Isabelle Shelvey3

International Women's Day Feature: MLX panel demonstrates progress in leadership

Mar 08, 2019

On International Women's Day, we're proud to share the story of Isabelle Shelvey, who helped lead Syncrude's Mildred Lake Extension (MLX) regulatory hearing panel, of which eight of 14 employees were female.

When Isabelle Shelvey graduated from the University of Alberta and joined Syncrude as a mining engineer in 1996, she stepped into a very male-dominated environment.

Earlier this year, Isabelle, Syncrude’s Manager of Regulatory Affairs, served as the project lead on a panel of experts at the Alberta Energy Regulator’s hearing on the Mildred Lake Extension (MLX) project. Eight of the 14 Syncrude employees on the panel were women, including panel chair Kara Flynn, Vice President, Government & Public Affairs. Isabelle and Colleen Legdon, Syncrude’s Manager of Community Relations, also sat on the panel’s front row as experts.

On International Women’s Day, marked annually on March 8 to celebrate women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements, Isabelle reflects on the landscape change for female engineers, though she notes the gender balance on Syncrude’s panel remains a rarity.

“It’s still unusual in our industry to see a panel where the majority of the technical experts would be women,” she says. “As a mining engineer and having worked in the oil sands, over time, I’ve seen more and more women in non-traditional roles. What Syncrude does is to make it possible for women to invest their time in pursuing those roles by encouraging them.”

In the case of Isabelle, that encouragement included stepping away twice from Syncrude after the birth of her second and third children.

“I wanted to spend more time with my family and decided to leave the company for a while,” says the mother of three. “The important thing is Syncrude understood my decision and were open to me returning when I decided to re-enter the workforce. I was happy to come back. It shows you can have a successful career and take time off to raise your family.”

The workplace culture and environment at Syncrude provides opportunities to employees who want to take them.

“I’ve never felt treated differently because I was a woman at Syncrude. I’ve always felt respected by my male and female colleagues. When I am at work, I’m not a woman. I’m the Manager of Regulatory Affairs,” says Isabelle. “People should not limit themselves to getting advice or counsel from just women or just men. It’s important to find a mentor that you can relate to and help you develop. My most influential mentors were not women.”

Isabelle sees the support provided by Syncrude’s workforce as crucial to the success of the MLX application, which she started working on in 2013 as the regulatory lead.

“I always felt supported and I never felt alone throughout the application process and during the hearing. I had a lot of people who had my back. Some were on the panel. Others were executives, managers and employees who made major contributions to the application,” she says. “And that was especially true of the panelists. We picked people on the panel for their expertise. We didn’t have a quota. The panel demonstrates we have some strong women in technical roles at Syncrude. I’m happy to say I had a big part to play in selecting the panel because the hearing demonstrated we have the right people there.”