Inspirational Woman: Olivia Argent | Biodiesel Trading Operator, bp

Olivia ArgentHello! I’m 23 years old and in my second year of a three-year trading graduate scheme at bp.

My current role is as a biodiesel trading operator, where I’m part of a team that operates the logistics behind the biodiesel that bp trades in Europe. I focus specifically on the biodiesel that we transport to our refineries and terminals in Germany, where it then gets blended with diesel to comply with the German emissions targets in transport. Regulations are the primary driver of biodiesel markets, so being in operations has given me great exposure to how the regulations differ in each EU country and how that incentivises biofuels of differing sustainability to be traded. Over the next decade there will be increasing mandates for advanced waste feedstocks in biofuels which will help reduce overall emissions and enhance the circularity of biofuels, so I think this is going to be an increasingly exciting space. There are also opportunities in the biofuels space that are not yet widely mandated, examples being marine fuel and sustainable aviation fuel for the shipping and aviation industries respectively – two industries which are probably going to be among the most difficult to decarbonise and so represent big areas that we can target.

As you might have guessed from the above, I’m enthusiastic and ambitious about sustainability and how we can transition our world to a greener future. In my personal life I’ve tried to look at some ways I can reduce my impact on the planet; I went vegetarian shortly after graduating from university and in the last year I’ve massively reduced the amount of new clothes I buy (which is not always easy!) and found second-hand options instead. Working at bp has given me an understanding of the scale at which the world consumes energy and since bp’s massive strategy and purpose updates, I feel the company is now much more aligned with where I want it to be going. Being on the inside puts me in a position to take an active part in bp’s new strategy to focus less and less on oil and gas and increasingly on renewables and low carbon solutions.

Prior to joining bp, I studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge, and specialised in chemistry. I was lucky enough to have a gap year in between finishing university and starting at bp and went travelling for 7 months which was amazing! I also love reading and have gradually improved my cooking skills through the lockdowns of the past year to a point where I actually quite enjoy it now!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’m only a year and a half into my graduate scheme, so I feel like I’m only at the start of my career! That being said, even getting to where I am now was not something I particularly planned. I never had much idea of what I wanted to do. I always knew I’d need to try some different jobs out first, so I was quite proactive in applying to opportunities at university. I got involved in bp during my first year when I applied to their scholarship programme. This enabled me to get an insight into bp and its culture, the energy industry and the different career paths on offer. The most active career decision I made was to pursue roles in the commercial space, as opposed to staying in science and research. I did a research internship during my second-year summer for a chemicals company which I enjoyed, but it made me realise I couldn’t see myself working in a lab long term! I decided instead to use the problem-solving and analytical skills I’d developed during my degree to look at more commercial roles, which is why I applied to an internship within trading and shipping at bp – and I really enjoyed it! I didn’t know much about commodities markets or trading but once I got to work within it, it caught my interest and has led me to where I am today.

Have you faced any challenges along the way? 

I think the biggest challenge has got to be working from home – I’ve now spent more time working from home than I did in the office and have done my second-year rotation completely virtually to date. I know this is a reality for lots of graduates out there, and I think it’s made certain aspects of graduate development more difficult.

As part of the graduate scheme, we rotate to a different role each year. In the first three to six months, you’re getting to grips with the technicalities of the role and cementing your knowledge of the market you’re working in. In the next six months, you can start to stretch yourself a bit further, by looking for ways to add extra value to the team and by spending more time with the traders and learning from them. In my first role, those six months coincided with lockdown. It’s been a challenge missing out on some of those experiences and working out how to replicate those face-to-face development opportunities virtually.

Starting my second and current role at bp virtually was also challenging in a different way: having to meet everyone online and learn a new role virtually was a very different experience to starting my first-year role in the office. I think it’s especially difficult to replicate large group interactions online, you’d often break off into smaller conversations in person, which is a bit less daunting when meeting a load of new people!

What has been your biggest achievement to date? 

I worked on a project alongside my day-to-day job called Strategy Plus, which is a programme for graduates to work alongside the bp strategy team. I joined a six-month project looking at our low carbon strategies across Trading & Shipping and the skills we need to help unlock the capability that bp has in that space. Alongside four other graduates, we interviewed a whole range of people working in the low carbon space across Trading & Shipping (which was so interesting in itself!) and then used this information to propose four key skills we thought were most needed.

I’m most proud of this because it enabled me to play an active part in bp’s new strategy to become a net zero company by 2050 or sooner – having the right skillsets and culture is going to be paramount to achieving this. The project was really well received by people in the business! We did two big presentations and two hundred people joined the calls in total – being able to reach such a large audience was definitely a positive of working virtually.

Aside from that, I have spent time developing my coding skills over the past year through online courses that bp has supported me with. Digital skills are becoming more and more important, and new and emerging technologies have a vital role to play in the energy transition. I was also able to apply these skills in my first-year role in analytics by updating the way in which some of the reports I produced were updated. As a result, they run much faster and are more dynamic and transparent. It’s great to see how coding can actually speed up processes. It’s something that people talk about a lot, but it doesn’t really make sense until you’ve done it yourself.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

It would have to be the sheer amount of support I’ve received during my time at bp so far. It’s a stand-out feature of the culture at bp that everyone is incredibly helpful and generous with their time. During my internship at bp, I had the support of my manager at the time to help put me in the best position to be offered a graduate role and in my rotations on the graduate scheme I’ve been very grateful for the time people have given up to help me develop and widen my knowledge.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?  

I’m currently involved in running a ‘reverse mentoring’ pilot with a team of four other grads, where we are partnered with someone more senior to exchange knowledge and skills. I think reverse mentoring is a great way to help flatten an organisation, as it gives the chance for those lower down the organisation to have a real impact on the decisions made by those higher up. I think it’s easy in a large organisation for those at the top of the business to get disconnected with what is happening ‘on the ground’ and getting an outside perspective can be extremely valuable in decision-making. I think it also has great potential to help diversity and inclusion: at the moment most organisations are not as diverse as they should be, especially at the top levels, and reverse mentoring can act as an interim solution to ensure that diverse voices and experiences are still being heard and included.

I also have a mentor. The wider team that I sit in set up a mentoring programme for graduates and I was paired with a trader. They’ve been incredibly helpful with developing my technical knowledge of trading which is something I wanted to focus on to understand the different commodities markets better.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

That’s a great question! I’ll focus on the corporate workplace for my answer to narrow it down a bit.  With gender pay gap reporting mandatory, we can see that there is still work to be done and in corporate workplaces women are still underrepresented, especially as you move up the organisation. The effect of this is two-fold; for those in these workplaces they can often be faced with imposter syndrome, and for those looking to apply they can be put off by the lack of diversity. Unpicking this is complex and I don’t have all the solutions, but something I often think about is confidence among women. This doesn’t mean confidence in an outgoing, extroverted sense, I mean a more internal confidence in who you are and a trust in what you are capable of. ‘Invisible Women’ by Caroline Criado Perez talks about the discrepancy in confidence levels that is seen between girls and boys from early childhood which is carried through to adulthood, and it’s something that I’m sure a lot of people have seen in themselves or others around them. It can also vary massively with privilege.

How can we improve confidence? I think engaging in these conversations with young women at school and university is a great start. We need to tell them how valuable they can be in the workplace. For those in jobs where women are underrepresented, we need to make sure there are safe spaces in place to provide an outlet for discussion. When I’ve helped at recruitment events it’s always my top tip – be confident in your ability when you apply for a job or go to an interview. It can feel very unnatural – but I strongly believe it can help you relax into an interview and perform to the best of your ability!

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

To link with my previous answer – be more confident! But otherwise, when learning or starting something new (university course, a job, whatever it might be) don’t expect to pick up everything at once. Work hard and ask questions, and gradually with time it will make more sense. I think I spent too much time worrying that I didn’t know everything straight away, when it was completely natural not to!

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future? 

Being part of the low carbon strategy plus project made me really feel like my work has been impactful and realise how interesting it’s going to be to work for bp in the coming years as we navigate the energy transition. I’d love to work in the low carbon space of bp as a trader, I see it as the perfect way to tie my analytical mindset with my interest in low carbon. For now, my focus will be on performing well in my final rotation of the graduate scheme and putting myself in the best position possible for a future role at bp.

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