Natalie Ray

Over 6 years ago Natalie joined BP as a research chemist, but having realised that she wanted to work outside of a lab, Natalie took advantage of the opportunities available to her at BP.

For the last four years she has worked at the interface between technology, marketing and legal for the Fuels North America business as the fuels technology claims advisor.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

Looking back at my youth, like so many science students, I was a pre-med and dreamed of becoming a doctor. But things changed when I got involved in chemistry research at university – it was hands-on and fun and I got hooked! At some point, my professor came up to me and suggested that I majored in Chemistry, which I eventually did.

Following a few history classes I considered going into art restoration, but then decided to pursue catalyst and material development because I was passionate about making things.

After working as a research scientist at BP, I realised that I wanted to try something different. I was interested in a role where I could leverage my technical background and focus on communicating to non-technical audiences. BP supported me in this transition and I’m now the fuels technology claims advisor in Advanced Technology Products. I work at the interface between technology, marketing and legal for the Fuels North America business.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

For me, it’s always been a case of opportunities emerging and feeling right. I may have had a broad plan, but what really shaped my career was following my passions and the work which excited me.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

In my current role I review any form of advertising that goes out about BP fuel. If it’s technical, talking about engine cleaning and performance, it will have come through me. I review it with our technical and legal experts to ensure that the technology supports the advertising message. It’s a unique role that’s challenging and fun.

I remember one particular challenge when I first started my role at BP. We were about to launch a new fuel across the US at thousands of stations. For the product to be successful, there was a huge advertising campaign corresponding with the launch. I reviewed hundreds of advertisements over a couple of months, making sure the fuel claims and disclaimers were accurate.

Those challenging few months taught me to have conversations with people and not just rely on emails. I learned the importance of going back to the roots, talking to people and connecting with them, and this ultimately made us more efficient.

Is there one particular project that you’re passionate about?

Yes! I have recently finished a project which told the technology and people story behind BP’s low carbon products. Getting to net-zero is BP’s ambition and personally, I think it’s one of the most important things impacting the world. I’m thrilled to have worked on it.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

The reason I’m in my role right now is because BP encouraged my career progression and recognised that I had a skillset that might be suited to somewhere other than lab research. It helped that I had great mentors line managers who made that transition happen for me.

If you had one piece of careers advice to give to your 15-year-old self, what would that be?

I would tell myself to be an engineer and explore all the different engineering careers! When I was younger, I knew about doctors and medicine, but not engineering. If I were to do it all over again, I would absolutely be an engineer.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Absolutely yes, there are barriers. I think many women working in tech feel isolated, especially if you’re the only woman in a team! I believe that it’s important to create networks inside and outside of work. There are so many ways to connect with people and it doesn’t have to be just talking about work. Putting time and effort into relationships can help expand networks, develop mentorships and get a sponsor – all contribute to success.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Following through on an initiative is key! As part of BP WIN, a BP internal organisation aimed to attract and retain talent by facilitating professional and personal growth, I got involved in a virtual development series to connect women working in STEM roles across BP to tackle some of the challenges they face and offer career and skills development.

The development series began in the US and has expanded to other countries. The results were great! In two and half years we went from concept to an event series that connects hundreds of engineers and leaders across BP. I’m really proud to say that the STEM event series is still up and running.

There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I don’t think there’s a magic formula that would fix this, otherwise women would have already done it! But if I had to name a few factors I would increase STEM outreach at schools, look at creating better communities for young women and men starting out in their careers, especially in mature industries (i.e. non-silicon valley) to build solid networks. I also think it’s important to have clear deliverables on performance and measure success against them. Additionally, I see great importance in making leaders, managers, sponsors and mentors diverse in terms of gender, background and education.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Harvard Business Review does a podcast called “Women at work” – I get some great advice from them!