Michele Harradence on Embracing Challenge

Michelle Harradence GRIT Award Winner profile on Experience Energy

Energy role models

Michele Harradence, Senior Vice President and Chief Operations Officer for Enbridge’s Gas Transmission and Midstream business unit, said it was her maternal grandfather, Adrien J. Cormier, who helped pave the way for her career. Her grandfather, who was of Acadian descent and from the East Coast of Canada, was a lawyer and eventually Chief Justice of the trial division in New Brunswick, during a time when many Acadians lived a more modest life.

The past influences our future

Michele’s grandfather was considered the “smart one” in the family and was sent off to school at age 12. This was an exceptional feat, Michele explains, in that the Acadians, although allowed to return after the Grand Deportation (which “resulted in many of our relatives settling as the ‘Cajuns’ of Louisiana”), lived very much in poverty.

To better life for future Acadians, in the early 1960s, working with other leaders in New Brunswick, her grandfather decided the only way to lift the Acadians out of poverty was to ensure they had access to post-secondary education in the French language. Together, these leaders created the Universite de Moncton. The law school – the only French speaking common-law law school in the world – bears his name.

After first earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Queen’s University in Ontario, Michele would follow her grandfather’s path and earn an LLB, Law from the University of New Brunswick.

Finding the strength within

Michele’s greatest career challenge has come from within. “Taking that leap of faith to make such significant moves in my career, including leaving a strong career path at a major integrated oil and gas company to try out something very different with a midstream company was very challenging.”

Michele has held roles in various organizations such as law, engineering, and also projects and operations. 

“I continuously challenge myself to stay confident, to look around me and recognize that in fact, I have strengths that I bring to the table, and to have faith that I can demonstrate them through my actions and results."

Like many women, Michele admits that she can be her harshest critic. “I am fortunate to have many people in my life providing me with support, and at the end of the day, I have had to ensure I build that strength internally as well.”

Heeding the voice within

Michele’s confidence is important not only for her own well-being, but also for that of the people in her organization. She remembers in one of her first leadership roles, she had concerns early on regarding the [new to her] organization’s safety culture.

“Rather than listen to that concern, I deferred to people who were more experienced than me and in the end, we had a poor year in terms of our safety performance. I have not forgiven myself for not trusting my instincts.”

It was a difficult, but valuable lesson. “Things changed rapidly after that, both in terms of our safety expectations and in terms of me learning to ‘trust my gut,’ especially when it comes to the safety of our people.”

Leaving the world a better place

That care and concerns extends to the people she encounters outside of the workplace, as well, with a particular focus on the United Way. “I ran the Shell Canada campaign in Calgary in 2011 and have been a Leader in Canada and [now] a de Tocqueville member in Houston.”

Thinking back to her grandfather, Michele says,

“He truly embodied the value of leaving the world better than you find it and that is something I strive for in everything I do.”

Michele Harradence is a past GRIT Award winner and Senior Vice President and Chief Operations Officer, Gas Transmission & Midstream with Enbridge

Michelle Harradence GRIT Award Winner profile on Experience Energy

Coming soon... GRIT 2020

GRIT 2020 nominations will open in March with more details released at Energy 2.0. Get ready to recognize the difference makers in energy!

Nominations for the 2020 GRIT Awards presented by Experience Energy open in March.

GRIT Awards 2019: Celebrating the transition to an “experience economy”

The 2019 GRIT Awards and Best Energy Workplaces were presented by Experience Energy on October 10, 2019.

With the third annual GRIT Awards 2019 taking place this past Thursday, October 11th, it’s only a matter of time before the ceremony becomes known as the Oscars of the energy industry. Photographers and TV crews were there to capture the moment and, while the carpet at the Westin Memorial City isn’t red, the “stars” (nominees) were out in full force, some having come from as far as Nigeria.

Let's Dance

Opening the ceremony to celebrate what Experience Energy™ calls “the difference makers in energy,” Arquella Hargrove, Owner D&I Coach & Facilitator of Arquella Hargrove, Inc., took the stage and shared her favorite analogy about diversity and inclusion with a rapt audience.

“Diversity is representation – you’re at the dance. Inclusion is being invited to dance. Equity is being asked to pick the song.

Arquela Hargrove at the GRIT Awards 2019 presented by Experience Energy

As Brittany Schaefer, Vice President of Medallia, explained to the audience before introducing the keynote speaker, “We believe we live in the “experience economy.” It’s about creating great experiences, having the tools to measure them, and making them better every day.”

"We all have the power to remove barriers."

Haben Girma, the dynamic keynote speaker, then took the stage with her seeing-eye dog, Milo.

Priceless #GRIT2019 photo. @HabenGirma speaks and the dog sleeps. What an amazing #keynote

She kicked off the event by sharing her story as Harvard Law’s first Deafblind graduate, and why she doesn’t like the word “grit.” When asked by Pink Petro CEO Katie Mehnert to explain her aversion to the word, Haben explained,

“People with disabilities have been told to work harder. I worked really hard in school and to be a good job candidate and so many employers rejected me. We need employers to remove barriers and to stop being ableist. Rather than put the burden on people with disabilities, let’s put it on employers.”

Haben Girma delivers a profound keynote address at the GRIT Awards and Best Energy Workplaces, put on by Experience Energy.

She later emphasized that everyone has a voice and the power to remove barriers in some way.

Bringing out the best in others

In what must be an industry first, a second differently abled energy difference maker took the stage. Longtime Anadarko (now Occidental) director and GRIT Awards℠ judge, Mike Royal, who is blind, accompanied by his guide dog, Subi, sat and chatted with Emcee Josh Levs, a former CNN and NPR journalist. Mike shared how he was inspired by the stories he read during the selection process.

“I think my team would say I’m a pretty good coach and mentor, but once you think you’re pretty good at something, there’s always room to get better, so I started doubling down, tripling down, and asked my team, what can I do to help you be more successful?”

Mike Royal chats with Josh Levs at the 2019 GRIT Awards with his seeing-eye dog by his side. Presented by Experience Energy.

It was Mike’s hope that after the excitement of the moment had passed and it came time to return to work, participants would find ways to make those around them more successful.

A glimpse into the future

Pink Petro generously provided a table for 10 students from Houston’s Energy Institute High School, who proved to be some of the most inquisitive and engaged audience members, asking thoughtful questions of each speaker. Inviting the next generation of potential energy industry workers to the event granted them the opportunity to meet current industry influencers and literally gave them a “seat at the table.”

Students from the Energy Institute High School asked insightful questions at the GRIT Awards

And the GRIT Awards 2019 winners are...

Josh Levs, also known as Experience Energy’s chief storyteller, kept things moving with his animated speaking and rapid-fire commentary, although it didn’t take much to keep the crowd motivated – they came to celebrate! – and cheering on their nominee, although all winners received enthusiastic applause. The complete list of winners encompasses many companies and the diverse background that makes the energy industry thrive!

Celebration of life

Each of the winners is making a difference in the industry, as evidenced by their nominations, but there were special moments, such as when Ray Eisbrenner, husband of the late Kathleen Eisbrenner, former CEO of Next Decade LNG, accepted the Honorary GRIT Award on her behalf and shared how Kathleen would “go out of her way to create a win-win situation. She wanted everyone to feel like they won.

The husband of the late Kathleen Eisbrenner, chairman and CEO of Next Decade, accepted her honorary GRIT Award by Experience Energy.

The third time's a charm

Another memorable moment occurred when Monica Krishnan, Technology Manager, Chevron, won in the Professional category after being nominated every year since the GRIT Awards inception in 2018 (#shepersisted)! Director, Baker Hughes, Tina Unachukwu’s colleagues couldn’t contain their excitement when she was recognized in the Professional category. After swarming to embrace her, they proceeded to give her a standing ovation.

Monica Krishnan scores a win after her third nomination for a GRIT Award in the Professional category. Put on by Experience Energy.
Tina Unachukwu of Baker Hughes accepts her GRIT Award in the Professionals category to the cheers and standing ovation of her colleagues. Presented by Experience Energy.

Support from the top

In recognition of the culture of support individuals have in creating change in the workplace, Best Energy Workplaces was added as a new category this year. The judges were locked in a tie with top honors for Oil & Gas Producer going to both Aera Energy and Marathon Oil Company; Oil & Gas Services was awarded to Halliburton; Renewable Power Company to SPower; and Professional Services to The Global Edge Consultants LLC.  

Community engagement

Especially poignant was the announcement that one of the three awards in the Industry Advocacy Category would go to the Oil & Gas Trafficking Advocacy Group (OGTAG), whose goal is to fight human trafficking, which includes labor trafficking and sex trafficking, a crime which disproportionately affects women.

The OGTAG team accepts their GRIT Award in the Teams Category. Presented by Experience Energy. With Alexandria, COO at OVS Group, Jen Hohman CIO at Seadrill on far right and David Reid, CMO, National Oilwell Varco.

That's a wrap of the GRIT Awards 2019

During the ceremony, audience members were tweeting live and one participant summed up the collective mood of the attendees when she posted, “I am experiencing the most inspiring moment of my life.”

It’s never too soon to start thinking about next year’s GRITAwards℠! Nominations will open in March 2020. Watch this space for more details on how to nominate someone who inspires you because of their grit. Proud of the hard work and determination that have elevated you to where you are in your career? Nominate yourself!

Nominations for the 2020 GRIT Awards presented by Experience Energy open in March.

This is Life: Living Beyond Blindness

Mike Royal is a judge and speaker for the 2019 Experience Energy GRIT Awards and Best Energy Workplaces

Who is Mike Royal?

He holds six (totally blind) world records, among others, in water skiing.

He won a bronze medal in the downhill at the 1996 Chevy Truck Disabled Alpine Ski Championships.

He ran in the 1993 Boston marathon, where he finished third in the visually impaired category, and in the 1998 NYC marathon.

Don’t call him the Super Blind Guy. He’s just a regular guy (albeit a gifted athletic one) who happens to be blind.

Losing his sight

Blindness is part of who I am, not all of who I am,” says Mike Royal, Director, IT Audit at Occidental, who was born with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder, although he was the first in his family to have it. Despite experiencing a noticeable loss of vision by the age of five, he obtained his driver’s license at 16. With his trademark dry humor, he says he eventually gave it up “for the betterment of pedestrians everywhere.”

At 18, he was declared legally blind, although the diagnosis was something he struggled to come to terms with. In college, while earning a Bachelor of Science in Accounting & Management Information Systems from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and later an MBA, he was still hiding his blindness and compensating for it.

Coming out of the “blind closet”

Because of the nature of retinitis pigmentosa, which is characterized by loss of peripheral vision, Mike still had nearly 20/20 central-sight and says, “What I could see, I saw well; it was the things I couldn’t see that got me!” Finally, he says with self-deprecating humor, he came out of the “blind closet,” so to speak. In May 1993, he got his first seeing-eye dog and says it was the best thing he ever did for himself. Unlike the folding cane he had used for years, he couldn’t hide a 65-lb. Lab in his backpack!

Leveraging technology

Mike, who has been employed in the oil and gas industry for 25 years, doesn’t read braille. Instead, he uses Job Access With Speech (JAWS) technology, which speed-reads what’s on the computer screen, an iPhone with built-in Voice Over accessibility, as well as Smart Glasses combined with a virtual assistant at Aira. His advice to those with disabilities holds true for all employees as we move into a more digital world – “Make sure you leverage technology to your greatest advantage.

However, Mike says, despite technological advances, the unemployment rate among the blind community stands at 70%, just as it has since the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990. Mike has never had a blind colleague and certainly knows what it’s like to be in the minority. “I’m usually the only one in the room with a dog,” he says without irony.

Taking action on inclusion

Last year, Mike attended HERWorld2018 with nine of his female colleagues and noticed only about 10% of attendees were men. He left thinking, “Are you kidding?” and resolved to be a better advocate for women and those with different abilities in the industry. In mid-2018, he became a member of Anadarko’s Diversity & Inclusion Steering Committee (DISC) in order to have a bigger platform. He says he has spent the last year or so trying to smooth out “the rough edges.”


“I’m trying to listen better and consider how my actions affect others.”


Challenging himself

Royal’s attendance at HERWorld2018 motivated him to “challenge myself” and sign on as a judge for the GRIT Awards, which he says “is not something I would have done in the past.” In all that he does, Mike is guided by the words of his stepfather, who used to run 70 – 80 miles with him to train for marathons, and whom he considers his mentor.


“He told me, ‘This is life. This is not how you need to do it because you’re blind.’”


Mike Royal is a judge and speaker for the
Experience Energy™ 2019 GRIT Awards℠  and the Best Energy Workplaces℠.
Reserve your table or become a sponsor today and learn more about Mike at www.mikeroyal.com.


Mike Royal is a judge and speaker for the 2019 GRIT Awards and Best Energy Workplaces

Haben Girma: Helen Keller In the Digital Age

Haben Girma keynote speaker for 2019 Experience Energy GRIT Awards and Best Energy Workplaces

Advocate and Activist Haben Girma

Muse, incentive, influence, motivation. These are all synonyms for “inspiration” and disability advocate and activist Haben Girma asks that we (particularly the media) learn to use them instead of the trite, clichéd “inspiration.”

Certainly her myriad of accomplishments – surfing the waves in California where she was born and raised; helping build a school in Mali; graduating from Harvard Law School (‘13) – are enough to strike awe in anyone. Haben, 31, doesn’t believe being born Deafblind (her preferred spelling because “it’s a cultural identity”) should prevent her from pursuing the life she wants. There are over one billion disabled people, comprising the world’s largest minority, and our communities miss out on this immense talent pool when we don’t choose inclusion.

Haben’s mother, Saba, who fled the war in Eritrea as a 16-year old refugee, spending three weeks making the dangerous trek on foot to Sudan (and eventually finding her way to the US with the help of a Catholic aid agency), motivates Haben to “have courage and go on my own adventures.”

Conquering Barriers

Haben has discovered one of the greatest barriers facing people with disabilities is ableism, the belief that people with disabilities are inferior to the nondisabled. It’s when communities remove ableism that Haben feels most included, such as climbing an iceberg in Alaska with friends. She describes her many exciting adventures in her new book titled: Haben The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law.

However, it was something as simple as trying to find out what was on the college lunch menu, which was only available in printed form and therefore not accessible to Haben or other blind students, that led her to become an advocate for others who might not be aware of what they are entitled to under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights law which “prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life.”

The same lessons Haben has learned as part of the world’s largest minority can be applied to women and other non-dominant members in male-dominated industries, such as energy: teach people what you need, develop self-advocacy skills, and know your rights so that your requests are not viewed as special treatment, but simply compliance with laws that are in place to ensure equality for everyone.

An Opportunity for Innovation

Haben, who communicates through an electronic keyboard which sends the writer’s comments to her via a braille keyboard, knows firsthand how access to the right tools, particularly technology, opened doors for her and eventually led to the distinction of becoming Harvard Law School’s first Deafblind graduate. As industry enters Energy 2.0 and the world as a whole becomes more digitized, this access is critically important for the disabled.

As she told President Obama in 2015 at the White House celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),

“Technology can bridge the gap for people with disabilities and, as Internet services open more opportunities for people, we’re going to see more people with disabilities employed and succeeding.”

That sends a powerful message to the energy industry – and any other sector – seeking an innovative and inclusive workforce. Haben does not see disability as something to be overcome, but rather one of the many facets of human diversity that can be used to build a better world. It is her belief that all obstacles, whether physical or psychological or technological, are created by humans and we each have a responsibility to remove those barriers that hold back others and ourselves.

Just as women have long struggled to have their voices heard in male-dominated industries, Haben wants the energy industry to include the voices of people with disabilities.

Haben believes disabilities are part of the human experience, and an opportunity to develop new solutions.

“I teach people to view disability as an opportunity for innovation.”

Haben Girma keynote speaker for 2019 Experience Energy GRIT Awards and Best Energy Workplaces

Haben Girma is the keynote speaker for the
Experience Energy™ 2019 GRIT Awards℠  and the Best Energy Workplaces℠.
Reserve your table or become a sponsor today.

Execs must be ‘more open to the way the world wants to work’


To solve the energy crisis, businesses in the energy sector need to attract a diverse workforce and empower workers to have their voices heard. That’s a message Deanna Jones, a winner at the GRIT Awards, shared at the HERWorld Energy Forum in Houston.

The industry is having a difficult time attracting a broad range of talent. This is particularly true as tech companies become an increasing draw for millennials. To compete, energy leaders need to approach hiring differently, said Jones, senior vice president of HR, Communications and Administration for Marathon Oil, one of Houston’s Top Workplaces.


“As executives, we’re going to have to be a whole lot more open to the way the world wants to work in the future and figure out a way to make that happen.”


That includes allowing people to work remotely. And supporting work-life initiatives as part of taking a more holistic view of employees, she said.

But attracting diverse teams isn’t enough. To make them effective, it’s important to help everyone “show up with our diversity when we come into the room, instead of trying to act like everybody else,” Jones said. When everyone seems to go along with a single line of thinking, and someone with a different idea remains “silent instead of bringing that different comment,” organizations lose the power of diversity.


See HERWorld panel video here (Pink Petro members only)


Jones’ leadership in HR has drawn accolades, including from people who nominated her for a GRIT Award from Experience Energy. One called her “my personal example of grit.” Another described her as a “creative and challenging business leader who we all admire with pride.”

The oil and gas industry, in particular, has far too few women. Jones is a leading voice pushing to help change that.

“I have a real passion and dedication towards supporting the professional careers of successful women,” Jones said. “Encouraging others to have the courage to believe in their own capabilities and boldly take on a new role or challenge is particularly rewarding to me. During my career I have been inspired by many women who have perfected excellence through sheer determination, achieving career successes where there was not an easy or obvious path.”

Jones’ own path took her around the world. Jones earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Calgary.  She has also completed executive business courses in HR at the University of Michigan and courses in finance at the IMD Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Also passionate about community service, she serves on the board of directors of Communities In Schools of Houston.


About the GRIT Awards


The GRIT Awards honor difference makers in energy — women who lead and the men who champion their progress. Often unsung, these leaders are in the trenches making positive change happen regardless of what recognition may come their way. They take bold steps forward, advancing the sector.

Experience Energy launched the GRIT Awards in 2018 to overwhelming response. Hundreds of applications poured in from across the world. The ceremony attracted not only a live crowd of hundreds in Houston but also more than 74,000 people online.

CLICK HERE for more information and to nominate someone.

If you’re not pi$@%ng someone off…

“If you’re not pissing someone off, you’re not doing your job well!”
These are words Katherine Culbert lives by. The CEO of K and K Process, LLC  learned this mantra the hard way early in her career after being named in a labor union grievance. Twenty years later, the GRIT Award winner recognizes she does not need to be the most popular person in the room to be a successful engineer. Culbert has faced her share of challenges, while climbing the proverbial ladder. Being dismissed by others in power is chief among them.

“I was always being told I don’t know what needs to be done technically and with regards to business advancement,” she says. “So, I have worked very hard to prove my abilities.”

Rather than crumble under the criticism, Culbert met the challenges head-on. She went back to school for an MBA and is currently studying law. She became licensed, got certifications, developed and honed her skills volunteering at non-profits and, ultimately, become her own boss.

“Now that I am the CEO, I am proving to myself and others that my technical and business skills are on point.”

Pink Petro profiled Katherine long before she was a GRIT Award winner. Read all about how she took the leap to entrepreneurship with a partner. In less than a year, the company turned a profit. The partnership didn’t last, but the business did. “Having a partner was a challenge because we did not have the same commitment to the company.” As a one-woman-band, she handles most of the technical tasks and all the business tasks. K and K Process, LLC  works with smaller oil & gas companies and petrochemical plants to comply with process safety management regulations. “My job is to protect communities, the environment, personnel and business assets.”

Talk about turning negatives into positives!

“It was very discouraging to be shot down with every idea I brought to the table.”

Clearly, that doesn’t happen to her these days . . . now that she’s at the head of her own table.