TargetJobs UK awards, in association with Rolls-Royce. After losing her father to a brain tumour in 2018, Victoria pioneered news campaigns to increase mental health support, influencing the government to invest £20 million into student services. She was appointed the Lead Health & Wellbeing Ambassador at Heriot-Watt University due to this.

Victoria is a recipient of the Engineering Leaders Scholarship from the Royal Academy of Engineering, awarded to students with the potential to become influential leaders Victoria travelled to Houston, Texas to complete an internship with Syngenta, experiencing different aspects of the business and shadowing an RAEng fellow; Joan Cordiner. She was also invited to conduct an individual research project in Kuala Lumpur at the Heriot-Watt campus on the production and utilization of Bio-CNG in association with the Malaysian Government.

Victoria also uses her role as a STEM ambassador to promote women in STEM leadership, delivering open day talks to hundreds of prospective students and conducting outreach sessions at high schools. She is the Vice-President for the Chemical Engineering society and the Executive for the Watt-Women in Stem Society. She uses her positions to raise the profile of women in engineering.

Pragya Mathur, IT Project Manager at Canon Emirates (Dubai)

I am an IT Project Manager with nearly 13 years of experience in project delivery and quality. Having worked with global organizations like Dun and Bradstreet, Royal Bank of Scotland, Emirates NBD, and Canon, enabled me to gain experience working with multi-cultural and cross-functional teams. I have hands on experience in working on business continuity, transaction banking and most recently in document management and business process enhancements projects.

I am passionate about leading and motivating project teams to work towards a higher level of productivity. My work approach emphasizes the importance of trust, cohesion, fairness, empathy, and goodwill to achieve the overall success of projects.

On a personal front, I am a mother of a 5-year-old talkative boy and also a yoga enthusiast.

Datin Lim Min Hui, Assistant General Manager & Senior Engineering Manager, Ranhill Water Technologies Sdn Bhd (Malaysia)

Datin Lim Min Hui has over than 14 years of professional experiences in engineering of designing plant in water treatment industry. She started her career with Ranhill Water Technologies Sdn Bhd and has been involved in water, wastewater, sewage, desalination and reclamation treatment project in China, Thailand, Malaysia, India and Indonesia to plan and conduct professional engineering work, and developed process designs. Over the years, she has worked as technology specialist with water operator companies, industrial estate developers, oil and gas companies, as well as government entities. Her experiences cover a wide range from technical and commercial proposal to detailed engineering to commissioning to production improvement and troubleshooting for related water processes and technologies.

Lim Min Hui obtained her Bachelor of Chemical Engineering (First Class Hons) from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia in 2006. She is also a graduate engineer of Board Engineers of Malaysia (BEM) and graduate member of the Institution of Engineers, Malaysia (IEM). She is currently the Assistant General Manager and also leading the Engineering Department as Senior Engineering Manager. Apart from engineering works, she does involve in the commercial and business development activities to establish business connection. She is actively involves in sustainability exercise in the company, promoting sustainable development. She involved in various seminar, international conferences, workshops and trainings in Malaysia and Thailand.

**these responses have been paraphrased to sum up some of the main points **

Q: How has your business and working life adapted to the changes due to Covid?

VN (Victoria Laila Neill): This year sees a significant shift to more online-based learning with some exams swapped to continuously assessed assignments. I’ve noticed a big shift in the way we approach group work through online meetings and discussion boards.

Importantly, the university has put an emphasis on health and well-being for students and the sports union has worked hard to allow the sports teams to continue training.

LR (Leigh-Ann Russell): BP’s offshore workforce has been continuing to work in the field. We keep these teams safe by adding measures like asking the teams to quarantine for two weeks before going offshore but this is not sustainable in the long-run because of the huge commitment that employees have given to be away from their families even longer than usual.

For those working in the office, all BP employees have been working from home since February and later on will be starting a hybrid model to begin returning to the office.

PM (Pragya Mathur): Online work in a global company can pose new challenges like online meetings over 4 different time zones. People have adapted and learned to used digital platforms and on-site engineers continue to work safely with new regulations in place.

There is a new mindset in the office, where we need to be mindful of social distancing and limiting the number of participants in a meeting room.

LMH (Lim Min Hui): Malaysia has not been hit as bad as western areas with the pandemic. We are still mostly working in the office like normal. There is a screening at the main entrance to the office that we need to walk through every morning.

Q: How effective has support been from the Government and your company?

LMH: The Malaysian Government is keen to invest more in clean infrastructure post-pandemic and with hygiene a top priority the need for high-quality water treatment has grown.

LR: Working from home poses new challenges, juggling the new blend of family and work-life in one can be stressful -sometimes my dog joins me in calls! I’m proud of BP’s emphasis on mental health, with their partnership with the mental health charity Mind and the providing free access to Headspace to our employees.

Women share the brunt of childcare all over the world – a particular issue with females in STEM. We’ve had female leaders sharing their tips and tricks to help other employees.

PM: Our company has held online yoga sessions with an emphasis on looking after employees physical and mental health. As well as other investment in hygiene and safety to follow guidelines set out by the government.

VN: As a STEM Ambassador I have been able to complete online courses they have supported us to continue to do outreach events online. Also, as an RAEng scholar, I have been supported in doing online courses like in diversity and inclusion. I have previously campaigned a lot for mental health at uni and pleased that the government has announced £20m investment in more councelors which should also help the student population.

Q: what will working life look like for students going into the industry?

LR: At the start of the year BP announced a strategy shift to become the first oil major to target net-zero with more investments in wind, EV charging stations and bio-jet fuel for example.

The most important thing in leadership is to have a purpose -find a company whose purpose aligns with yours look to see if the executive team represents diversity.

LMH: In construction and water treatment there is still a gender imbalance but I hope to see this improve in the future. I foresee more government investment in water treatment to create better hygiene and sanitation for people due to the increase in demand. I would encourage students to look for jobs in the environmental sector, with new challenges requires new tech.

PM: The market is booming in the technology and digital sectors and I see this trend continuing. Our company has seen a huge shift towards digitalisation and there are many opportunities to get into IT services and technology roles for new graduates.

Q: Any last advice you can give to students?

VN: (On how to stay motivated as a student) When you have this much time like during the pandemic, it is important to find something you are passionate about. For me this was taking the time to volunteer as a STEM ambassador. As a student, also build your network and surround yourself with people who share the same goal.

Also, find the time to do things you love, I make sure to leave time in my schedule for workouts, exploring nature, and hiking, in between my studies.

LMH: You may not find your dream job post-covid so take what is available. Take the opportunity to develop non-academic soft skills and take online course to add to your CV, but make sure there is a clear purpose and reason for doing what you’re doing or your CV will look unfocused.

LR: My piece of advice is to find a mentor in your early career, but you can equally learn as much by becoming a mentor yourself, building early leadership skills. Lots of people still don’t have access to role models and this is particularly important to get more females involved with STEM.

PM: (On dealing with personal purpose vs company purpose) Every company has its own motto and values, make sure to read up and see if they align with your own. Some experience like dealing with a difficult line manager is where resilience comes in and overcoming this sort of challenge means keeping respectful and understanding of other people’s motivation and challenges.

Thank you to everyone who participated from all over the world! We hope you found it fun and insightful. Many thanks to Charlotte who moderated the panel, Emily, Victoria, Rheanna and Tanishi - for their expert organisation. We look forward to doing another international Watt Women collaboration soon!


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