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Meet Paula Northern. Why she is making this energy technology company everyones company.

Q&A

Meet Paula Northern. Why she is making this energy technology company everyones company.

March 9, 2020


Portrait photo of Paula Northern
Meet Paula Northern, Vice-President of Diversity and Inclusion at Baker Hughes

 

A problem-solver with a background in operations, Paula is out to prove that the old perceptions of the energy industry no longer apply.

Paula, you’ve recently been named Baker Hughes’ first Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion. What value do you see in having a role like this?  

What was attractive in having a D&I role at this level is, I really thought we were taking it seriously in terms of trying to solve a business problem.

And I thought I could bring a completely different lens having been in operations for so long. My hope is that I will bring that piece to it, but also a sense of what are our processes and Key Performance Indicators that we would think about for any other investment. And I think that will drive faster outcomes and will also allow us to be a leader in the industry, because people will recognize we’re not only making an investment, but we’re also serious because we’re measuring it.

As someone with deep expertise in supply chain and business operations, what is your view on how D&I can impact an organization?  

I think we really want our employee base to be reflective of the larger community. And it’s also about getting to the best solutions for our customers.

When we’re able to get a group of people who come from diverse experiences and have different perspectives, we really do—and I have seen it demonstrated time and time again—get to a better answer for customers. And at the end of the day, that’s what matters.

How does a strong D&I commitment impact an employee population?

The key is creating that inclusive environment where every employee knows they can come and live out their dreams, whatever their dreams happen to be. For some people, their dream is to be the CEO. Some people want to be the domain expert and be valued for their contributions. But the important piece is for employees to know they can live out their dreams and they have the ability to bring their authentic selves to work.

I always coach people that there are some professional norms we expect in any business environment, but we want people to feel comfortable that if they have a point of view that may be contrary to what the other people in the room have, they can bring up that point of view in an environment that will be respectful. And the reality is, often, a different voice is what helps us to get to a better solution. So, I think that’s all a part of the culture and environment we want to create for people.

Why do you think D&I is important for the energy industry in particular?  

Our industry has always been viewed as a very conservative place, and I think that we have an opportunity to really advance how the industry is seen. Because it is still seen as a bit unusual for a D&I conversation to be had in the industry.

If you look at the needs of the energy industry, though, it’s two-fold. One, we have to create a pipeline of talent who are willing to enter the industry, and two, our ability to say that our workplaces are inclusive is important.

As a leader, what strategies for fostering an inclusive workplace have you found to be successful?

I think, as a leader, you absolutely set the tone. And people follow your lead. So, if you look at a leadership team and you see everyone looks the same or thinks the same or is the same, they’re sending a message, whether they intend to or not.

For me, it’s been important to really be thoughtful about not only my direct team but what it looks like across our organization at various levels. And also, to be bold and try some things that may or may not work out in terms of challenging people in their careers or thoughtful moves that would challenge people but maybe would be seen as unusual. Having the ability to take risks and encourage others to take risks is so important.

What is the biggest opportunity you think we have as an industry in the area of D&I?

Regardless of where on the continuum of the energy sector you are, we have this common challenge. I think we could really make progress by sharing best practices and could bring an element of attractiveness back to the industry.

But we have to go all in with D&I like we would any other business problem. And that means investment and giving some of our best talent to think about and solution how we make progress.

 

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