Julia Reinhart found career success and work-life balance as an HR leader at Valero

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.

Why would a woman who’d served as an Assistant Attorney General (in Georgia), and a partner for a major law firm (in San Antonio), give all that up to work in the fuel and petrochemical industry?

We asked Julia Rendon Reinhart that question. Today, she works at Valero as Senior Vice President Human Resources and Administration.  But she used to be that Partner and Assistant Attorney General.

“I’d been a lawyer for more than a decade, and I liked it,” Reinhart said. “But I was a single mom, travelling and working 80 hours a week – and I just didn’t want to be that kind of parent or person.  So my move to Valero started with looking for good, interesting work with a sensible life-work balance.”

That doesn’t mean she’s not busy.  Valero is a Fortune 50 company, so her typical day involves, well, everything involving people and places across the company: benefits, compensation, employee relations, training and development, labor issues, global security and campus maintenance.  And each day, there’s a line of people waiting to talk to her about all of that and more.

“I’m not sure there is a typical career path that leads to this industry.  It’s true, I started in college as a chemical engineer. And even though that didn’t play out, I do get some ‘street cred’ with our engineers because I know what a carbon chain is.  Then, I switched to actuarial studies (which means applying math and statistics in business and finance). And finally, I ended up going to law school.”

Reinhart enjoys pretty much everything about her work these days (ok, except drawing up budgets, “Nobody likes budgeting!”). She especially likes the variety – legal matters (naturally), contract negotiations, health and wellness, diversity and inclusion, and employee fun (Family Day, Christmas Party, etc.), as well as the spirit of openness and opportunity at Valero. She herself had the opportunity to make a major career transition and do things she’d never done before — because they thought she could.

Is it 50-50 everywhere in Valero, and in the industry?  Candidly, Reinhart says it is not.  Not yet.   But in her 10 years at the company, she’s seen more women entering the industry and finding a place for themselves … and that place is not always where they might expect.

Yes, there are plenty of jobs for engineers, operators and maintenance workers. But there also are jobs in IT, accounting, commercial operations, wholesale, and Reinhart’s paths in HR and legal.  Her advice to any young woman who is thinking about life after college? Pretty much whatever you do, chances are there’s somebody who looks like you doing that work in this industry — even if there might be more people (today, at least) who don’t look like you. Know that, and come on in — there’s plenty of opportunity, and so much support.

Once at Valero, employees realize quickly that they are priority #1.  “We put our people first — professional development on the job, and we like to promote from within,” Reinhart said.  “We focus on health and wellness programs for our employees and their families, and our deep involvement in the communities where we do business and where our people live.  I think that’s a big part of why good people come to work at Valero, and why they stay.”

In her professional life, Reinhart has had a lot of variety, but even people who know her are surprised when they learn about her past interests and diverse athletic life.  For starters, she played volleyball and basketball in high school, and was a shot putter on her state champion track team.  She’s continued with sports in her adult life, most recently with tennis.

These days, for a change of pace, she has taken up swimming.  Now, as an adult, for the first time she can swim.  Her inspiration was a book she’d read recently, called “Do Something You Suck At.”  Swimming fit the bill.

So, when you look at the many different things Reinhart’s done, we’d say the smart bet has always been on Reinhart to swim, not sink – whatever she might be doing.

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