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This week in our series Profiles in GRIT, we introduce you to Skyler Obregon, Regional Compliance Counsel, U.S. and Canada, for Weatherford International, one of the world’s largest multinational oilfield service companies, providing innovative solutions, technology and services to the oil and gas industry. Weatherford is also a Pink Petro member company.
In addition to her work in compliance, she recently founded Women of Weatherford (a.k.a. WoW) to support the company’s female employees around the world. The network formally launched earlier this year and has already built a membership of more than 200 women.
We spoke with Skyler about a variety of experiences she’s had throughout her career and her personal motto: “Fear is just excitement in need of an attitude adjustment.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Read below for more from our conversation with Skyler.
What’s the biggest challenge you have faced and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge that I have faced in my career as an attorney was negotiating a master service agreement with a Fortune 100 client. As a junior attorney, I was tasked with renegotiating contract terms, and I was petrified. I had only been practicing law for two years, and the opposing counsel was a seasoned attorney with 30 years under his belt.
To prepare for these negotiations, I studied prior contracts and meticulously crafted my arguments. I knew the contract backward and forward and formed a negotiation strategy by anticipating what my counterparty might argue.
When facing a tough challenge, there is always an element of uncertainty and fear. I kept a fortune cookie message aptly taped to my laptop, which said, “Fear is just excitement in need of an attitude adjustment.”
I used that message as my motto. The challenge was great, and we reached an agreement. Overall, it was an incredible learning experience, and the opportunity made me face my fears.
What’s one mistake you made, and what did you learn from it?
When I graduated from law school in 2011, the market was saturated with young attorneys at a time when many companies were not hiring. Like most ambitious attorneys, I approached many large Houston-based law firms for an entry-level position, only to be repeatedly rejected.
I decided to take an unpaid internship with Federal Judge Melinda Harmon until the right position came along. During that time, I was approached by my father to join his oil and gas practice in Tyler, Texas. Judge Harmon started her career at Exxon and encouraged me, as a woman, to enter the oil and gas field.
With limited options and the opportunity to grow a relationship with my father, I decided to accept the job. During the year I worked for my father, I had broad exposure to oil and gas operators and service companies. My father was a solo practitioner who had grand ideas for me (his only child) eventually taking over his 35-year old oil and gas practice. It was a great idea, but only in theory, and after several months of traveling every week between Houston and Tyler and living with my father and stepmother, it became clear that taking over the business was not in the cards.
Looking back, instead of staying in Houston and trying to wait out the market, I took the easy way out by working for my father — the path of least resistance. To me, this was a bit of a misstep in my career.
However, what I learned was this: Everything happens for a reason. I started reconnecting with people I met while in law school, one of those being the senior legal counsel for operations at Weatherford. And due to the experience I gained working for my father, I was able to intelligently discuss the oil and gas business and convey my interest and passion for the industry. Had I not had the exposure to oil and gas through my father’s firm, I am not sure that I would have been offered the position at Weatherford and I would certainly not be where I am today.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your career?
SO: I have had the pleasure of working for Weatherford for more than five years. However, like many industries, I saw a lack of women in the workplace and in leadership positions outside of our corporate office. Many women felt siloed, and there was not a formal support network within the organization.
After attending a Women of Energy event, I was inspired and decided that Weatherford needed a women’s network to focus on women-driven initiatives and to provide a safe space to learn and communicate. My creation was Women of Weatherford or, more appropriately “WoW.” This grassroots movement literally started with me walking into colleagues’ offices and asking if they would be interested in establishing such a network. After gaining some traction with others in the office, I drafted bylaws and a WoW mission statement: “To engage, support, empower and inspire women in order to foster professional growth, advancement and leadership within Weatherford.”
The timing was great as Weatherford was in the process of formalizing an enterprise-wide Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) program. About a year after starting the grassroots network, Weatherford launched a global D&I campaign and used the blueprint I established to launch three additional networks, Young Professionals, LGBTQ and Veterans. Together, we are committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable bringing their best selves to work.
I am incredibly excited about WoW’s advocacy efforts, which include pushing for a formal maternity and adoption leave policy, nursing rooms in Weatherford facilities, recruitment of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through our internship program and changes to our recruiting process. WoW is proud to have also launched an internal website that provides resources, articles and podcasts centered on career development, self-care and work-life balance for women.
Who’s been a “gritty” role model for you and why?
SO: I am going to be cliché and say my mother, but for good reason. I am an only child, raised by a single mother. As a child, I had several health issues that unfortunately landed me in the hospital time and time again. My mother worked as a real estate agent. Although she worked long hours and late nights, she never missed a dance recital, ice-skating competition or tucking me into bed.
In the late 1990s, she moved out of real estate and into energy, taking a job at Enron Corporation. In 2001, Enron started to crumble, and by the end of the year, my mother joined thousands of fellow employees who packed up their personal belongings and closed their office doors. To add insult to injury, in 2001, Houston was devastated by Tropical Storm Allison. We sustained two feet of water in our house and lost most of our items on the first floor.
My mother was unemployed for the first time in her career, and our house was literally under water. However, she did not miss a beat. She accepted a position at Baker Hughes, provided consulting services to Triad Communication in Washington, D.C., and started writing for the Houston Chronicle. She worked three jobs, sacrificing her personal life, to make sure that we were financially stable. During this time, she worked with the media and other organizations to advocate and ensure her fellow employees at Enron received proper severance packages. She consulted on the movie “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” by providing the producers with contacts to interview. She truly demonstrates all the characteristics of a great and “gritty” role model by being resilient, innovative, resourceful and compassionate.
We will be celebrating our next class of GRIT Award winners on Oct. 3. Join us — in person in Houston or for the livestream!