Since her first internship 22 years ago, Cathy Lebsack has become accustomed to typically being the only woman in the room. Significantly, though, Lebsack is in the room.
“I definitely experienced times early in my career where I had to prove myself a bit more than some male peers before I was given the next opportunity,” the Devon Energy Corp. executive says. “However, I have had the opportunity to work with some great leaders and mentors that supported me and encouraged me to continue to raise my hand for every opportunity and new challenge.”
A native of Oklahoma City, Lebsack grew up immersed in the oil and gas business and followed her mother, a corporate secretary for two energy companies, into the field. Her mother reviewed Securities and Exchange Commission filings, while Lebsack was drawn to the land department.
“They were the ‘faces’ of the company to the land owners and mineral owners,” she says. “I was interested in the work that allowed me to accomplish the goal of getting access to land while also presenting the best depiction of an oil and gas company to those we were working with, and in the communities in which we operated.”
She came to Devon in 2001 and was promoted to vice president in 2016. A lot happened in between, but her thoughts on the day she joined the industry and the day she joined the executive team were remarkably similar.
At the start of her career, there was “definitely a lot of anxiety, a lot of hope that I could keep up. I was hopeful that I could learn as quickly as possible, that what I was going to bring would be valuable,” Lebsack says.
A different sort of anxiety greeted her on her first day as vice president.
“Even though you have proved yourself and you’ve worked to be ‘ready’ for this new position and increased responsibility [of] vice president of a company … the concern is, can I live up to this responsibility?” she says. “The idea of, how can I keep this team motivated and successful in a challenging environment?
“It was an exhausting first year in the elevated role,” she admits. “I described it a lot of times as my loneliest year in my career because you’re trying to find your way. You’re trying to figure out the things you should already know, the things you don’t know and the confidence you need to be vulnerable.”
Along the way, a major challenge was surviving colon cancer.
“I was forced to stop, evaluate my priorities and truly determine what matters most in life to me,” Lebsack says. “When I think about what makes me different from many others, I believe it is my ability to persevere through anything with grace, patience and sheer determination because I know that I can and will endure for what matters most.”
Returning to work, she was concerned that her illness would hinder her career advancement. Devon’s leadership demonstrated their confidence in her.
“They gave me the chance, and I took it and have been extremely grateful,” Lebsack says. “I moved into a leadership role immediately following coming back from enduring cancer treatments and realized that leadership was my career path and mission.”
Lebsack is a woman of faith and, while she describes herself as “incredibly competitive,” she wants her staff to feel her kindness and love and to succeed as a team.
Young professionals, she advises, should be proactive.
“Engage early in your career with your company, community, industry,” Lebsack says. “Build your network and build your brand. Say ‘yes’ to opportunities that will challenge you and help you grow and develop. Be a great team player.”
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