What it Takes to Make a True Impact

Today we are excited to share Afton Sterling’s story with you – a story of confidence, leadership, and making an impact.  Afton is a regulatory manager for the NE Appalachia Division of Southwestern Energy located in Spring, TX. Southwestern Energy is a natural gas E&P company with approximately 1000 employees.

Afton is originally from DuBois Pennsylvania and attended Pennsylvania State University. She is the direct manager of three employees and oversees another 10 indirectly.

Throughout her career, Afton has come to recognize that she has a voice and can add value to her company by using it. As a leader, she is focused on inspiring others to do the same.

Challenges, Mistakes, and Recognizing Your Value

According to Afton, of the biggest challenges she faced in her career was showcasing her leadership and technical abilities as a young leader.

“In oil and gas, historically, age has been associated with experience and ability. But in reality, I have found that it is more focused on your passion, commitment, and your professional/personal support network. These things allow you to leverage your technical knowledge and really be successful beyond your age.”

One mistake she’s made is not speaking up when she had something to add to a meeting or conversation. “I need to remind myself that what I have to say is valuable for the company, otherwise, I wouldn’t be an employee here,” she said. Afton recognized that her role as a leader is to inspire others to do the same.

Afton’s Rewarding Career

The most rewarding part of her career has been seeing the impact of her role as a regulatory professional. “My role has helped to draft new regulations, technical guidance policies and even legislation that supports SWN’s efforts and the Industry in general. I also find it extremely rewarding to teach others about the regulations that govern what we do and how we do it,” she said.

Afton also finds volunteer work rewarding. “I volunteer my time to serve on committees through industry groups, such as the Marcellus Shale Coalition. In everything I do, it’s important that industry and the perception of SWN as an engaged, proactive company is highlighted and affirmed through my positive interactions,” she said.

Afton Sterling was a winner at the 2018 GRIT Awards.  The 2019 GRIT Awards will be held this October. Do you know someone you’d like to nominate this year? Stay tuned for more details.


Overcoming Obstacles and Supporting other Women in Energy

Meet Allison Selman

Allison is the founder and coordinator of Women in Subsea Engineering (WISE), director of Atteris Pty Ltd., and one of our 2018 GRIT Award winners.

WISE is a D&I initiative of Subsea Energy Australia. It is a not-for-profit professional network focused on achieving gender parity in the subsea industry. WISE was founded in Perth, Western Australia in 2016 and has 220+ members in Australia as well as an international following.

Atteris is an offshore engineering consulting company that provides engineering services to offshore energy companies – oil and gas, as well as renewables. The company, founded in Perth, is privately owned and was established in 1999. Atteris recently opened offices in Houston, TX and has also commenced work in Denmark in the offshore wind industry.

Allison is a strong proponent of supporting women in the energy industry. Through her own challenges and experiences, she is working to level the playing field and provide resources for other women and young people interested in careers in the industry. Here’s more of Allison’s story.

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced and how did you overcome it?

The biggest professional challenge to date has been leading the project in Offshore Wind Turbines. We did not have a solution when the client had approached us to do the work, given there is no industry precedence. There was a risk to the company that we could not deliver and it would damage our reputation. To overcome this, I pulled together a strong engineering team and we broke down the problem into manageable parts. I had many periods of self-doubt along the way, but I managed them so I could positively motivate my team to continue working through the problem.

The biggest challenge in my D&I work to date has been establishing WISE and dealing with individuals who are negative, critical and defensive. At times, I had doubt about whether it was the right decision to establish WISE. To overcome this, I reached out to individuals that were the first WISE members –to understand why they had chosen to join.

I realized that these women joined because they did not have other avenues for support; and that WISE was the right forum for their needs. From then on, I decided to accept that there will always be negativity and criticism, that WISE is not for everyone. I learned it was sufficient to focus on the individuals who see value in the WISE and provide the support they needed.  

What’s one mistake you made and what did you learn from it?

When I was a young engineer, I had an offshore project that I was not prepared for. I was uncomfortable and told my manager that I did not have the required knowledge to carry out the scope of work. He did not listen, I was sent anyway and the project was a complete failure – as it was quite evident to the client that I was not sufficiently knowledgeable. I returned from offshore dejected and feeling like a failure. It was compounded by the fact that I got blamed for the failed project.

It was many years later that I realized that this was my biggest mistake. I let my boss put me in a compromising position and I did not have the confidence to stand up for myself. I learned that a good manager must provide support to their team and make sure they have the right skills to carry out their tasks. While it is acceptable to challenge individuals to go beyond their comfort zone, is it not acceptable to assign a task to an individual that does not have the experience to achieve it. I also learned that good managers do not blame others but take responsibility for their own actions and decisions.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your career?

The most rewarding part of my Atteris career is being able to apply my knowledge to help clients solve their engineering problems, train and guide younger engineers, and achieve directorship of a company.

I am most proud of the fact that our company delivered a project in Offshore Wind. We were approached by the client based on my reputation and was approached by the Operator after they failed to find a solution in Europe. I guided the team to develop a solution for the client, despite the fact that Australia has no Offshore Wind Turbines.

Who’s been a “gritty” role model for you and why?

One of my gritty Role Models has been a local member of parliament, Dr. Anne Aly. Dr. Aly is one of the recognized experts in counter-terrorism and is also a migrant to Australia. She has worked hard to gain her position and is one of the few non-Caucasian women in government in Australia. She is an outstanding member of the community and yet, so humble about her achievements.