IWD 2021: Interview with Irene Waage Basili

Having led three organisations in the shipping and offshore services sectors, the Shearwater CEO shares her no-nonsense approach to leadership.

Irene has more than 25 years of experience from the maritime industry both within offshore service and conventional shipping. Before helping to establish Shearwater GeoServices in 2016, Irene was CEO of GC Rieber Shipping for six years. Prior to this she was VP of Marine Strategy with PGS, following PGS' acquisition of Arrow Seismic in 2007 where Irene served as CEO.
Irene gained her degree in Business Administration from Boston University School of Management and has several leadership courses from Solstrandprogrammet (Norway) and IMD (Switzerland). She also serves as Director of the Board for Pacific Basin Ltd.

What drew you to a career in the traditionally male-dominated energy sector?
I actually did not think about the gender aspect at the time.  I graduated from college in 1991 –  times were tough and it was almost impossible to get a job. My first job after graduating was as a store assistant selling soaps and scents – so when an operational assistant position opened up in a shipping company in NY, I was thrilled. Once already in the industry – I guess I was sold.
Describe your leadership style in just a few sentences.
I give quite a bit of leeway and delegate clear responsibility to those who report to me. When things work well, I give a lot of confidence, but can probably be a bit controlling if I feel that the responsibility is not owned by the leader in full.  I tend to adjust my style depending on the situation, the company and the individuals I have in my team – and think I am quite perceptive to what my different team members need from me.   
How do you believe COVID-19 has impacted gender diversity in the oil and gas sector?
This depends on where in the world you are, but even in a so-called liberal country like Norway I think the extended home office situation could lead to a setback for professional women.  Statistics indicate that women take more of the responsibility of children and housework in these situations. I believe it is extremely important that women – and men – return to the office setting as soon as the pandemic is under control, and do not fall for the temptation to seek extended home office solutions.
Work life is about presence – you need to be around the table when the tasks are delegated.  I would be very curious to hear reflections on how this plays out in different African countries.
What advice would you give to women struggling to make it past middle management to reach senior leadership roles?
Remember, it is your competence, attitude and hard work that defines you – not your gender! Take on new challenges whenever you can – ask for it yourselves if not given to you but do so wisely.  Do things that scare you from time to time.  What makes you hyperventilate one day, you may do blindfolded six months later.  Be part of the solution and not the problem – that is what brings value for the company.    
How is Shearwater working to attract the best young – especially female – talent to work in oil and gas?
We focus on talent more than on gender to be honest.  The extreme cyclicality of the oil and gas industry is a problem, that in addition the energy transition makes it more difficult to attract young people to the industry.  Building a company with a business model that can sustain the cyclicality over the coming decades while participating in the energy transition in a relevant and profitable way is important to be an attractive employer for younger, talented people. 
Linked to this, what is the number one characteristic you look for in new hires?
The person that fits the particular role the best.  That will differ depending on situation, the team the person will be part of, and the role the person is meant to fill.  Versatility however is always a good trait in my view. 

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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