Creating an environment where women can build great careers is an important part of ExxonMobil’s inclusion and diversity culture, reflected in our Global Diversity Framework. One important element of this is our global employee network, known as the Women’s Interest Network (WIN).

Formed in 2009, WIN EAME (Europe, Africa, Middle East) has since expanded from six to 24 chapters. The network is focused on continuing to enhance opportunities for women within ExxonMobil and further improving the working environment for female employees. The network aims to address unconscious bias, increase the number of women in senior roles at ExxonMobil, tackle any barriers to career progression that may remain, and work with male advocates in creating an ever-more inclusive workplace.

Energy Factor spoke to Annemie Vrelust, Upstream Financial Reporting Manager, Netherlands, and a WIN EAME facilitator, about how the network is driving positive change when it comes to gender equality.

Energy Factor: What does WIN aim to achieve?  

Annemie Vrelust: ExxonMobil wants all our female employees to maximize their professional and personal growth, in an inclusive work environment. We want to attract and retain women, for women to achieve their full potential, and to be represented at all levels in the corporation. That’s our global mission. We also have dedicated focus areas every year. For 2021 they are: advocacy and male engagement; STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and talent retention; and care and resilience in the current COVID-19 environment.

EF: What attracted you to the role of WIN facilitator?

AV: I had been attending WIN events, I was definitely interested in inclusion and diversity and I felt honoured at the trust in me. I was invited to take on the role and I accepted – and I have never regretted it. It’s something you take on in addition to your full-time regular job, so it’s quite demanding, but it’s a very rewarding role and I’m really happy to carve out time for it. I feel WIN can really make a difference in motivating and inspiring female employees.

EF: What are the main benefits of being a member of WIN?  

AV:  Feeling the strong support of other women, helping and inspiring each other, gathering different perspectives, and learning from others how to cope with similar challenges – I think these elements give women a boost. The networking, the mentoring by our senior male and female role models, and broadening your network across countries and across cultures – those are also great opportunities that we all learn from.

EF: Could you tell us about the WIN mentorship initiative?

AV: Every WIN chapter has a group responsible for mentoring and every employee can sign up as a mentor or a mentee. We are now looking to implement mentoring across different countries. It can be very enriching to pair with someone from outside your own country.

It’s not only the mentees who learn, the mentors also get a lot out of it. They get implicit feedback on their leadership style and communication skills, and they practise their listening skills. And, especially when you get into more senior roles, it’s a way to keep in touch with the base and what’s going on in the organization. We get feedback from our more senior mentors that it gives them a lot of positive energy.

EF: How would you describe ExxonMobil as a workplace for women?

AV: It’s very clear from day one that ExxonMobil is a professional environment where we focus on skills, not on gender or nationality or anything else. Discrimination won’t be accepted and there is a very strong focus on inclusion and diversity. This includes a leadership culture that emphasizes creating an environment of trust and inclusion. Every WIN chapter has a local sponsor and in EAME we have ten regional senior managers as sponsors, who follow our initiatives closely and give support wherever they can.

But of course, it’s not perfect yet, there is still some work to do. What we see is that in general we’re able to recruit the best available young female talent, but as we progress into more senior positions, there are fewer women. We’re looking at that: what barriers women might face as their careers progress and what we can do to remove them.

EF: What do you think the remaining barriers are in terms of women progressing at ExxonMobil?  

AV: One aspect is unconscious bias. Historically, staffing decisionmakers may have made incorrect assumptions about women: “She just became a mother, so she won’t be able to take on this busy job.” Or “she has young kids, she would not be willing to travel”, for example. However, the company offers ongoing support to focus on unconscious bias. Our global performance assessment program offers training to help people identify and remove any bias.

Another aspect is role models. In the past, there were not that many women in senior roles in the organization and it’s difficult to imagine yourself in a role if you can’t see others like you in similar positions. Now there are more women in senior roles and we try to make them very visible and organize events with them. So, for example, whenever any of our female leaders visit a different ExxonMobil office or facility, they make sure they spend some time with the local WIN.

EF: What types of events does WIN organize?

AV: We organize webinars on a quarterly basis for the whole of EAME, that’s something we started during the pandemic. In one of my favourite sessions, we  talked about the importance of being comfortable, as a woman, that you might be the ‘first one’ to do something but make sure you’re never the ‘last one’ to do it, and that you open doors for others. We also do inspiration sessions on themes like resiliency, mental health and stress management and there’s a lot of positivity that comes from these sessions.

Some sessions are hosted by individual chapters. For example, WIN Budapest runs workshops to encourage women to be more comfortable talking about their achievements and ensuring they don’t undervalue themselves.

EF: How does WIN work with male colleagues and why is that work important?

AV: We have male advocates and sponsors and this year we formed a male advocacy sub-network as part of WIN, to help men become real allies. The network’s mission is to equip men with the knowledge and techniques to feel confident in becoming active allies for women and other minority groups within the workplace.

We think it’s critical for everybody to understand gender equality – and to understand that the rise of women will not mean the fall of men. We also need our male colleagues to help advocate for change because they are still the majority in the company. We need them to be familiar with our mission and our case for action and to understand the barriers and hurdles we face.

I think the most important thing to remember is that everyone benefits from a more inclusive workplace. We all know that you collect more perspectives from a diverse group, that diverse teams perform better and that you get better business results. It’s also just more fun to have different kinds of people in a group!


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