International Women’s Day – My Journey from Africa to the CEO of the Frontier Energy Network

8th March 2022

Happy International Women’s Day!  This day is a celebration of women, everywhere!

We don’t need a more stark reminder of the strength of women than the images we see on the news of women walking their children and elderly family members to safety from Ukraine.

Frontier Energy Network stands  with the people of Ukraine and we are pleased to see further measures announced by the energy industry and in particular the Shell announcement today to close all 500 of Shell branded petrol stations in Russia and their commitment to stop buying Russian crude going forward (Read more). These extraordinary times are calling for extraordinary leadership and more needs to be done. 

It is such a great honour to be invited to this forum to share with you my journey and how I tackle the challenges of work/ life and everything in between. I would like to thank the Barclays Eagle Labs and this vibrant community of the C4DI for bringing us together in this way to celebrate womenkind. 
Now more than ever, we need human connections to rebuild and grow and one thing I have learnt through the years at the helm at Frontier is that we all need others to succeed, and it is often the relationships that we have that carry and sustain us and our businesses. 

It is a well-known fact that early years affects how we see the world and I was extremely lucky to grow up surrounded by a huge loving extended family and vibrant community on an African farm on the border of Mozambique and Zimbabwe. It was an incredible place to grow and learn and I believe my fearlessness comes from being free to explore with very few boundaries. Living in the U.K. I have relied on my husband's Scottish family for this tangible support and I thank and acknowledge all of these people for the part they play in the building of Frontier.

I started Frontier after a patch work career in some fantastic companies. I was lucky enough to get noticed out of university by Unilever who came recruiting. Important to note, I was by no means the smartest kid in the class but managed to bring myself to the interview and got lucky. Subsequently, I worked in some amazing companies both in Africa, the UK and Europe but being in a corporate environment never sat well with me. I always knew I wanted to create something of my own and be the master of my own destiny.

So much about life is being in the right place at the right time but also putting yourself decisively and confidently forward for opportunities, even if you are not sure how you are going to do the job. If you see an opportunity, take it with both hands and your whole heart because that might be a once in a life-time chance. You make ask; how you will manage? Are you up to the job? Am I qualified enough? Well, that’s tomorrow’s problem and like someone once said to me, it’s a very good problem to have. Men are very good about putting themselves forward, women not so much.

I started Frontier in 2009 and the business has remained with me and I have remained with the business through two children, many house moves and thankfully just one husband, who is now my business partner. There have been days when I felt that there was no point in me continuing, when I have thought I would be more use at home whilst my husband went out provide for the family, BUT I am SO glad that I did not throw in the towel and that I am still standing and watching Frontier experience exponential growth. Frontier exists to open doors in the energy industry and to inspire the energy industry to connect, collaborate and develop towards a cleaner planet for our children and that is what motivates me.

Progress is being made on female representation at the top of business. A new report by the government-backed FTSE Women Leaders Review showed that nearly 40% of FTSE 100 board positions are now held by women, compared with 12% just 10 years ago! While such advances are to be celebrated, there is still more to do. For example, only 1 in 3 leadership roles and around 25% of all executive committee roles are held by women and there are very few women in the CEO role. There are even fewer women of colour in these positions. How do we change this?

I think that tackling bias is a good place to start. 
We all hold beliefs about people based on their race or ethnicity, gender, body weight and other traits. Biases are beliefs that are not founded by known facts about someone or about a particular group of individuals. For example, one common bias is that women are weak (despite many being very strong). When people are unaware of bias it is unconscious, and this influences our decisions whether or not we mean for them to do so. 
The good news is that we can do something about this…by being conscious of our bias’s we are able to challenge ourselves, being conscious of bias in my view is key. I have highlighted a few biases that in my view affect women everywhere. 
The first bias I want to talk about is women are emotional and that this is somehow a bad thing. Our empathy is our strength and we should absolutely tap into this in our work and daily decisions. In my view being empathetic makes me very good at my job and also sensitive to the needs of the people that work for Frontier. This is a great asset that we should all use.
The second bias I would like to highlight is the maternal wall and flexibility stigma that tends to go hand in hand with it.
The maternal wall is when colleagues view mothers of children or pregnant women as less competent and committed. So new mothers are overlooked and set aside when it comes to promotion. Women get a 4% pay cut per child they have where men receive a 6% pay rise. 

Flexibility stigma is when colleagues or bosses look negatively on people working flexibility. It is like a suspicion that they are not doing their jobs properly. I want flexibility in my life, to be a good parent that is present to my children, to be a good dog mummy, a good sister and daughter and ultimately a happy and healthy person so why can’t my colleagues at Frontier enjoy these benefits too? Surely, happier people are more hard-working people and at Frontier I really try and open my mind to people’s needs and desires for flexibility. I want that too for myself. 
I am really happy to take some questions but before I do I want to leave you with three useful books that have shaped my thinking and which have helped me along the way;
  •  Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. It is considered as the magnum opus of Stephen Covey that was published in 1989. The main objective of this book is to make people aware of the seven key habits that are found in all the effective people. More than 25 million copies of this book are sold all over the world till date.
  • The Compassionate Mind by Russell Kolts. This book is based in compassion-focused therapy, these skills and techniques will help you replace angry habits, gain control of your emotions, and improve your relationships.
  • Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. Why do some people achieve so much more than others? Can they lie so far out of the ordinary? In this provocative and inspiring book, Malcolm Gladwell looks at everyone from rock stars to professional athletes, software billionaires to scientific geniuses, to show that the story of success is far more surprising, and far more fascinating, than we could ever have imagined. The key takeout for me wrote that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything. He said 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become world-class in any field. Hard work is a huge factor in success. 

Q&A with Amy Morgan, Ecosystem Manager at Barclays Eagle Labs 
  1. Gayle, with working in an environment with male dominated senior leadership, what examples of gender bias have you come across and what advise would you give to people to overcome that if they were in a similar situations?

    Yes, the energy industry is very male dominated. For many years this has been challenged but sadly still lags behind on female representation. According to the International Energy Agency, despite making up 48% of global labour force – women only account for 22% of the traditional energy sector. For management levels the numbers are even lower. The barriers women face in the energy sector are similar to those they face elsewhere in the economy. However, the challenges of the energy sector are more pressing since the sector is going through a process of transformation; clean energy transitions will require innovative solutions and business models to be adopted and greater participation from a diverse talent pool. 

    And yes, I have experienced gender bias in my role but probably not more starkly when I request participation from governments and energy companies in our global Summit programs. Women get overlooked for speaking positions and I often need to insist that I am looking for a diverse candidate. Not surprisingly, younger women usually rise to the challenge and one of the stars of our recent Africa Energies Summit in London was a woman called Cany Jobe who spoke on behalf of the Gambian National Petroleum Corporation. Needless to say, I see she has now been invited to speak at other prestigious industry events and is firmly on the speaking circuit. On the other side of the coin, I say to women, you can step up and push through and if you are given even half a chance, take it and make it your own.

           Cany Jobe, Director of Exploration at Gambia National Petroleum Corporation
  1. Now you’ve started your dream business and it is successfully growing, what does success look like for you in the future and how does gender equality play into that? 

    Frontier’s success in the future is not just my success. It’s the success of everyone that works for us, our members, the wider energy industry and the world. Diversity is important to me, I do not like being surrounded by people that look and think like me. I think that is very evident in the people that we employ, we are a very diverse organisation and that is a massive strength. Positive legacy is also very important to me. We have contributed to a cleaner planet for our children, that is what success looks like for Frontier. 
  2. What does break the bias mean to you? 

    Thinking consciously about bias. Challenging our own bias. Also for women to step forward and take their chances.
  3. Part of International Women’s Day is celebrating each other, what’s your greatest achievement? 
    Being a mother and CEO at the same time. I feel extremely lucky but it is very hard work, be under no illusions!     

    Gayle Meikle CEO at Frontier Energy Network spoke at the International Women's Day: #BreakTheBias organised by C4DI