Fiona Lake will start a new challenging assignment for Shell in a male dominated area and country, Qatar, as from January 2022. She is mentee in the Mentor4Talent 2021-2022 program and in this interview she talks about her new role and her mentoring journey with her mentor Suzanne Wigchert. Suzanne is Associate Director Regulatory Strategy at Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

Annette: Why did you apply for the Mentor4Talent program?  

Fiona: The reason I applied for this program was that I wanted to have a mentor outside of Shell as you can have more candid discussions. You can ask the questions you feel not comfortable to ask someone who works for the same company and gain a bit of courage and get advice. I also saw it as a good opportunity to explore how other organizations function. I joined Shell as a graduate so my workplace and organizational baseline is limited in that sense.

Annette: Can you give us some insights about your mentoring journey till so far?  

Fiona: My mentor has been a good match with respect to the size of the company, cultural challenges we both face, and she comes from a background that is more male dominated and some of those discussions are very helpful. We also have more personal conversations about managing a family and work and receiving and dealing with feedback. She is very authentic and genuine and that is very nice to see in the role of a leader. It’s important to have role models that are themselves and still succeed.

Annette: You will start a challenging new assignment beginning in January in a male dominated area and country, Qatar. Can you tell us more about it?   

Fiona: My new assignment is a project for a 3 to 4 months turnaround, where they will shut down the production plant in Qatar for maintenance. It has to be perfectly executed because every day it is closed, it costs a large amount of money for the company. They fly in 1.500 people to support the activity and I will lead a team of contractors executing maintenance.

Annette: Congratulations with your new assignment! How did you land this high-profile job?

Fiona: In Q1 last year my manager asked if I’m interested to take an interview for this assignment. I said ‘yes’ although I was not sure and it gave me time to think about it. There was some time between expressing my interest and hearing back from the asset. Suzanne pushed me to follow up with people and to find out about the job and circumstances. Be more active instead of sitting and waiting for something to happen. You have to create the opportunity yourself, was her advice. You need to follow up and express interest. This was good, as I did chase it and the role was explained in more detail. I still had some uncertainty as it is a long time away from my life in the Netherlands, furthermore from previous experience I know these remote jobs, working long shifts, can take a toll on your mental health. Suzanne played a role pushing me to see challenges as opportunities  rather than concerns. Once I accepted the role and got a clear picture of my responsibilities and how the turnaround was going to be run, any nervousness turned to excitement.

Annette: How do you see yourself in a male dominated environment?  

Fiona: A number of emails I have received about the new project start with gendered language such as ‘dear gents’. I think I might be the only female in my working group so that can be challenging and is something I’m going to address when I’m there in case it is an ongoing problem.

After the assignment I will travel back to Australia to see my family!

Annette: Suzanne, can you give your perspective as mentor? How do you like the mentoring journey and what does it bring to you?

Suzanne: I really enjoy the mentoring journey – Fiona reminds me of a younger version of myself, she is very entrepreneurial and adventurous without even fully realizing this. I enjoy talking to her and nudging her to actively find her path, life is what you make of  it! It is also refreshing to realize that some things never change – no matter how experienced you get, dealing with feedback will always be challenging, as will be working in a culturally diverse company. I really benefit from our conversations myself as well, discussing these topics.

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December 14th 2021