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The Energy Sector Will Gain Tremendously from Taking Deliberate Steps to Address the Issue of Gender Equity, Says Uzochukwu Ozoh

International Oil Companies such as Chevron are playing an increasingly more important role in Africa, driving projects and making large-scale investments.

Uzochukwu Ozoh, is a Legal Advisor at Chevron.

International Oil Companies such as Chevron are playing an increasingly more important role in Africa, driving projects and making large-scale investments. Uzochukwu Ozoh serves as the company’s Legal Advisor, contributing her expertise to navigating the complex legal landscape of this dynamic industry. Ozoh is featured on the African Energy Chamber’s list of 25 Under 40 Energy Women Rising Stars.

Please share a brief overview of your journey in the energy industry that led to your current role? What are some key achievements or milestones that you are particularly proud of?

I have been very fortunate throughout my career as I have had the opportunity to support portfolios across the upstream, midstream, and downstream sectors of the value chain. A lawyer by education, I started my career in Supply Chain Management and subsequently moved to Law. Prior to moving teams, I held a number of roles in supply chain, including the role of Lead Contracts Advisor on a multi-billion-dollar gas development project, responsible for overseeing the drafting, review, and negotiation of all project contracts, mitigation of contractors’ commercial claims, and developing the capability of project team members on contracting risk identification and mitigation. That role required a significant demonstration of leadership and grit, a deep understanding of the project drivers, and a true desire for team success. I also supported an effort that sought to gain carbon credits pursuant to the Kyoto Protocol, which kindled my interest in matters relating to lower-carbon operations in the energy sector.

As a Business Partner at heart, since joining the Law team, I have made consistent efforts to build my business acumen and foster a learning culture within my team that enables team members to also build business acumen, allowing us to achieve the department’s goal of providing business-focused legal support to clients. In my last role, I served as an attorney supporting Chevron Nigeria Limited’s domestic and regional gas businesses, working as an integral part of a cross-functional team and providing legal support to industry-leading gas sale and aggregation agreements in the Nigerian domestic gas market and complex interconnected agreements governing the West African Gas Pipeline value chain.

Some consistent themes across the various roles I have held, which have been great propellers for me, are my desire to foster teamwork and collaboration, learn, and enable the achievement of business objectives. These also enabled me to obtain two postgraduate degrees (a master’s degree in petroleum law and policy and an MBA) in parallel with working and raising a family.  

The energy industry is known for its complexities. What were some significant challenges you faced along the way, and how did you navigate through them to achieve your goals?

The curriculum and structure of our Nigerian universities, at the time I obtained my undergraduate degree, prepared me for many things but not for the dynamic, capital-intensive, and non-academic business and relational issues that I was required to manage as a young professional in the energy sector. Very early in my career, I was responsible for leading the development and management of high-risk, multi-million-dollar offshore heavy lift and pipelay contracts to support base business projects. On some days, I went home feeling totally lost and almost consumed by ‘imposter syndrome’. The terminologies used on the projects, the complex processes, and the pace of the work made me frequently consider whether I was good enough for the job. For the contracts I managed, a lack of in-depth understanding of the technical scope, poor drafting of contractual terms, inadequate allocation of risk amongst the parties, and non-alignment with project team members in the field locations could create significant financial exposure for the company.

I soon realized from challenges in achieving success on smaller tasks that my role went beyond drafting the fine print of agreements and that success would be a myth if I did not leverage the great people around me, build relationships, understand the technical details of the work and how each scope tied to the bottom line, and view myself as a capital steward and influencer that linked different stakeholders together to achieve business objectives. With this insight, I ensured that I was co-located with the technical team and adopted a hands-on approach to work; I asked questions and listened; I sought guidance from the excellent project manager and team members I worked with; and I proactively engaged stakeholders to ensure shared ownership of outcomes.

What advice would you give to young females aspiring to excel in the energy sector? Are there any specific strategies or mindsets that helped you overcome obstacles and reach your current position?

The biggest barriers we will potentially encounter as women in the workplace are those we impose on ourselves. Some may be born out of the expectations that society has buried deep in our subconscious minds; others may be driven by limiting beliefs we saddle ourselves with.

I shall share a short story: A mandatory requirement for graduating from the Imperial College Business School was interviewing a very senior leader who inspires you. Beyond my mother, who for obvious reasons I could not interview, there were two women on my list: Professor Alice P. Gast, the President of Imperial College at the time and member of the board of Chevron Corporation, and Sheryl Sandberg, who was the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook at the time. I knew it would be a herculean task to be granted an interview by any of these two women, but I was determined. Soon after I settled on my list of two women, information in the news suggested that Facebook was facing some challenges requiring the focus and attention of its leaders, which meant that I had only Professor Gast on my list. Although terrified, I was not deterred, and I felt even more determined to put forward an exceptional request for an interview knowing that so many others would make similar requests of her. I spent a great deal of time crafting the message that I believed would earn me an interview. Diligence and hard work sure pay off. I received a response from Professor Gast granting me the interview and noting that the exceptionally crafted message she received was the reason she could not say no to my request.

And so, I encourage you to seek excellence at all times, regardless of how ‘low’ you might be on the career ladder. As a wise person I know once said, if you are a mailman, be the best mailman that the entire block has ever seen, and watch yourself literally levitate upwards. Build yourself up and build a strong network of leaders and mentors from whom you can learn from. Take every opportunity offered you to sit at the table; recognize that you have earned your place at the table; learn, learn, learn, and, in the words of Barrack Obama, “Just learn to get stuff done.” Be the ally that you seek from your male and female counterparts. More importantly, grow through what you go through; there is always something to learn!

A career in energy can be demanding. Could you describe a typical day in your life?

As a wife, mother of three, and legal advisor, each day is a test of resilience. Being able to set firm rules and yet elicit love from my children; promote trust, cohesion, and a sense of ownership from my team; enable partnership and collaboration with our clients and stakeholders; and effectively prioritize are delicate, yet complex, tasks that form the core of each day. And so, whether it is a day that starts with a short check-in with my team to provide strategic guidance and ensure priorities are clear; or one filled with back-to-back meetings with internal or external stakeholders regarding complex business issues or goals, rules, or policy frameworks; or one that involves a detailed review of extensive agreements, I never lose sight of the critical role that relationships, continually nurtured and leveraged, play in my ability to enable the achievement of results.

Looking ahead, what changes or advancements do you hope to see in the energy sector, and how do you envision your role in shaping that future?

A subject that often sounds cliché when raised is gender equity. This subject, the existence of a gender imbalance in the energy sector, and the proven business imperatives for gender equity are real. As cited by the American Psychological Association, decades of studies demonstrate that female leaders help “increase productivity, enhance collaboration, inspire organizational dedication, and improve fairness”. The energy sector will gain tremendously from taking deliberate steps to address the issue of gender equity. Through private and public organizations in the sector and in collaboration with institutions of higher education, we can grow the female leadership pipeline by increasing the enrollment numbers of females in STEM-related fields and increasing the number of women hired by organizations in the energy sector. In addition, through deliberate actions including “early identification of leaders, establishing mentorship and sponsorship programs, supporting women’s interest in joining women-led professional organizations, and focusing on allyship”, and creating the right measures of success, we can successfully increase the number of leadership opportunities available to women in the energy sector.

To support this desire, one key effort I am involved in is teaching pre-teen and teen formation classes in my community. Through this medium, I encourage the girls to recognize that they can be whoever they want to be, and I also use the opportunity to teach the boys to acknowledge the roles they can play in supporting and advocating for their female counterparts. Also, in general, I recognize that I have opportunities because of the determination and resilience of many women who came before me, including my grandmother and my mother, and so I go about my work each day recognizing that I represent more than just myself; I am here, doing what I love, for all the women out there, including my daughters, who are striving for the opportunity to make their mark in society.

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