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[Editor's note: Influential Women In Energy 2021 is a supplement to the May 2021 issue of Oil and Gas Investor magazine. Subscribe to the magazine here.]

Growing up in Katy, Texas, intrinsically tied Whitney Eaton to the energy industry. 

“Both of my grandfathers and my mother were all employed by energy companies, and almost every family I know has some connection to the energy industry,” Eaton said. “It is an exciting industry to be a part of as it touches on all facets of life, and no matter the career choice, the energy industry has opportunities for everyone. Being able to work for energy companies and help them adapt their programs to address the evolving compliance and ESG issues has been an exciting challenge and opportunity for me and a nice progression from where my career started.” 

Before beginning her career in the energy industry, Eaton spent more than a decade going to law school, clerking and working at a global law firm in the Washington, D.C., area. Toward the end of that time, energy companies began developing and growing their compliance programs, which proved fortuitous for Eaton who was looking to return to Houston. Shortly after moving back, her opportunity arrived at TGS, where today she is executive vice president of compliance and ESG.

“While this industry may have looked different when my grandfathers worked in it, I think this industry still drives innovation and advancements for the world today.” 

ESG formation 

“I remember a conversation I had with our CEO early on regarding the development and formation of our ESG program. He saw ESG as an opportunity for our organization, and thus our goal was to create an ESG program that would be seen as a differentiator. Not only do we want to capitalize on our already strong, integrated sustainability efforts with respect to health, safety, environment, compliance and anti-corruption, we want to build upon them in a way that makes sense for our organization and is beneficial to both us and the industry. We want our ESG program to be something that enhances both our and our customer’s commercial successes. Today, I believe we have the strong foundation of a holistic, company-integrated sustainability program that is transparent and agile enough to evolve and address the key issues of 2021 and the future: encouraging women to remain or return to the workforce, increasing awareness on human rights issues in the supply chain, addressing climate change and transitioning companies to new energy solutions. Each of these ‘challenges’ are opportunities for companies that want to find a way forward.” 

Career milestone 

“I had the unusual and unique experience to receive a promotion to our leadership while on maternity leave with my second child. A common fear for many women who go on maternity leave, including myself, is that they will lose out on opportunities for advancement, but this should not be the case. I work for and with people who are supportive of working parents and who championed on my behalf. The company recognized I earned the promotion through my hard work and trusted that I would continue to perform when I returned from leave. In the 18 months since my return, we have developed an ESG strategy that has resulted in TGS being listed on the 2021 Bloomsburg Gender Equality Index, receiving an R-factor rating by State Street Global in the top 10-30% (above both industry and Norwegian averages), and a Governance Group rating of A- (the only Norwegian oil and gas services firm in the top quartile). All of this underscores the contributions working mothers (and all parents) can make if we trust and support them.” 

Industry perspective 

“Our industry is constantly evolving, whether it is the technology and Big Data revolution, alternative energies or geopolitical situations, and that is what makes it exciting. When I joined the industry, a big focus for me was developing a compliance program to address anti-corruption and trade control issues. Over the years, that work has evolved to address data privacy, data security and human rights concerns, and now it also includes an independent ESG role. As new risks, challenges or innovations arise within our industry, the work must adapt to meet those, which will always provide new and interesting learning experiences and opportunities.” 

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Diversity and equality 

“I encourage any woman applying for a job at a company or law firm to see how many female executives/partners they have and if you interview with any female employees in the organization or in the department you want to work in. Both of these can be key indicators of how an organization values women. Throughout my career, I gravitated toward companies that promoted diversity and equality and included women in leadership positions (i.e., Arnold & Porter, KBR and TGS). This not only gave me many female colleagues who provided invaluable advice and guidance but also male colleagues who appreciate a diverse workforce. Organizations need to continue to be proactive in fostering diversity within their workforces at all levels, as it is well proven that diversity leads to commercial successes, innovation and advancement.” 

Facing challenges 

“I am a big Broadway fan, and the sentiment behind Ethel Merman’s “Annie Get Your Gun” song—“anything you can do, I can do better”— has always resonated with me. That attitude of not letting others or the situation get the best of me is what motivates me when I face a challenge or opportunity. I refuse to let something I cannot control, like my gender, define how I handle a situation.” 

Role models 

“I had the privilege of having a mother who worked in the energy industry and parents who strongly advocated and supported my educational and career goals and gave me the opportunities to reach them. My dad was a #girldad over three decades before society normalized this concept, and my mom served as my first role model of being a successful working mom.”