The feminine side of Julie Watkins, Director of Corporate Continuous Improvement and Enterprise Applications with Canadian Natural Resources (CNRL).
As a woman Director in a major oil and gas firm, I am often in boardrooms with a lot of very powerful men, but I don’t think of it that way. I never look around the room to figure how many men vs. how many women, I see people who are my friends and colleagues. These are people who count on me and whom I count on to do good work. I don’t really see gender specificity, I see the person and the talents everyone brings to the table and think how I can compliment this team.
I am feminine and I know I drive a lot of people crazy with my positive attitude, plus I’m insanely people oriented, but my approach to the business is embraced and it gets the results the company is looking for. I don’t know if there is a feminine or masculine way to do business, but for me, it’s all about kindness, it’s all about working together, it’s all about not being afraid to address conflict with kindness in your heart. With that, you can accomplish anything.
As far as female and male dynamics in business there has been a lot of change since I got my career start. I remember my first job working in a major oil and gas company with very senior men. There were rumors, but I actually didn’t believe them until out of the blue a senior manager approached me physically and sexually based on his position in the company.
I was just a new grad out of school really enjoying having a new job, I had a car, bought a new stereo, all the things we really wanted as young kids in those days. I was really loving life, had some great colleagues and thought it was a great opportunity when the VP invited me out to a bunch. I held all my new bosses up to the stature of my father who’s a retired VP from a major oil and gas company. When it turned out that these men were actually sexual predators using the company as their hunting ground it really broke my heart. I was shocked.
The first thing I did was talk to my parents and my father wanted to get out his shotgun. I told him, dad I think this is my battle to fight, which I did. How I dealt with it was to confront it head on. I want to the individual’s office, who was quite senior, I sat across the table from him and I shamed him. I told him that his behavior was unacceptable, it was unbecoming of a leader, and from my perspective, I told him you are not really a leader, you’re just a person with a title. He didn’t acknowledge that at all. I left the company two or three months later.
It wasn’t a pretty time back in the 80’s, but to be fair there were a lot of ladies taking advantage of the situation as well, using it to advance their own situation. It was mutual for a lot of people, just not for me. Today, I don’t see that kind of behavior anywhere. I think we as women have found our voice to say no, to say this is not cool, and we have a lot more choice.
How I got the courage to talk like that to a senior VP is a credit to my parents. They taught us our value as a person, to have integrity and the value of money. They raised us with really good values and gave us a voice. With my parents there was always a lot of discipline, but when there were decisions to be made it was always our decision. My parents just made sure we had access to all the right information, and it was always with support at the level of our values. I saw my parents demonstrate values, I saw I mom with my father in difficult situations and how they worked together helped me find my voice.
More from this dynamic woman in our podcast conversation.