Not many of us can boast that we are achieving the goals we had when we were eight years old. But Mervin Azeta, product and service delivery manager with oilfield services heavyweight Schlumberger and 2020’s Rising Star in ExxonMobil’s Power Play awards, can do so.
Her current role focuses on improving the delivery of oil and gas well completion projects as well as promoting higher levels of engagement and internal alignment to improve performance—winning Nigeria- and London-educated Azeta the plaudits for the industry’s outstanding female professional, aged 35 or younger.
Congratulations on your award. What does being recognised as a ‘rising star’ mean to you?
Azeta: Thank you very much! I’m honoured, and I also see this as rewarding not just me, but all the amazing individuals that have inspired, invested in, and supported me in more ways than one, and continue to do so. I am truly grateful for having such a solid support system.
It also validates the fact that anyone can succeed at anything: with a healthy dose of courage, diligence, grace, and resilience, supported within an enabling environment. And I guess it also means there is a lot more work to be done—perhaps to go from rising star to superstar [laughing].
How important was coming from Nigeria, where oil and gas is obviously such a central plank of the economy, to informing your career path decision?
Azeta: Really quite important! I decided very early on I wanted to tackle the world’s energy challenges, informed by an experience I had at about the age of eight.
At that time, in Nigeria very little was known, shared with me, or done about new, lower-carbon energies. So, knowing that the oil and gas sector was a definitive route into the wider energy industry—and that I could get the best chance of influencing the change I wanted to see from within—I had to get my initial career choices and plans aligned accordingly.
Did you have any concerns that pursuing the route of chemical and reservoir engineering was seen as more of a ‘male’ choice?
Azeta: That is a very interesting question! Although a few people expressed concerns about my choice, when I was just about to head to college, I did not give any ‘maleness’ much thought or allow it to diminish my purpose in choosing the course in the first place.
I would attribute such an unflinching attitude, in part, to the fact that I had been raised by phenomenal parents, very confident and fearless individuals, who were never hung up on or dissuaded by stereotypical prejudices.
They also never failed to express their deep convictions in my ability to take on any realistic goal I set myself, including pursuing an engineering degree, and they constantly cheered me on. I also had the advantage of being properly guided by counsellors when making the choice.
Nonetheless, as a problem-solver by nature, I have felt compelled to face up to the wider issues; for example, why might women find trying to navigate through the challenge of making similar career choices so difficult that they turn away and pursue other paths? Considering such obstacles has informed my efforts around demystifying implicit biases, raising awareness about gender inequalities, promoting literacy and quality science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (Stem) education, and advocating for enhanced representation across energy professions.
As I progressed in my studies, and eventually, in my career, I became ever keener on helping more girls and women develop deep understanding of all that is possible with Stem. I have put that into practice for over a decade, working with several entities like the Society of Women Engineers, the Nigerian Society of Engineers, Schlumberger Excellence in Educational Development and Justina Mutale Foundation at different times across the period.
I have also stayed committed to curating driving, and/or supporting initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace and influence decision- and policymakers to address both the structural rigidities within the industry and long-established and pervasive societal barriers that generally hinder girls and women.
What have been your career highlights so far?
Azeta: There have been quite a number—perhaps you will permit me to share three of them. The first would be when I was named a Future Energy Leader by the World Energy Council; that was in 2015. With that recognition, I was able to meaningfully engage with and contribute to global dialogues on the energy transition, and—as a female and young professional—bring a unique set of perspectives and creative solutions to the table.
Another highlight is my promotion to general field engineer in Schlumberger, marking the end of my fixed-step training and my transition into management. I had worked on a business system development project that was closely aligned with the company’s digital transformation agenda and received commendation for best-in-class performance.
And, more recently, I was thrilled to be recognised as a Society of Petroleum Engineers The Way Ahead Energy Influencer—one of fourteen outstanding young professionals in the oil and gas industry, and possibly the only African!
How important is the trail you are blazing, and the Power Play recognition you have received, for anyone else who wants to get into this industry?
Azeta: Incredibly important! I strongly believe that my experiences, and the Power Play initiative more widely, help challenge the stereotypes that have entrenched, and still do entrench, gender concentration in certain occupations, and reframe narratives to represent female experiences within the industry. Essentially, they show anyone who wants to enter the industry that there is no such thing as too coloured, too female, or too young to succeed in a still currently male-dominated environment like the LNG, or wider energy, industry.
For the young women, and indeed men, that I mentor, they serve to reinforce the beliefs we share and instil a culture of excellence and progress. I really do want to see them unlock their potential and thrive in their careers.
I sincerely applaud the team at ExxonMobil for creating the Power Play Awards, advancing women in LNG, and helping the industry appreciate the value of diversity and equality. Those positive stories of women, like myself—who are not just blazing trails but doing so much to take energy to unserved and underserved places, to power economic growth and sustainable development for the benefit of all, and to nurture the next generation of dreamers, doers, innovators and leaders in the industry—are both inspiring and empowering.
How will the industry benefit from having an even greater volume of talent which is not only white, male and from the developed world?
Azeta: To adapt to the evolving demands of the energy transition and fourth industrial revolution, it is imperative that the industry attracts the right people, with the right enthusiasm, knowledge and skills. These talents are not limited to a gender, geography, or race.
Moreover, with all that has been happening in the world lately—in terms of racial justice and social inclusion—the industry clearly has a moral and political responsibility to be diverse and inclusive, whilst ensuring that the ever-increasing need for its products and services, by billions across the globe, is met in the most cost-effective and sustainable way. And I reckon that bolstering diversity could yield incredible benefits, including, but not limited, to:
- Retaining its social licence to operate and create impact at scale
- Reinforcing a positive culture and environment that significantly reduces attrition
- Capitalising on a wide variety of capacities, competencies and perspectives to deliver on its digital transformation agenda, foster radical innovation and drive superior performance
- Capturing new business and economic opportunities presented by the energy transition
- Achieving its climate and sustainability ambitions and accelerating its transformation to an agile, cleaner, integrated and resilient industry.
Do you feel excited about the career ahead of you in an energy world that is rapidly changing?
Azeta: Absolutely! Working with a truly innovative company like Schlumberger that fully supports diversity and equality, as well as provides almost limitless and flexible career opportunities, definitely sets me up for an exciting career.
I also love that the industry is as dynamic as it is because that means I get new challenges, or rather opportunities, for continuous learning, better performance and greater impact.