Shell is the only oil and gas company in The Times Top 50 Employers for Women 2015. It’s an impressive accolade and one that inspires the organisation to continue to strive for greater gender equality. It’s with this aim in mind that two training programmes were set up. A decade in, the results are impressive.

The two programmes are the Women’s Career Development Programme (WCDP) and its sister programme Senior Women Connect (SWC), which is specifically designed for women in leadership positions. Both give women at Shell the opportunity to form networks and help one another develop their careers, learn leadership qualities and overcome the obstacles they could face in the workplace.

Kadeen McGregor-Green, a Contracting and Procurement manager in the US completed the WCDP in 2015: “The opportunity to interact and network with other women with similar goals and aspirations was invaluable,” she says.

Along with the networking opportunities, she found it instrumental in helping her develop her communication skills, something she felt had room to improve.

“I learned a more effective way of saying no, which helps me cultivate the right relationships and communicate more honestly,” she says, adding that it’s something that has helped her manage her workload better.

It had an immediate effect. With the guidance of the network she built on the course and the skills she picked up, Kadeen applied for a new ambitious role, and got it.

Anneke van Der Heijden on site at a Shell plant.]
Anneke van der Heijden has been able to develop her executive presence on the Senior Women Connect programme

Building strength in networks

One key aim of the course is to help people like Kadeen be open with their colleagues and realise the importance of building strong networks, not only for their careers but also to deliver better results for the company.

“The energy sector can be seen as a male-dominated industry,” says Kadeen. It is important that women have career development opportunities and know they will be empowered as they pursue them, she adds.

Over 14 weeks, the women on the WCDP attend a mix of face-to-face and virtual sessions where they can share and work through issues they’ve faced. Then with the support of their line managers, mentors and group discussions they devise strategies for working towards their goals.

Maisarah Mohamad, IT Service Lead in Malaysia also participated in the WCDP: “It’s a good platform for women to have an honest discussion on how they can excel in the workplace,” she says.

Because these women come from so many different departments and bring their own perspectives, the discussions are even more enriching and useful.

Like Kadeen, an important lesson for Maisarah was to ensure she was not overstretched. By acknowledging that she can have a say in what she takes on, she’s able to prioritise her work more effectively.

A commitment to better gender equality

For women in senior positions there is the SWC programme. Lasting slightly longer than WCDP, it also hosts virtual, group and one-on-one sessions in order to identify and address gender-specific leadership challenges.

“We reflect a lot on how to develop our ‘Executive Presence’ and leadership style,” says Anneke van der Heijden, a Manufacturing Support Manager and recent participant. “We look at how you can improve your presence during presentations or meetings. I see that I’m using elements of the lessons I’ve learned in my day-to-day activities.”

More than providing a platform from which women can develop their careers and leadership abilities, it’s a commitment from Shell to continue working towards achieving better gender equality in senior positions.

“It’s a reminder for women at Shell to look seriously into their career growth,” says Maisarah. And it’s working: since 2004, when the course was launched, more than 3,000 women have completed the WCDP, and more than 250 have attended SWC since it began in 2012. But, support doesn’t stop when the course ends. The networks built while in WCDP and SWC last a career.

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