10 minutes with: vice-president of HR at BP

10 minutes with: vice-president of HR at BP

Sue Adlam-Hill joined BP in 1989 and has since worked around the globe. She shares her thoughts on why oil is a great industry to work in.

BP British Petrolium

Sue Adlam-Hill is global head of resourcing at BP. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA

By theguardian.com

Sue Adlam-Hill is vice-president of HR for North Sea and Eastern Hemisphere regions for BP. She is based in Aberdeen and is accountable for delivering the HR strategy for BP’s North Sea and Eastern Hemisphere regions.

Sue joined BP in 1989 after a degree in experimental psychology. She started her career with a series of North Sea-based roles supporting BP’s operations out of both Aberdeen and Stavanger. Since 2000, Sue has held a number of HR leadership positions in US, Middle East and Caspian region, most recently spending six years as HR vice president in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey region, based in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Does HR have an image problem?

HR careers are all about working with people so there was a natural link there for me with my psychology degree. There’s no doubt that in some parts of the world the main focus of HR is admin and it fulfils a really important role around back office payments etc, but if you talk to most HR professionals later on in their careers what excites them is the business partnering piece.

That means working with senior managers to understand the implications of business decisions and making sure that those issues are well-handled.

Why do oil, engineering and similar industries have problems when it comes to recruiting women?

There are questions about the sort of roles that exist within the sector. If you think about the visual images conjured up by the oil industry – working on rigs in remote locations and tough parts of the world – we do have women who do that but there is a much more diverse range of roles than just those roles, right across the sector. We’ve got to do more to convey that variety.

There are a very significant number of women that I can think of within my organisation who are doing senior roles and working in big tough jobs in remote locations. What we’ve got to do is get better at raising the profiles of some of these women in these roles because there is a view that women can’t work in oil and gas and it might put women off who might otherwise have considered it.

I think they worry about how to combine work with having a relationship and having a family.

How family-friendly is BP?

The sector has had to work really hard to attract and retain women in a world where more and more companies are being progressive in how they manage family-friendly policies. Companies like BP have had to work very hard to offer more flexible working arrangements.

We need to promote more awareness of what can be done in companies like this to combine very exciting careers – like my role in Azerbaijan which lots of people couldn’t imagine a woman with two children going off and doing, for example – but I was able to make it work because of the kind of company BP is.

How did you make living abroad work with a family?

Everybody in BP has a personal development plan which is discussed with line managers as part of performance discussions. It matches out short term, mid term and long term development aspirations.

I’ve been lucky to work with some really excellent managers, male and female, who have had a commitment to developing me, so in addition to formal training and professional qualifications the thing that allowed me to stay working has been the ability to have open and honest conversations about my aspirations and boundaries with my managers.

I’m in a dual career – my husband also works at BP. More and more couples meet at work and there are more couples who look to the organisation to manage their career jointly or couples who are in the same industry who want to discuss their joint career paths. BP’s attitude to managing both my husband’s and my career has been exceptional.

I took maternity leave despite being on assignment overseas and also flexible or agile working. We were able to have intelligent conversations about where the business can benefit from giving me and my female colleagues flexible start times and using technology to work from home.

The business has a progressive attitude that means that while a lot of my friends and peers feel they have to make a choice between career and bringing up kids – I always felt that I didn’t want to make that choice, both were important to me. It’s not always easy but in general the support I have means I have been able to do my job and I feel lucky that that’s been possible.

This article was amended on 8 November to correct Sue Adlam-Hill’s job title.

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