Moving fuels, lubricants, bitumen and chemicals from where they’re produced and stored to where customers need them is a complicated process. Prices must be agreed. Transport by trains, trucks, ships and pipelines must be organised. Quality inspections must be performed, every step. And throughout the journey, safety procedures must be followed to the letter.
This is the Viva Energy supply chain and, as its Executive General Manager, Jennifer Grey is responsible for the whole lot – plus a whole lot more. “We also manage the commercial relationships that make our supply chain work, from engineering contracts to working with other oil companies when we need to share infrastructure,” she explains. “It’s a diverse business that involves around five hundred people, plus all our contractor partners.”
Many of the roles within the supply chain have traditionally been performed by men, often because they’re physically demanding or demanding of your time. “Someone who weighs fifty kilos will struggle to lift a twenty-five kilo metal hydrant cap overhead to refuel an aircraft, regardless of whether they’re male or female. Similarly, if you’re the primary carer of small children, a four-week rotating shift isn’t going to work for you.
So, how does Viva Energy encourage more women to apply for these types of roles that have barriers for entering the field? “It’s about rethinking the way we do our operations. How do we create a workplace that fits everybody? What processes, systems and equipment do we need to put in place to allow equity?”
Great advances have already been made at the airports where Viva Energy supplies jet fuel and has teams on the ground to refuel aircraft. Hydrant caps are now made with lighter composite materials that are easier to lift, and tools are available to help move heavier objects. “We’re trying to create an environment where everyone can succeed. We’re seeing improvement but there’s still work to do.”
Chasing, not embracing
At Viva Energy, it’s understood that diverse teams lead to better outcomes. When the diversity of the workforce is reflected in its leadership, its strengths can be harnessed to be as effective as possible. That makes this year’s theme for International Women’s Day meaningful, although Jennifer has a slightly different take on ‘embrace equity’.
“If you embrace something, it’s like you’re waiting for it to come to you. We don’t embrace equity so much as chase it. We actively work hard to create that environment, constantly pushing to be better. We’re not complacent.
“People think of equality and equity as the same thing, but they’re not. Equality is giving the same to everybody. Equity is about levelling the playing field, so you might need to give some people a little bit more and do things differently to enable everybody to thrive.”
Twists and turns
Jennifer’s journey to the leadership team at Viva Energy, and ultimately Executive General Manager of Supply Chain, has been far from conventional. Starting with Shell as a graduate, she was able to move from one job to another within the organisation, trying her hand at new and usually unrelated roles. She’s worked in convenience retail, property, marketing, and commercial sales. She’s worked in London and run Shell’s Pacific Islands business.
The common theme has been her drive, her preparedness to take on new challenges, and the belief of people around her. “A lot of people have shown faith in me. Even if I didn’t feel entirely qualified for a certain job, they would encourage me to apply and then push me to do well. I’ve been very fortunate to have great support throughout my career.”
Jennifer has always felt that support, even when she once tried to resign. “My partner, who’s now my husband, was working in London, so I handed in my resignation to go and be with him. My manager at the time said, ‘no, we’ll try to find you a job within the company over there. If we can’t, then you can resign.’ All these years later I’m still here!”
Creating a supportive environment
These days Viva Energy has structured talent planning and management, but the basic principle of hiring for specific competencies that can lead to a range of generalist roles still applies.
“Viva Energy is genuinely committed to creating career paths for women to enter parts of the business that have been traditionally dominated by men – and succeed. We’ve put a lot of work into providing support, creating the right cohorts and mentoring programs, and creating an environment where women can gain experience in operational roles so they feel like they can be successful.”
As for the future, Jennifer thinks it’s looking bright. “What’s normal is changing. We’re moving away from gender-based choices and towards personal choices. Now it’s more accepted for anyone to choose whether they want to pursue a career or be the primary carer for their children. Flexibility is becoming more entrenched.”
Equity is a journey, and there’s no room for complacency. Jennifer finds she is constantly checking her own mindset, looking for any signs of bias. “I don’t want to be that person who says ‘we tried that before and it never works’.
“We have to stay the course. There might be people who see equity as a reduction of their own position, but we can’t be apologetic for that. If we stay the course, in ten years maybe we won’t be talking about gender equality. Wouldn’t that be great?”