Educate, empower and encourage is the mantra embodied at the annual Shell-sponsored Date with Destiny career forum, which takes aim at inspiring more women to seek employment in the traditionally male-dominated oil and gas industry.
The event has certainly found its footing since its inception nearly a decade ago. This year marks the ninth incarnation of the event, which saw St. Charles Parish’s forum take place June 20 at the Edward A. Dufresne Community Center. The all-day seminar was broken up into three sessions, split by morning, afternoon and night, and covered topics ranging from the best practices for job seeking to the testimonies of women who have entered into careers with Shell. The event was open to area women at no charge.
Theron Williams, Shell Norco’s learning and development manager, was part of the brain trust that introduced Date with Destiny. He said this year’s event in Luling brought one of the larger turnouts of women for its morning session yet, with nearly 100 attendees — there has been stark growth that’s held steady through the years since the first event, which drew 35 women.
“It’s awesome, it really is,” Williams said. “Whether these ladies become employees at Shell or it helps them in their present role … the thing I really appreciate about it, the (original) intent was to get more information about our site, about oil and gas, but (the event’s) impact has helped them even on jobs they currently have. Some ladies have shifted courses and become operators. Even at this year’s event we had a lady teaching last year who is now going to school to become an operator after she attended Date with Destiny.
“When I see lives change, it doesn’t get more satisfying than that. It’s some powerful stuff.”
The event featured a panel of women who have found success in the field and with Shell, both those who entered into the career long ago and also more recently. One session focused on resume building, interviewing tips and featured mock interviews. Another delves into the topic of applying for internships and methods for turning one’s self into the best possible candidate for a position with Shell. The event began with breakfast, concluded with a dinner and supplied useful knowledge throughout.
“We’re always excited about this event,” Shell Norco General Manager Brett Woltjen said. “We’ve attracted some great candidates through this process, and that’s why we do it. We always seem to get pretty good attendance. Several of the speakers attended the program previously and it was part of what sparked their interest. There are a lot of success stories that we’re sharing with folks whose interest was piqued.”
Some of the questions the attendees asked included: how difficult is it, as a woman, to work in an environment with mostly men?; How hard is the physical work?; and what does the process to get started involve?
“We want to give them the information and job-seeking skills and help them understand about the scholarships available,” Williams said.
Elke Landry Mollere provided those in attendance with a strong example of a woman who sought a career with Shell and made it count in a big way. Mollere, who was on the Date with Destiny panel in both 2009 and 2016, found herself looking for a career change following her 2005 divorce. She sought a career that would enable her to provide a good living for herself and her two young boys.
Her brother worked in the industry and introduced her to the possibility of enrolling in a collegiate PTECH (process technician) program. She applied for a scholarship offered by Shell and became a recipient — she went on to join Shell as an intern before being officially hired in October of 2008. Today, Mollere is a highly-regarded operator at Shell in its Cat Cracker Unit.
She spoke to attendees at Date with Destiny about her experiences. At first, she said, it was a difficult adjustment for her, but one that’s proved well-worth it.
“They asked me what my biggest challenges were in my first few years of being an operator,” Mollere said. “And the truth is, at the beginning, I was my own worst enemy. I was so worried about proving myself to others. I’d try two to three times as hard.
“But as I became more relaxed, others were seeing I knew what I was doing. I started helping others and taking some extra classes revolving around safety … other operators who doubted me at one point were coming up to me and asking for my opinion on things. I became kind of a mentor for my peers. It was very satisfying.”
Monica Hagar, a Human Resources manager at Shell’s Geismar plant, was one of the speakers at this year’s Date with Destiny.
“Oil and gas isn’t that typical female choice, even today in 2017,” Hagar said. “We need women in our workforce. It means a stronger team and stronger business. It’s a male dominated field traditionally, and we want to help them understand the different opportunities out there. And there are great opportunities out there to earn extremely well-paying jobs. I hope some of those people (who will fill those positions) come through today.”
Twin sisters Sherry and Cherry Wilmore were attendees at the event who found the presentations informative and helpful. Sherry attended with an eye toward possibly transitioning to a career in the oil and gas field, while Cherry sought some knowledge that she could apply to her career as a school counselor.
“I was looking for something different and unique, an opportunity to learn and to be educated,” Sherry said. “To see what skills that I already have that can be transferred into the oil and gas field in a more administrative role.
“I learned so much. I learned even if you have the education and think you know something, you can always learn something else pertaining to it … things like how to not be so wordy, to cut things down and to be aware of the six second rule. In six seconds, people determine who you are, so make sure it counts. If you write something, make sure it’s worth writing. It’s been a wonderful presentation.”
Cherry found plenty of useful information as well that she hopes to convey to the students she will work with.
“With my school counseling degree, I want to be able to work with the students who need me,” said Cherry. “So they can understand and open their eyes and be more aware of the different jobs that they can gather outside of the ones they might traditionally consider.”