Embracing Conflict and Eschewing Perfection – An International Women’s Day Interview with Andrea Decore
March 8 is International Women’s Day #IWD2021 - a global day that celebrates the achievements of women and serves as a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Recognizing and addressing barriers – including cultural, generational and gender biases – will help us create a better world and a great place to work for everyone. Each year, we like to celebrate this day by profiling women from the Petro-Canada family, and our parent organization Suncor, to learn about their roles, their thoughts on gender balance and how they are supporting a respectful and inclusive workplace.
Our second profile this year is of Andrea Decore, Vice President, Strategy and Corporate Development at Suncor. Prior to this role, Andrea has held a number of positions, including time as legal counsel, during her 20 years at Suncor.
PumpTalk: Can you tell us a bit about your position at Suncor?
My current role is Vice President, Strategy and Corporate Development. In this role, I am responsible for corporate strategy, capital allocation, project governance, project economics, mergers & acquisitions, new business development, and strategic commercial opportunities.
I have a great job at a really interesting time in the evolution of the energy economy. There are several opportunities for Suncor to participate in the energy transition. In particular, we can also bring Petro-Canada customers a differentiated offering that is low carbon and can address global climate concerns.
PumpTalk: What career highlights are you most proud of?
In November of 2017, I brought five years of Indigenous consultation agreement negotiations to a conclusion with two landmark deals: one with Mikisew Cree First Nation and the other with Fort McKay First Nation. The deals included long-term, broad-ranging consultation agreements and the sale of a 49% stake in Suncor’s East Tank Farm (ETF) hot bitumen terminal to the two First Nations - funded entirely by the largest public bond offering by Indigenous communities in Canadian history.
This investment generates almost $20 million dollars a year of revenue for those two First Nations, which they then invest in community programs, education, healthcare and infrastructure. They are now significant business partners with us, and economic participants in the Canadian energy infrastructure – that is huge! Plus, other pipeline companies are using this ETF commercial model now. I love that my team came up with this concept and it is continuing to be leveraged elsewhere, including by us in additional Indigenous investment opportunities.
More recently, I have been doing a lot of corporate development work to support the energy transition to a low carbon future. I have championed and executed investments that Suncor has made in Enerkem - a solid waste to fuels company; LanzaTech - a waste gasses to fuels company; and LanzaJet – a sustainable aviation fuel production company. These investments, along with others that my team and I have advised on, will make a real difference to the global energy system. What more could anyone want than to work on interesting projects that make a difference to people, the environment and the economy?
PumpTalk: In your time with Suncor, and from your perspective working in a traditionally male-dominated industry, what has helped you navigate the workplace and your career?
I’m very fortunate because I love what I do. That has helped me in my career, time and time again. If you do what you like, you will put the time in. The more time you put in, the better you get at it.
It has also helped to have a supportive family. Surround yourself with people who want you to be successful and who will help you get there.
PumpTalk: Innovations are constantly changing the future of energy. How important do you think gender equality is to the future of Canada?
Gender equality is non-negotiable and, in fact, is a right enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But what does that mean for business? The Globe and Mail had a great pull out on gender equality and diversity on January 21. As they noted:
“The first equal pay legislation in Canada passed in 1951, making it illegal to pay men and women in the same job different salaries. Women overtook men among university graduates three decades ago. Today, women represent just under half of the workforce. And yet, men still dramatically outnumber, outrank and outearn women.”
If a business truly wants to be successful, they need to solve this problem – and if they can, it will be a competitive advantage. The data now shows that businesses that have more women in executive positions perform better financially.
We really want a broad scope of diversity – not just gender diversity, but also cultural, age, sexual orientation, etc. While having everyone look and think the same is easy and convenient, it is proven not to be conducive to innovation. Diversity is an economic issue, a GDP issue.
PumpTalk: What two key pieces of advice would you offer women in the workplace?
First, develop resilience and don’t be afraid of conflict. Everyone faces challenges, everyone has missteps, everyone feels stress, everyone makes mistakes – these shouldn’t get you down, they shouldn’t cause you to give up or give in. Try not to take things too personally. Best just to learn from mistakes and move on. The more senior you become, the more difficult conversations you’ll have. Cultivate your listening skills. Be respectful. Even if the criticism you’re addressing is unfounded, you still need to address the concerns. Show up with confidence coupled with humility.
Second, remember that perfection is overrated. A lot of women want to be perfect. They want to be successful at everything. They want to do it all and they feel like they need to do it all by themselves. Personally, I don’t think it’s possible to be perfect, or to do it all yourself. Women need to be forgiving with themselves. It’s important to ask for help from time to time. It’s also important to learn to say “no” to some things. In my experience, you can do a lot of different things at once, but you can’t do it all.
A mentor of mine gave me some good advice early in my career. Focus on what’s important. Know that your career will ebb and flow. Sometimes you’ll be able to do more and sometimes other things will need attention. That advice has influenced the way I interact with my kids and my husband. I always tell them what I’m working on and I feel they are partners in my career. Is it perfect? No. But I think we all get better because of it.
PumpTalk: The 2021 theme for International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge: a challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change. What does this mean to you?
Challenge breeds creativity and innovation. In The Geography of Genius, the author, Eric Weiner, notes that all great periods of innovation are the culmination, the product, of challenge or strife. When you have challenges, you are forced to be creative, to find solutions to think outside the box. Don’t be crippled by the challenge. Focus instead on how do I make something positive.
Andrea, thank you so much for your time and for sharing your experience! Our other profile this year is of Shannon Wing, recently appointed Senior Director of Strategy and Business Development for the Petro-Canada business at Suncor. In her interview we discuss the need to challenge assumptions and unconscious bias in the workplace.