In this thriving industry, more women are wearing hard hats alongside their male peers. A perpetual need for skilled workers in the fuels and petrochemical industries long ago nixed the notion that these jobs are traditionally for men. But even today, as men and women work side by side to produce the energy and products that power our world, many of our nation’s women might not fully realize these high-paying careers are awaiting them.
One way to spread the word? Share their stories. As part of an ongoing series, join us for a look at some of the women working in today’s fuels and petrochemical plants.
Before we tell you anything else about Mitra Kashanchi, we’ll tell you this: she is a HUGE basketball fan. And fierce.
Now, to business.
And Mitra (“Mee-truh”) Kashanchi’s business — is running the Chevron refinery just north of Salt Lake City. As General Manager, she is in charge of safe, reliable and profitable operations from “crude to customer” — from when the oil first comes into the refinery, through all the work of turning that raw material into usable fuels — gasoline, diesel and jet fuel — and then getting those fuels out to her customers (which might include you, if you live in that part of the country).
That’s her day-to-day work. But big picture? “Our industry is involved in solving difficult problems facing the world, around the world: growing enough food to feed all of us, coping with heat in the summer and cold in the winter, supporting advances in modern medicine, and finding innovative solutions to managing natural resources. However long your list is, all that problem-solving requires energy, and producing that energy is our work.”
In fact, growing up in Iran, the work of producing energy has been in Mitra’s family (on her mom’s side) for a long time. So when she was first hired on at Chevron, her family back home threw a big party to celebrate her entry into the family tradition.
Not that they were surprised. Mitra chose the math and science track in her first year of high school — and she studied chemistry in college. Ok, that was her FIRST degree. After that came a Master’s in Physical Chemistry, and back to school again for a degree in Chemical Engineering.
(We did ask, by the way, about the difference between a chemist and a chemical engineer: the chemical engineer works on the practical application of chemistry, at industrial scale — as opposed to a chemist in a lab.)
But when we asked her about her experience of being a woman in the fuels business — well, we said she was fierce:
“It is a male-dominated field — which is partly the result of higher levels of male participation in college STEM majors. That’s not the industry’s doing — but we can help do something about that, and we are doing something about that.
“In fact, this is the perfect time for young women with a passion for any of the STEM fields to come knocking, because this industry has acknowledged that we need a more diverse workforce — and we are, now, hiring that diverse workforce.”
That was not so true when Mitra was hired, though her first supervisor at Chevron was a woman. And when she wanted to move out of chemistry and into the production side (a big jump) — the supervisor who gave her that chance, that supervisor was a woman. But while it was mostly a man’s world when she started, a woman who’s gone through a war, a revolution, and immigrating to the U.S. before starting her first job — not surprisingly isn’t daunted by much of anything in the workplace.
Now that she’s established herself in the industry, her work (besides actually running the refinery) is to go beyond diversity, to create a culture of inclusion. To not only bring in a diverse mix of talented employees — but to make sure every employee is included in the work of creative problem-solving — to make sure that everyone speaks and everyone is heard. And in her experience at Chevron, the men are active allies of the women in that project (though we’d guess Mitra’s leadership certainly helps that along).
Oh, and about the basketball? No, she doesn’t play — but she does know the game, watch the game, and trash talk about the game! (So be prepared if you’re sitting next to her. Fierce.) She was a big Bulls fan (back in the days when that made the Utah Jazz anathema, but sssshhh about that now). These days though — she’s all about the players: Steph, Klay and Rajon Rondo (ok, you’ll have to ask HER about Rondo).
Click here to learn more about Chevron’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.