Tell us about your role with Castrol and your career path so far.
My career journey has been incredible. Personally, I view some of the twists and turns along the way – such as three redundancies – positively, because these events have given me the benefit of resilience and a wealth of different experiences in engineering and operational leadership across many industries to draw on.
My experience ranges from being a fresh-faced mechanical engineering graduate at the XXXX Brewery, working in a frozen chip plant in Tasmania, running the packaging operations for the Lion wine group to scaling up a start-up chocolate factory in Seattle. After working in America, I spent time back at XXXX Brewery, then CUB Yatala – the southern hemisphere’s largest brewery – before CUB moved me to Victoria. After that I scaled up the manufacturing and supply chain operations for a start-up kombucha company, then moved on to lubricants. Along the way I have been incredibly fortunate to work with the most amazing role models and work for companies in different stages of their business cycles.
Right now, I am privileged to be the acting AsPac Manufacturing Manager at Castrol; responsible for seven sites across six countries. There are so many great elements to this role – the amazing people I work with, the diverse cultures in AsPac, the manufacturing excellence program, the learnings from operating sites through challenges like Covid, and the pride of making the high quality Castrol lubricants.
You were mentored with NAWO in 2016. What was the most impactful aspect of your experience?
There are so many positive impacts that it is hard to pick just one. I would have to go with the growth journey that the mentoring experienced sparked, which I continued on after the mentoring circles ended.
More specifically, the content covered in the circle opened my mind to a new way of thinking about career development. Prior to being mentored I had focused on technical mastery and on job performance as the main pillars of my career development strategy. I hadn’t realised that my strategy had blind spots in areas like personal brand, self-advocacy and the importance of support networks.
Why was this the case? A wise mentor once told me that we only take in what we understand. Naturally, as a site based operational person I understood technical mastery and job performance, so I retained that information. But I hadn’t been exposed to the other elements like self-advocacy – which is less common in a site based role.
The mentoring circles took these aspects that were less familiar and less comfortable for me and broke them down into a language understood by operational people like myself. This approach acted like a bridge for me to then learn these new skills through practice and this led to new ways of thinking.
The mentoring circles are intended to really complement what is already available in your company. For example, the skills I learnt during the mentoring circle helped me improve the depth of my career development discussions with my line manager and this led to further learning opportunities.
Can you tell us about your mentor and the impact he had on you?
Our mentor, Clinton McDonald, was very generous with his time and experience as a leader. My first impression of Clint was that he was a calm, respectful, knowledgeable facilitator that could draw everyone into the discussion and had many authentic examples to share. I was also impressed with how deeply Clint understood the challenges faced by women in operational careers and the range of practical tips to overcome these challenges. He was comfortable talking about almost anything we threw at him and was supportive of those facing some serious challenges. The impact Clint has had on my career and my life is very positive.
You took part in a mentoring circle (a peer group of 4-6 women). What are the advantages of being mentored in a group?
The benefit of being in a group is that you get to learn from your peers as well as your mentor. The women in my group were all at similar life and career stages and in similar work environments so we found it easy to build rapport. Personally, I really enjoyed hearing each person’s career story and drew from their experience to adapt my approach to certain aspects of the workplace.
We each took turns hosting the sessions with support from Clint. I learnt something from how each of the hosts approached this. Having a range of different companies and functions represented in the group added a richness to the conversation on each topic. After every session I walked away energized, with practical tips on approaching a work situation or things I needed to work on for my career development.
What areas of mentoring did you cover during your sessions that you may not have expected to, but have helped inform both your career and personal life?
The mentoring circle was my first exposure to mentoring and I thought it would be more like formal training. Each of the mentoring circle meetings was very interactive and engaging and we would usually end up talking at some point about balancing work with caring responsibilities, how to manage a dual career household or how to reaccelerate a career after maternity leave.
Clint in particular, being further along in his career and in a dual career household, had many useful examples that very much helped my household. Clint also has slightly older children, so it helped my family to consider the practicalities of what we needed to think through as our child grew up. I really didn’t expect to walk away with so much life advice that really helped my family succeed as a dual career household.
What do you think are the most powerful and beneficial aspects of the NAWO mentoring program?
NAWO is an incredible organisation with so many impressive companies as members. The depth and breadth of the experience behind putting together the materials to support the circles is truly amazing. The material can really help you overcome some common self-imposed barriers in operational careers.
I recall in one of the circles we spoke about the research that showed men would apply for roles when they met a lower percentage of the job criteria when compared to women applicants, who would apply if they believed they were almost a perfect match for the job criteria. We spoke about tips on how to overcome this self-imposed barrier. This is one small example of how I gained a new way of thinking about my career development.
In hindsight I also think the content helped us all increase our confidence. This is very powerful. The long term benefits from a new way of thinking, an expanded network of peers to learn from, the increased confidence, the support of a mentor and practical tips of how to overcome self-imposed barriers are difficult to quantify.
I have no doubt that mentoring program participants make more progress in their development journey after this experience. I also imagine this type of support has stopped many from leaking out of the career pipeline and has likely helped others achieve more senior positions, so the longer-term benefit of role models for the next generation of operational leaders is very powerful in driving positive change across operations.
The mentoring circles are just the beginning of a growth journey for the participants and their companies. I’m really proud to work for a member organisation, bp/Castrol. This year will be my first experience as a NAWO mentor and I’m looking forward to sharing what I have gained out of the mentoring circles to support the next generation of operational leaders grow and progress their own careers.
If you could advise yourself five years ago, when you were about to undertake being mentored, what would you say?
At the time I was working through a strike so I had to dial into a few sessions. Back then video conferencing was rarely used as there was no commonly used software like Microsoft Teams or Zoom, and I joined on a speaker phone that kept cutting out. So first I would tell myself to make the space to attend all the sessions in person as well as the follow-on lunch or morning tea. Also, I would tell myself to make the space to spend even more time preparing for the sessions so I could ask better questions to learn more from the mentor and my peers. Lastly, I would also tell myself to share more of my learning journey with my line manager and seek their experience and advice on career development.
You recently participated in a NAWO webinar sharing your career story and how you have had to lead and adapt courageously. How did your mentoring shape your leadership style?
Thank you for having me. That was my first speaking opportunity and I learned so much from the experience. It was an honor and a pleasure to participate in a NAWO event.
There is no doubt in my mind that being mentored has made me a better leader. Through mentoring circles I observed first-hand the power of drawing out the quiet voice in the room, respecting diverse views and the positive impact of developing new skills or new ways of thinking. I think this has had a long-lasting impact on my leadership style as I hold this front of mind and challenge myself to practice ways to do this, even in the most frustrating situations. I’m currently completing a leading in operations course run by bp that covers many of these items like tools for asking good questions to draw out the quiet voice in the room, so this is an example of how I’m continuing my learning journey. I haven’t yet achieved the same leadership mastery as Clint but I’ll keep striving to get there!
What is your advice to NAWO members considering being mentored as part of their professional development?
Put on your own oxygen mask first. This is about your development so make the time and space you need to be prepared and ask a lot of questions in the sessions to get the most out of the opportunity. Be open to learning new skills and putting them into practice. Share your learning journey with your line manager and ask for their support and advice. Keep up the learning journey once the mentoring circles end. Above all, have fun and enjoy the experience.