Young, smart, energetic, hardworking, tenacious and resourceful are words that best describe Mervin Ekpen Azeta, an award-winning Nigerian energy professional, intersectional advocate, and presidential scholar.
Mervin who is a Product and Service Delivery Manager with one of the world’s largest energy service and technology providers, Schlumberger. Currently based in the Republic of the Congo, she focuses on improving the quality of delivery of oil and gas well completion projects, developing talents, and promoting higher levels of engagement and internal alignment to sustain solid performance in an increasingly competitive and dynamic marketplace.
She has been featured in media publications as an influencer and trailblazer, keenly passionate about sustainable development, gender equality, youth engagement as well as cultivating the next generation of female scientists, technologists, engineers, mathematicians and transformative leaders. Mervin serves on multiple boards, inspiring a shared commitment to deliver a cleaner, healthier, secure and sustainable energy future for all.
Mervin holds a BEng, with First Class Honors, in Chemical Engineering from the University of Benin, as well as an MSc, with Distinction, in Sustainable Energy Futures, Mechanical Engineering, from the Imperial College London.
Mervin, alongside two other Nigerian women, emerged winners of the ExxonMobil Power Play Awards 2020 announced virtually on September 16, 2020.
The program was created to recognize the accomplishments of remarkable women and the men who support and empower them in the LNG industry. She won under the Rising Star category presented to an outstanding female professional, age 35 or younger.
In this interview with our Editor, MARGARET NONGO-OKOJOKWU, Mervin speaks about her passion for engineering, challenges faced by female engineers and the future of the oil and gas industry. Excerpts:
Congratulations once again on your award as Rising star of the ExxonMobil’s Power Play Awards, how do you feel about this?
Thank you very much for the kind words. I am deeply honored to be named the winner of the Power Play Rising Star Award, from amongst an esteemed group of finalists, and I truly appreciate the team at ExxonMobil for recognizing my contributions to making the LNG industry an inclusive, impactful and sustainable one. I am also incredibly grateful to my family, friends, mentors, and employer (Schlumberger) for the exceptional support I have enjoyed in my career.
Give us a brief description of your background; how did you rise to become a ‘Rising Star’?
I have a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering, with First Class Honors, from the University of Benin; and, a Masters in Sustainable Energy Futures with Distinction, from Imperial College London. I joined the industry shortly after my National Service in 2011. Prior to joining the industry, I made a conscious decision to excel in all that I do and avail myself of opportunities to learn and positively impact others. By the special grace of God, I have been committed to that for as long, and particularly serving the world with my resources and talents through numerous avenues, including corporate work, and extracurriculars in organizations like the World Energy Council, Society of Petroleum Engineers, Society of Women Engineers, amongst others. I have also been very passionate about inspiring girls’ interest in STEM, mentoring and supporting others in their careers, and influencing greater access to affordable, cleaner, reliable, smarter and sustainable energy for the millions, who are currently unserved and/or underserved.
I made a conscious decision to excel in all that I do
and avail myself of opportunities to learn and positively impact others. And, I have been committed to that for as long, and particularly serving the world with my resources & talents through numerous avenues, including corporate work, and extracurriculars in organizations like the World Energy Council, Society of Petroleum Engineers, Society of Women Engineers, amongst others. I have also been very passionate about inspiring girls’ interest in STEM, mentoring and supporting others in their careers, and influencing greater access to affordable, cleaner, reliable, smarter and sustainable energy for the millions, who are currently unserved and/or underserved.
What informed your choice of engineering?
An innate desire to tackle the toughest global challenges, and the limitless opportunities engineering provides to make a terrific difference in our world.
What can you identify as a major challenge with female engineers?
Firstly, the perception that engineering is a tricky discipline and one for the boys; and it gets really complicated when these female engineers are not able to find as many role models or senior female engineers to learn or glean inspiration from, as they progress in their studies.
And secondly, there is the broken rung, which, according to the Lean In & McKinsey’s ‘Women in the Workplace’ report, are obstacles that keep women from advancing in their careers, right at the start of the corporate ladder. A few friends and I could easily have been victims of this systemic barrier, but for the grace of God, the support of mentors/sponsors and a stern determination to rise above it.
these female engineers are not able to find as many role models or senior female engineers to learn or glean inspiration from,
as they progress in their studies. And secondly, there is the broken rung,
which, according to the Lean In & McKinsey’s ‘Women in the Workplace’ report, are obstacles that keep women from advancing in their careers, right at the start of the corporate ladder.
How in your own opinion can these challenges be surmounted?
I would state just three things, for now:
By encouraging insightful conversations around the challenges, especially within the frameworks of STEM education and diversity, equity and inclusion, as awareness is a critical step;
Secondly, we also have to address as many barriers (political, legal, cultural, structural, and otherwise), stereotypes and unconscious biases adversely impacting the talent pipeline and gender representation across engineering professions; and,
Lastly, we need to actively mentor the next generation of innovators, thinkers and leaders so they are properly guided, and equipped to wade through whatever challenges they face.
Who’s your role model and what informed your choice?
I have several; Jesus Christ, my parents and a good number of phenomenal men and women, who have devoted, and continued to devote, their lives to pleasing GOD, as well as making the world a better, cleaner, healthier, prosperous and secure place for all.
Have you experienced any form of biases due to your gender? How did you handle such?
Sure, I have. I find this is a given in our world; and, I clearly understand that I am going to continue to experience some form of bias in and out of the workplace, my country of origin or any other environment. So, I have resolved to never let it get to me. I have called, and would continue to call it out whenever I am able to. I would also have an honest, possibly sweaty palm, conversation, if necessary; and educate as many more women I am able to reach, so we do not stall or lose the progress we are making on diversity, equity and inclusion.
How do you see technology changing the landscape of your profession in the future and how are you bracing up for the change?
Technology has the potential to fundamentally transform every profession and deliver tremendous benefits in terms of efficiency, reliability, safety and performance, albeit making many jobs redundant, if not extinct. So, I can’t help but embrace it, remain radically curious, constantly reskilling and upskilling to stay relevant, whilst meaningfully contributing to the industry.
Aren’t you concerned about the future of oil and gas as an engineer presently in the hydrocarbon field?
Not quite! I do believe oil and gas will remain relevant for the foreseeable future; and, there are also
a lot of opportunities to pivot, especially with the traditional companies transitioning to integrated energy (and data) companies.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years as per career path you desire?
Influencing policy, leadership and innovation to deliver an inclusive and sustainable transition to a low-carbon energy future.
You have automatically become a role model to many, what advice do you have for young people like you out there especially young girls aspiring to go the same route of STEM?
There is so much you can achieve, if you stay humble and curious, willing to serve with a mix of purpose, courage, kindness and professionalism, and determined to create value. Do not let anyone or anything hold you back or make you feel less of yourself!
Be fueled by your fears, instead!
Any thoughts of entrepreneurship in the future?
I do think
entrepreneurship should be an integral part of quality STEM education, and our curricula should be modified to encourage this being taught in schools,
including elementary schools. Helping kids explore their curiosity and creativity, take on challenges with a problem-solving mindset and develop other valuable life skills early on in life would always prove to be highly advantageous when they pursue their respective career paths, in the long run.