LIFE & LIVING
Rachel Gilbert talks to another local inspirational woman, who is a little closer to home…
Growing up, I never had to look far for an inspirational woman. I admired my teacher and lawyer aunts, and my doctor grandmother. Daily however, I looked no further than my mother, Conny Gilbert. Always pushing me and supporting me in every endeavour. I’m so grateful to have grown up with the most inspiring woman I know.
Conny Gilbert didn’t reach her full potential in school, but she was always a determined fighter. In a career spanning 36 years, she rose from an administrative, technical assistant role, to subsurface management and senior reservoir engineer advisory roles. Her time spent in the oil industry moved her across several countries and two continents.
Now, after moving from Houston, Texas back to Wells-Next-the-Sea, Norfolk, Conny has decided to devote her time to something slightly slower paced — swimming teaching.
“I decided to leave the industry as it was harder to continue with my views on sustainability and climate change,” Conny said. “Although a lot of companies are trending towards renewable energies,
I wanted to spend time doing something I love, and teaching children about
Conny is always looking for a new challenge or a way to stay busy. She completed her engineering degree with two young children at home while working full-time. Her husband Alan was studying for his degree at the same time.
“We supported each other as a team throughout both of our careers. We always made choices that would support our family, and I knew that meant following Conny’s career to new opportunities,” Alan said.
When I was little, I never understood what mum did for a job. I used to visit her office and draw different suggestions for how to find oil, although she never did take me up on the bucket and spade idea. What I did understand, however, was how much her team respected and admired her.
“You are only as good as your team,” Conny said. “You have to motivate everyone and support them where needed. Pushing for development and encouraging team building in different environments is key.”
Some of Conny’s favourite memories involve team building: snowmobiling in Spitsbergen, Norway, clay pigeon shooting and sinking a canoe on the river Dee. I distinctly remember my parents arriving home from a team barbecue in chef hats and aprons, wielding a host of new memories.
People would often ask me what my Dad did for a job, and I would proudly explain it was my mother who had taken us around the world. She was a role model for me and all of my friends growing up, many of whom were young girls dreaming of a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
Although she would often be one of very few women in the room, Conny said she never felt pushback based on gender. At the start of her career, in Lowestoft, she only encountered one other female engineer, but was still pushed to success.
Further on in her career Conny led a team of twelve with only three women, but pushed to recruit more. “A diverse team can only be a good thing as it will benefit everyone to bring different strengths, experiences and backgrounds to the team,” Conny said.
Reflecting on her many years of optimising extraction, Conny decided her proudest moment was discovering the oil field, “Corvette.” She worked on the field from the discovery phase, through to presenting plans to the government and extraction — “it was great to see the project from the very start and follow all the way through,” she said.
One of Conny’s favourite aspects of her job involved mentoring young engineers of all genders and backgrounds. She has proudly watched her mentees rise to success, with one now heading up Shell Norway.
Conny’s mentoring always extended far beyond her office walls. Teamed up with my Dad, she would regularly cart my brother and I between swimming training, riding lessons, theatre clubs and maths clubs (I wasn’t cool, I know). She always pushed us the perfect amount to keep going and achieve whatever we set our minds to.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” mum used to quote to me regularly. Now she has moved closer to home again, Conny has returned to her sporting roots. She comes swimming with me several times a week. When she isn’t giving me training orders, she is giving me a run for my money on sprint sets.
Conny recently completed a 2.4 mile open water swim race in a cracking time, but rather than take a break, she immediately turned her nose for Somerset and the practical portion of her level two swimming instructor certification.
“It is so important for children to learn how to swim, both for safety and for personal development,” Conny said. She will be teaching based off of her own experience growing up swimming for her home county.
Although she is no longer in the field, Conny thinks it is important for more women and girls to follow in her footsteps and pursue STEM careers.
“There are too few women in these fields and they add a different perspective and dimension to the teams,” Conny said. “Although there are few women in STEM arena, they shouldn’t be put off because women typically excel.”
Personally, I can’t think of a better person to take inspiration from — but there is no bias here.