Lame Verre, a petroleum economist with 20 years of experience working across the oil and gas industry value chain has worked in several geographical locations, currently she works with Halliburton as the Senior Regional Manager Treasury for Europe, Eurasia, and Sub-Saharan Africa (EESSA). In this interview with the Publisher, Orient Energy Review magazine, Nneka Ezeemo on the sidelines of the Diversity and Inclusion Summit in London recently said that organizations and stakeholders in the industry should show commitment to the call for diversity and inclusiveness by designing strategic plans and policies that will address already identified pain points, barriers and challenges while new ones should be fixed as they emerge. Excerpts
Could you give us a peep into your person and career journey?
My name is Lame Verre, I’m a petroleum economist by background, and I have worked in the oil and gas industry for the last 20 years. I currently run the credit and collection functions at Halliburton, and I look after Europe, Eurasia and Sub-Sahara Africa. I manage all of our customer financial service relationships, and I have a team of eight people spread around the region.
We try to manage account receivables and make sure that we get the cash through the door. My 20 years in the industry is predominantly upstream. I spent 15 years in upstream, three years consulting with Baker Hughes, two years running my own business and then in the last two and half years I have been in Halliburton running this function.
Obviously, you have a vast wealth of experience in the corporate setting, particularly in the private sector, which is a great asset for your private practice, so are you still running your business?
My business came out of necessity than a desire. After 15 years of being a petroleum economist, I got to that point where I had enough of doing the same thing even though I was growing in my capacity and in what I was doing then; so I decided to go and do my M.BA. I came out of my Master’s programme right in the middle of the downturn. I was in Houston at the time and in a contract with Baker Hughes.
So, with the recession hitting hard, all the expatriate’s contracts were cancelled. With the contract nullified, my role in the UK ceased to exist, and so I had to make a choice. At that time, my second baby was on the way, I moved back to the UK and decided to monetise my skills and set up a consulting firm where I was doing contract work as a petroleum economist. But in the meantime, I also joined forces with my husband’s friend to set up a pipeline company where we were looking to sell plastic pipelines into the oil and gas industry. It was a great concept, and companies liked the project, but because of the downturn, we were swimming against the tide, no one had a budget for any trial project.
I did that for two and a half years, and it was quite a refreshing experience because I was doing all sorts of activities ranging from business development to putting together contracts, client development, IT, HR and everything in between. So, it was quite intense and it was really a great experience. The only difficulty there as a start-up was the ugly reality no paycheque because we were still building up the company.
When baby number three was on the way, I had to make a call; I needed a paycheque, I needed something more stable and structured. I then chose to go back to the corporate sector in the summer of 2017. I was actually 8 months pregnant when I got the job, so I had the baby first and started this new job a month later.
That is how I started my own business, it was fun, and I enjoyed the flexibility that came with that. I owned my time that I could do school runs, go to games, do anything with the kids, and it was good. But then, when you have three kids living in London, you need to have another conversation. Things were changing and elicited the need to make those choices on how to manage time, income, family and all the things in-between.
With your years of experience in the oil and gas industry, could you share an experience that resonates with you that you hope to address?
It is important to me that I make a difference to my team because I came into the industry without any support, no role model, no sponsor or anything. So, people coming behind me don’t have to go through the same hoops. So, if I can give someone a shortcut on how to navigate this industry, then, I will be delighted to share that experience.
I think given my personal experiences and the lack of support thereof, it has also made me a different type of leader because my experience shows me what not to do. If something happened at work, the negative effect it might have had on me tells me that probably that’s not the right or the best practice and so, I do the exact opposite. If I have an absentee leader, I know that the feeling of abandonment is not something I want to live with and so I make sure that I’m there for my team.
I show up at work and always give them my time because that helps them to be the best version of themselves. People can’t come in as a human being and be expected to be a human resource. Organisations need to understand that, and as individuals, we need to know where our strength and weaknesses are, and we should try to play more to our strength because if we spend so much time trying to fix the weaknesses, we lose valuable time we can use to do something meaningful with an impact.
I like your concept about developing people, so do you, coach? How do you give back to the society?
No, I don’t coach because I’m not trained to be a coach, but I’m very generous with my time. There is a young lady here; she is a student who I met her through work. I’ve given her a lot of my time and try to steer her in the right direction, offer some guidance. When I heard that there’s an offer for students to attend this event for free, I invited her to come out here to see if she can meet people here that may help her since she has just finished her MSc. I encouraged her to make those connections, make those friendships because it can turn out to be something. And so yes, I do try to give back.
I teach at the Society of Petroleum Engineers SPE, and I do a one-day seminar on the intro to E&P. I take the economic and commercial session even though I’ve not done that for seven years. It’s been a big part of my career so to speak. That’s where my passion lies and I share that with those coming up the ranks, making sure that the knowledge does not get put in the box and underused. I have realised that I have got a very unusual background in the oil and gas space. I am not a STEM person as a petroleum economist, but my role is a very technical part of the value chain discipline, and it’s peculiar, I did that for 15 years and enjoyed passing that knowledge on. I do the SPE training once a year and I have done it for the past three to four years enjoying every minute of it.
What is your take on today’s conversation about diversity and inclusiveness?
This conversation is good, and I’m proud that the industry is focusing on it but like I said in the panel session, it has to be discussed at the right level in the various organisations with a considerable sincerity of purpose. The industry and the organisations involved need to make that conscious decision that this is something they want to do because it’s the right thing to do and because the world has changed. Therefore, we also have to adapt and make sure that everyone is included in the organisation. People’s needs, pain points or challenges will be diverse and so whatever policies designed should address the pain points.
Indeed, we cannot fix them all today, but the pain points that we know today should have strategic plans designed to meet them, and as new ones come, we adapt.
I overheard you say that the Key Performance Index (KPIs) are in the wrong place, what does that mean in this Diversity context?
It means that a lot of organisations measure their diversity with higher targets. They have set a diversity target of say 20%, 22%, 25% or whatever that number is but it’s only on the hiring side of things. What companies are not looking at is this, in that same time frame, if I made my 20% of diversity hires, how many diversity candidates did I lose? The attrition of diversity and in this case, gender diversity specifically, how many women did I engage in a time frame and how many women did I lose in the same time frame? There is no point hiring 80 women, but you loose 79 across the organisation, that to me is a clear case of using a wrong metric for a right KPI. In my personal opinion, I think the KPIs need to be across the whole spectrum of hiring and retention; measuring recruitment without measuring retention does not count. I see it as paying lip service at the door while neglecting what happens in the room. Whatever that is considered to be important in this regard must be measured.
Where should the priority be in determining the diversity KPIs?
Across the value chain both at entry point and retention. The question is, what policies do we have in place, and how do we frame those policies? We have heard about organisations taking away maternity policies and making parenting principles. So, it doesn’t matter whether you are a biological mother, you have adopted, you are LGBTI, you have the option to take time off because you want to be a parent.
So, having gender-neutral policies is more relevant since men are more inclined to take parental leave than paternity leave. It comes down to how it is framed. It’s about thinking of creative ways to make the industry friendlier to diverse people, it’s not just about gender. Disability, ethnicity, religious and cultural norms should be taken into consideration as well. We must remove the barriers and hurdles that people have to face in an already difficult industry and a complicated world!
Can diversity help the transition in the energy industry and do you see it playing such a significant role?
It is difficult for me to ascertain if it will help or maybe accelerate the transition because at the end of the day energy transition on its own is a big topic with a unique challenge specific to it. To go from carbonised to a less-carbonised energy takes a lot of investment and who makes that investment is yet to be ascertained and whilst companies and countries are saying, they want to do more to have less carbon in our energy mix. If we are not making the investment in it then it’s really a struggle and it’s the same thing about diversity. There will be some investment to be made to ensure that your diversity hires can stay within the organisations. You have to give them specific training, and you have to provide them with the tool kits that will help them to understand themselves, the industry, how they fit and how they can navigate their way through.
Staying on the issue of money, let’s consider an area like the pay gap. Negotiating salaries as you know don’t come naturally to women, but it’s a known fact that if a woman did not negotiate her salary, she would probably get a lesser pay than her male counterparts. Yet, many women don’t negotiate their salaries; we take it, we are grateful for the opportunity to even have a job. So, for diversity to be an accelerator, we should see a situation where the payment should be transparent for every role. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female; as long as you are competent enough for the job, you will have the pay for it and this will smoothen out the barriers for those who are not comfortable negotiating salaries.
What impact would you like to see attributed to this Diversity and Inclusion Summit?
I think the summit was excellent and a successful one in the sense that the topics are at the forefront of the conversations within the industry. We have shared a lot of ideas and I hope everyone takes back to their organisations or take it upon themselves to make a change no matter how small they can and we have to keep the conversation going.
The sooner or later, it will bubble to the top, and if we can’t drive it from the top, we steer it from the bottom, or somewhere in the middle, for the change to happen. It’s inevitable because we cannot continue in a world where we are not making it easy for women to participate. It’s a case of chicken and egg, which comes first. In the absence of a silver bullet, we have to keep the conversations going.