IWD 2021: Interview with Amalia Olivera-Riley

Tullow's Head of Exploration Shares Key Learnings from Her 25 Years of Oil and Gas Experience.

Amalia is currently Head of Exploration at Tullow.  Amalia joined Tullow in January 2020, bringing over 25 years of experience in oil and gas exploration.

Amalia started her career at Exxon in 1995 in Houston, where she developed through many technical positions as a geoscientist, and later into leadership.  A couple of highlights were work leading to the Hadrian and Julia discoveries in Deep Water GOM, and the acquisition of 600k acres in Argentina for the emerging unconventional Vaca Muerta through multiple farm-ins and licensing rounds.

Through these and various task force assignments, Amalia had the chance to gain commercial and organisational experience, enriching her solid technical background. After 18 years with ExxonMobil, she moved to Repsol, performing various global roles on technical oversight, technology application, resource assessment and planning and quality assurance. Amalia is a native of Argentina. She received a degree in Geology form the university of Buenos Aires, and a PhD in Geoscience from Purdue University, USA.

What drew you to a career in the traditionally male-dominated energy sector?

I owe my interest in science to my father and grandfather, both engineers, who spoke passionately about the projects they were involved in and made science a focus of our everyday conversations. My father particularly, encouraged all of us to investigate and explore the big questions through science, and was particularly supportive of my interest in science. I believe his support played a key role in me having the confidence to pursue a career in the field I love, without letting the demographics stop me. As my career developed, the support of my husband and our children has been fundamental to my progression.

Describe your leadership style in just a few sentences.

My colleagues describe me as a supportive leader, who communicates honestly.  This past year offered me an opportunity to really test my skills, leading the Tullow Exploration team through a major transformation.  Maintaining very honest communication and aligning the team to our new reality were key to keeping people motivated.  I like using metaphors that help the team visualize where we are going and create a sense of camaraderie and common purpose.

Globally, why do so many women still seem to struggle to make it past middle management to reach senior leadership roles – particularly in the energy sector?

That’s a really good question!  And probably multiple factors contribute to it.  For many, juggling family roles is a challenge, whether taking care of children or aging parents, women seem to have competing priorities.  There is also the unconscious bias of simply not putting forward a female for a demanding role due to potential family responsibilities that may seem conflicting, rather than asking the woman herself.

Other times there is lack of compatibility with spouse or partner progression.  Additionally, there seems to be a “confidence” factor, where as a community, we feel appropriate to challenge a male to grow into a role, but we require experience for a female to take a stretch role.

Do you think the impact of COVID-19 on the working women you describe above will be broadly positive or negative in the long-term? 

I believe the COVID-19 crisis has impacted families profoundly, working women in our industry having to double up as teachers and housekeepers while working from home.  However, the fact that the men have also been at home, has in many cases raised awareness of the multiple tasks and roles to be played, and has helped many families evolve in the sharing of home tasks. Hopefully the crisis has provided an opportunity for greater equality. With every crisis, there is opportunity.   

How is your company working to attract the best young – especially female – talent to work in oil and gas?

I believe Tullow’s current approach to diversity and inclusion is a strong positive in attracting and retaining talent.  Our most senior leadership is involved and strongly supports the inclusion agenda. We are making progress in creating an environment where there is relevant and open conversation on the topic, particularly from our female Non-Executive Directors.

Linked to this, what is the number one characteristic you look for in new hires?

Personally, I think curiosity and desire to learn are essential in new hires.  To progress in a career requires continuous learning.  A desire to step into the unknown and a willingness to learn and stretch are key attributes for success and can overcome any shortage of experience.

Are you interested in getting involved in the D&I conversation in the oil and gas sector? Join AOW Accelerates: Diversity & Inclusion at AOW 2021. Register here.


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