Before entering the oil and gas industry, Kristen Ray was a studying engineer at Honeywell Specialty Chemicals & Polymers. She was working toward a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering at Louisiana State University. While working in the industry during school, she learned early the importance of safety leadership and safety management. 

“I was exposed to a major safety incident early in my career and became very aware of the importance of working for a company that held safety as a top priority,” Ray says. “I was really impressed with how the oil and gas industry approached safety, particularly the upstream oil and gas sector’s management of both process safety and personal safety.” 

Her entry point into oil and gas came as an intern with BP Plc’s upstream technology group. It led to a five-year career with the company that culminated with the role of operations lead for BP’s Gulf of Mexico (GoM) deepwater production asset, Horn Mountain. She stayed in the GoM when she moved to BHP, accountable for operations readiness and startup of Shenzi Field and then moving through progressive positions to where she is today—vice president of technology-petroleum at BHP, based in Houston. 

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“As a company, we have integrated the management of operational technology, such as control systems with traditional IT management because we see a high convergence between those areas in the future,” she explains. “Coming from a facilities and operational background, I am able to help with that integration and help the business identify further digital solutions to improve overall business performance.” 

During her career, Ray has been exposed predominately with supermajors, large multinational independents and large international service companies. “I’d say those groups are very progressive in terms of being inclusive of females and striving to make sure they are focused on a wide variety of diversity within their leadership teams,” Ray says. 

But, she admits, she’s had recent experiences that tell her beyond those large companies that “the view that this industry is not ready for women is still out there for some.” 

“That was a bit of a shock to me to know that … even though there’s been a number of female leaders succeed, there’s still hesitation that ‘maybe this isn’t the right industry for women,’” she continues. “I think it’s a mixed bag, but I definitely think the large internationals get it. There’s still work to do, but it’s significantly different.” 

Ray says that, throughout her career, she’s had personal experiences of being selected and not being selected for roles due to gender. “These experiences have made me critically focus on the hiring process to ensure objective measures are put in place prior to interviews and as part of the selection criteria.” 

She says she personally has had an easier time fitting in with her male colleagues due to her natural interests. “I fish. I hunt. I work on cars. I’m an LSU Tiger. There was a lot in common on the personal side, so I think that created a bit of a relationship naturally,” she explains. “But I also realize it comes down to people. When you’re looking out for them and you have their interests at front of mind, it’s easy to succeed.” 

Ray says the continued evolution of oil and gas through the use of new technology and new ideas keeps her motivated and passionate about oil and gas today. “Just when you think something is nearly impossible, the industry pulls together and finds a way to make it work,” she says. “Just when it seems a bit consistent, something new comes along to challenge us in a different way.” 

She’s had a number of mentors throughout her career. “Many who don’t even know they are a mentor of mine,” she adds. But she does have a formal mentor she stays close to and looks to for support and guidance from a leadership perspective. 

As for young professionals entering the industry, she advises: “Be inquisitive and constructively challenge fixed assumptions when you think there are better ways. I find that all too often there are great new ideas that get overshadowed by the status quo.”