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A Conversation with Pauline Innes

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

In the first of our relaunched series on Role Models we are delighted to share Pauline’s insights and experiences on a career in energy, transferable skills, diversity of thought, remote working and managing her personal and professional priorities.

The Facts:

  • Pauline started her career in social policy and economic regeneration.

  • She attained a degree in Business Studies at RGU before going on to study Economic Development.

  • Pauline spent 20 years working in different community regeneration and social inclusion sectors for the Scottish Government, developing her skill set in senior leadership roles.

  • She pioneered remote working within her departments and led diverse teams spread across different locations for over 15 years.

  • In 2015 Pauline completed a ‘career pivot’, transferring into the energy industry and joining DECC (now Department for Energy Security and Net Zero) within their decommissioning department.

  • Pauline is currently the Director of Supply Chain and Decommissioning at the North Sea Transition Authority.

You transferred into the energy industry with no experience in this field, how did that come about?

I came to energy industry through the civil service, transferring from Scottish Government to DECC in 2015.

The civil service balances experience, ability and behaviours alongside technical expertise, so you often see civil servants moving to different jobs in entirely different subject matters. It’s quite common practice to take a role in, for example, the Department of Health, and then switch to the Department for Transport. Over a career you develop experience in areas such as leadership, decision making, communication and influencing or collaborative working, applying those strengths to different subject matters. So, in 2015 I applied for a vacancy as Head of Decommissioning in DECC, moving from working in housing to working in energy. While I didn’t have technical expertise, I did have the experience, ability, behaviours and strengths required for the role.

Moving to the energy sector was a steep learning curve, but I was supported by colleagues in DECC and industry who shared their time and knowledge generously to explain how the energy industry works and what was expected of the Head of Decommissioning!

The current economic environment may give opportunities for others to ‘Career Pivot’ into the energy industry. What advice would you give companies considering recruiting people outside energy?

Don’t underestimate the importance of diversity, whether that’s ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or even technical expertise. It’s incredibly useful to hear different perspectives in our industry. The companies that recognise this are better at creating environments where people can safely share viewpoints, hold healthy debates and feel like they matter. This supports growth and adds value. There’s never been a better time to attract diverse talent and create that environment. It’s what we need to deliver energy transition.

For individuals considering a ‘career pivot’ what guidance would you give to ensure it’s a successful move, in particular for senior leaders looking to make an impact?

My “career pivot” was enormously energising. The opportunity to learn a new topic and apply my expertise and experience has been intellectually stimulating and rewarding. The key for me has been about listening and respectful questioning. It’s all too easy to make assumptions about the way things are done, and every sector or company develops their own version of “the right way to do it”. As a newbie, including at a senior level, you can feel pressure to make an immediate impact, but give yourself time to learn, ask questions, listen to stakeholders and experts, then you can make an impact that adds value.

You have successfully managed remote teams for years. What advice would you give leaders in this area?

Effective communication is vital. It starts with setting clear roles and objectives, equipping people with the right tools, and establishing processes to lead, manage and monitor progress. Importantly, you have to trust your team and your colleagues to deliver.

Having been through the COVID experience we know it is possible to work remotely, and the technology we have to enable remote working is fantastic. We also know that many of us value flexibility. The opportunity to work at home and in the office can make our lives better. I’ve found that you don’t need to see people every day to have confidence that they’ll deliver, and indeed if you offer flexibility the pay-back in terms of commitment and effort is vast.

Having said that, I personally appreciate meeting people face-to-face, so I continue to do that with my team regularly to support communication and cohesiveness.

You’ve recently mentored individuals within the energy industry. How important do you think mentoring is to help develop the energy workforce? Any advice you would give?

I’ve been fortunate enough to experience being a mentee and a mentor. I found it positive and rewarding from both perspectives.

Working with a mentor gives you breathing space for personal development beyond the confines of your current role. Having someone who’s there for you, whether that’s acting as a sounding board or providing advice and guidance is a great way to enable you to grow and develop your own leadership style.

As a mentee I’ve found that when a mentor asks the simplest of questions, they can be the most difficult to answer. Having someone who’s not got a vested interest in the topic or problem but is interested in your development can help you focus more deeply and creatively than would otherwise be the case.

As a mentor I’ve truly valued getting to know my mentees and seeing them develop as leaders.

With your background in economic development and social inclusion, do you have any insight into how the energy industry can improve socio-economic diversity in senior leadership teams?

Access to opportunity is fundamental in addressing disadvantage, including social exclusion. That means we need to have inclusive, fair and transparent recruitment and promotion processes. We need to remove bias from the language we use in job descriptions and the way we recruit, including targeting marginalised groups.

Inclusion doesn’t stop at recruitment and as we progress through our careers, we all want to develop and grow based on merit. So it is important to set out pathways that reward people for good work. We also need to call out conscious or unconscious bias when we see it.

Considering how senior your role is, do you find it challenging to maintain a good work life balance and how do you go about achieving this?

Work is a big part of our lives, but it is only a part, and there is life beyond the office. So, it’s always been important for me to find a balance where I feel I’m contributing my best at work, but also have time for family and other non-work interests. I not only preach this, I also practice it.

I know that I can give more at work and do a “better” job if I’ve also got time and energy to do the things I love and spend time with people that are important to me. I’m not superhuman, and I need to be realistic about how far I can stretch myself, and ultimately that means being kind to myself. So, I follow the guidance and make time for me. Whether that’s finding 20 minutes to read, a walk before or after work, a run with friends, a yoga class that I book and commit time to attend or time with friends. I budget my time, slotting activities into my diary alongside family commitments, and then I do them. Perhaps most importantly, I don’t feel guilty about doing these activities. It’s the way I manage and deal with the challenges and stresses that life brings us.

For me that creates a win-win. I feel better, work gets the best from me, and I’m less of a nightmare to live with.

What have you found most rewarding in your career to date?

I like to feel that I’m making a difference. It’s what I look for in every role. Whether that involves creating a home for a family with a child with severe disabilities, literally transforming their lives, or ensuring that companies decommission their platforms and pipelines in a responsible and cost-efficient manner, or seeing team members develop, they all feel important to me and I find that motivating and rewarding.

Do you have any advice for others seeking to further their careers in the energy industry?

The energy industry has a track record of providing exciting and rewarding opportunities for people. As we transition from oil and gas to an energy system dominated by renewables, career opportunities will also change. The sector will continue to offer interesting and rewarding careers across an array of technical specialisations and disciplines. As such, people should keep an open mind and not fall into the trap of being pigeon-holed into one particular discipline. Trust that your skills are valued and transferrable.


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