Making HerStory: How women can reach the C-Suite in the oil and gas industry

Making HerStory: How women can reach the C-Suite in the oil and gas industry
Kim Keating

Three women speak up about leadership in the male-dominated petroleum sector


It’s a quality Cahill Group COO Kim Keating believes all leaders―particularly female leaders in the oil and gas industry―must have.

“It’s not always easy being that lone voice,” says Keating, who has spent 20-plus years working in the oil and gas industry, many of them in leadership roles. But Keating is the exception, not the norm in the sector. It’s a reality she says needs to change.

Despite the lack of female representation at the C-Suite and managerial levels in Atlantic Canada’s petroleum business, there are women like Keating who have been there and done that. And they can serve as role models inspiring the next generation of female leaders who want to shape the future of one of the region’s most important industries. What follows are three profiles in leadership of women who have managed to do just that

Kim Keating
Chief operating officer, Cahill Group

Kim Keating is a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen. So much so that she’s taken to following the living rock n’ roll legend and has watched him perform live several times during his recent ‘Wrecking Ball’ and ‘River’ tours.

It seems fitting that her favourite musician is a man known as ‘The Boss’, because during her two decades’ long career in Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore oil and gas industry, Keating has been a boss to many and established herself as a leader in one of Atlantic Canada’s most important economic sectors. “People need to believe you can make things happen,” says Keating, who holds a Bachelor of Civil Engineering degree from Memorial University and an MBA from Athabasca University. “I think I’ve demonstrated throughout my career that I can do that.”

That career began when she graduated from Memorial in 1998 and immediately found herself with two tempting job offers―one from Petro-Canada, the other from Newfoundland Power. Keating, who had already worked on the Hibernia project and Petro-Canada’s Terra Nova project during work terms as a Memorial student, chose Petro-Canada. “That was so cool as a young engineer to get out and see these world-class, massive projects taking the stage here in Newfoundland and Labrador. I think I knew at the time I wanted to be part of this story,” she says.

While at Petro-Canada, and then with Suncor Energy Inc. (Petro-Canada merged with it in 2009), Keating progressively took on more senior roles. When she joined Petro-Canada in May of 1998 her first job was designing fire and gas detection and protection systems for the Terra Nova project. Over the next 16 years her leadership roles at the companies would encompass concept field development, facility engineering through to construction, commissioning and production operations. She was the technical lead on Suncor’s joint venture team overseeing the Terra Nova project in 2004 and the Hebron project in 2010.

However, as her second decade with Suncor Energy progressed, Keating began to get itchy feet. Suncor Energy is an oil sands focused company, and Keating is a Newfoundlander who is passionate about unlocking the province’s offshore oil potential. She felt the company, as great as it was to work for, wasn’t aggressive enough pursuing growth opportunities in offshore Atlantic Canada. “I had reached a point where I felt I could contribute more and needed to explore what that could be like somewhere else. I felt I had hit a bit of a glass ceiling,” she says.

In 2013 she moved to the Cahill Group as director of projects. The St. John’s-based construction company has long been involved in oil and gas work from Newfoundland and Labrador to Northern Alberta. The change agreed with her, and by 2015 she became its vice-president, fabrication, where she led the construction and delivery of the living quarters for the Hebron offshore oil field’s production platform―one of the largest offshore modules ever built in Canada. In December of 2018 she accepted the COO position at Cahill Group.

Keating isn’t shy about taking leadership roles outside of her day job, either. She’s been on Yamana Gold Inc.’s board of directors since 2017. The 46-year-old served as the chairperson of the St. John’s Board of Trade from 2015-2016. She is a member of the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industry Development Council and is involved in a long list of other boards.

While Keating has carved out an impressive career for herself in the oil and gas industry, she is keenly aware she is an outlier. She’s adamant that must change. The mother of three daughters (Karoline, Ava and Madeline) wants her girls to have the same opportunities she’s had if they pursue careers in the province’s offshore oil sector. “Things are improving. But we are not doing enough,” Keating says. “You can’t be afraid of setting targets or quotas. I know some people are uncomfortable with that, but we do it for every other aspect of business. There has to be a plan.”

Cathy Mandville
Senior manager, commercial and joint ventures, Atlantic region, Husky Energy Inc.

Cathy Mandville has never been afraid of breaking new ground.

Originally from the community of Dunville, Placentia Bay, she was the third youngest in a Catholic family of 11, but the first among her family to get a university degree in 1986. That degree was a joint one in computer science and math from Memorial University, two subjects that Mandville says didn’t have many female faces in them back in the 1980s. “There were very few females in any of my classes. Both math and computer science were very male dominated,” Mandville says.

She’s had to get used to succeeding in male-dominated fields due to the career paths she has chosen―first in information technology and then the oil and gas industry. In fact, Mandville’s professional career started outside the oil and gas industry. She was hired straight out of university by Newfoundland and Labrador Computer Services. NLCS would eventually merge into XWave, a St. John’s-based information technology firm that was sold to Bell Canada in 2010.

Mandville enjoyed a varied career during her 18 years with NLCS/XWave. She was project manager at XWave when she left the company and took on the role as IT lead at Husky Energy Inc. in 2004. But her time at XWave, and the decisions she had made while she was there, had given her ample experience working with the oil and gas sector on IT contracts. In fact, at XWave she often worked with Husky as a consultant. She says it was a conscious decision by her to focus on oil and gas projects as XWave started taking on that work around 1999-2000.

That experience made the decision to join Husky in 2004 a bit easier for her, although she admits it was still a tough call to leave a company she had been with for almost two decades. “It was a scary decision. Moving into a company where IT is not necessarily part of the core business and is sometimes seen as overhead and a cost people pay,” she says. “But I was at a point where I was ready to do something different. I was also taking a position with more responsibility and more chance for advancement.”

And advance Mandville has with Husky. Looking to expand her skills beyond IT, she got her chartered professional accountant designation in 2012, which allowed her to get involved more in financial management and business planning. That same year, as Malcolm Maclean was succeeding Paul McCloskey as senior vice-president for Husky’s Atlantic region, she moved up the corporate ladder some more and today the 53-year-old is Husky’s senior manager, commercial and joint ventures. In that job, Mandville assumed her biggest leadership role yet, responsible for a team which oversees Husky’s Atlantic region commercial responsibilities, multiple joint ventures, economic evaluation and planning, document management and business development.

How far has she come with Husky? This Dunville native was the company’s lead on the negotiating team for the Bay du Nord benefits plan Husky and its partner Equinor struck with the provincial government in 2018. Bay du Nord is the oil discovery made in the Flemish Pass Basin in 2013 estimated to contain 300 million barrels of recoverable oil.

However, Mandville acknowledges that she hasn’t reached the leadership position she has now all by herself. She credits great mentors―including her high school principal Fred Hills, who encouraged her to go to university and take computer science at a time when few women were in that field of study―for helping her. And mentoring is something she believes is essential in her role as a leader of men and women at Husky. “I care about people and I believe my role as a leader is to look for ways to help them grow and develop,” she says. “Mentorship has been a big key of my success. I try to make that part of what I do and part of my leadership.”

Mandville says for other women looking to climb the corporate ladder in the petroleum sector, they need to step out of their comfort zone―something she’s done time and again since she took her high school principal’s advice over 30 years ago. “Seek out the opportunities. Take on things that sometimes seem scary and you might think you aren’t good enough for. Don’t let fear prevent you from moving things forward. That’s good advice for everyone—male or female.”

Karen Winsor
Chief operating officer, Atlantic XL

Karen Winsor knew what she wanted to do with her life at an early age. “When I left high school, I had it in my mind to get into the oil and gas industry,” she says.

Maybe that clarity was influenced by her father, Gregory Veitch, who worked for over 30 years at two refineries in the province. Or maybe it came from growing up in Holyrood―a blue collar town where a lot of people were working on the Hibernia project in the mid-1990s during Winsor’s high school years. Whatever the reason, her career choice has paid off. Since graduating from Memorial University with a Bachelor of Commerce degree in 2001, she has worked on a myriad of oil and gas projects, including the Sable offshore natural gas field in Nova Scotia and White Rose, and now West White Rose, in Newfoundland and Labrador and has risen to become COO of Atlantic XL. This division of the United Kingdom-based XL Group designs, installs, commissions and maintains offshore telecommunications and navigation systems for Canada’s offshore oil and gas industry.

While she was at Memorial, Winsor made two strategic decisions that accelerated her knowledge of the oil and gas industry and fueled her desire to be a part of it. In 1997 she lived abroad and took a work term with the Dutch Oil and Gas Association. Then in 2000 she embarked on a school term in Oslo, Norway at the Norwegian School of Management.

She says the school term in Norway drove home the impact the oil and gas industry could have on Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy. “In the 1990s things were not all roses in our province. The fishery had taken a dip. We had to look at something else, and I wanted to be involved in what the future was going to be. I felt it was going to be oil and gas,” Winsor says.

Upon graduating from university in 2001, she took a job with Atlantic XL as a business operations coordinator. While the organization was small, Winsor says the “opportunity was big.” She found herself getting experience in several areas of the business―finances, business development, human resources―under the guidance of XL Group CEO Colin Laird and Bill Fanning, who is now the president and country manager for Kvaerner Canada Limited. “In smaller organizations you have to wear so many hats and that’s where I wanted to be,” she says. “My largest growth occurred in those first few years.”

In 2007 she continued her professional growth, but outside the oil and gas industry when she joined Atlantic Canadian advertising giant, m5, as its project director. Instead of working for companies like Husky Energy and ExxonMobil on telecommunications and navigation systems, she was dealing with Marine Atlantic, Nalcor Energy and Mary Brown’s chicken on their marketing campaigns. “At m5 what has always stuck with me is developing a brand. Who are you and who do you want to be? Being at m5 and giving meaningful thought to those things helped me grow.”

Winsor spent five years with m5 before returning to the oil and gas sector to take the business manager job at Atlantic XL in 2012. As she continues to lead Atlantic XL’s growth efforts in oil and gas, she has also joined the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association as a board member, taking on more of an advocacy role. It’s another example of Winsor stepping up and being willing to lead while others follow.

She is aware too few women reach the kind of leadership roles she’s had during her career in the oil and gas industry. However, she doesn’t feel women are deliberately overlooked. “I don’t know if the old boys club still exists. I’ve never butted my head against it. I’ve always had opportunity. We’ll see movement forward and growth as it relates to diversity―even diversity across experiences,” she says.

She says determination and perseverance are vital if a woman, or anyone, wants to advance their careers and take on leadership roles. She also says you can’t get ahead without vision. “To be a leader in this industry you always have to look forward,” Winsor says. “You need to be thinking about the next 12 months and five years to see what that next thing is and envision where you professionally fit into it and where your organization fits into it.”

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