As we move toward an ever-increasing digitized world, some people may find technology intimidating or even intrusive. Angela McKane, bp’s Vice President – Technology Insight, has a clear-cut message that couldn’t come at a more portentous time: technology has the power to save lives. It saved hers.
“Energy is fundamental to life.” And while it may not be thought of as being at the forefront of technology, McKane says, “It’s one of the most cutting-edge industries there is, precisely because the world is going through such change, and we need a source of energy for pretty much everything we do.”
McKane heads a team of about 10 analysts spread around the globe, providing bp with 24/7 coverage, which entails conducting a lot of research, using the best analytic tools and the latest techniques for technology, helping mine large data sets.
“We’re basically an inhouse competitive intelligence function, with a very strong technology lens. We’re looking at disruptive technologies that might impact our business in either a positive or negative way. We do a lot of horizon scanning – what’s coming in the future, looking at what our competitors are doing with new technologies, and keeping a keen eye on the innovation landscape externally. In other words, everything going on around startups, digital tech, the changing face of providing energy to the world through technologies. All of it is ultimately in pursuit of bp’s business development, and future investment decisions, and our ambition to reach net zero by 2050 or sooner.”
Calling it “the most exciting field anyone could work in,” McKane says she could talk about it endlessly. But there’s something else she is equally passionate about. Companies are embracing diversity and inclusion in a big way – and realizing the critical importance of equity – but McKane, who was born with a connective tissue disorder that necessitated major heart surgery in 2006, says, “Diversity and inclusion are wonderful concepts but – and this is true of any word – when you hear them so many times, you start to zone out. It’s just the way the brain works. You need to bring yourself back and ask, ‘What are we really talking about here, and what is it we want to achieve?’” Maybe because it is wisdom born from personal experience, she speaks to that longing in all of us. “It’s about fostering a sense of belonging.”
McKane discovered early on from a playground bully, “Some people will try to subjugate you on the basis of difference.” While she countered with her wit and intelligence, she internalized the message that, “I perceived this to be my weak point and, therefore, I should do everything in my power to hide that, to mask it, to always play aggressively to my strengths. I thought that was a winning strategy. It worked on the playground and actually, to some extent, it does work in real life.”
“But the problem, of course, is that you’re not really being true to yourself. There’s a fundamental aspect of yourself that you’re feeling ashamed of; you’re carrying that with you all the time. And, to be honest, I think I’ve been carrying that with me until about two years ago,” says McKane, who turned 40 in January.
In fact, McKane even went to the extreme of not taking advantage of help that was available to her. She never disclosed her medical diagnosis, didn’t check any equal opportunity forms – “Anything I could mask, I would. I wanted absolute assurance that I was being considered on an equal basis to all other candidates. It’s partly the internalized ableism or not wanting to be seen that way as well.”
“I used to think that was me doing the right thing. ‘I’ve got away with it again, and I haven’t had to disclose that.’ I’m learning that, actually, the opposite is true, and that it’s much more powerful to be vulnerable and to show people your authentic self. People really warm to you; your relationships get stronger. Opportunities start coming your way.”
“In the disability community, people know what it’s like to be looked at and immediately underestimated. Not [necessarily] out of malice; often it’s unconscious bias. But I was hyperaware of that from a very young age because I’d been on the receiving end of it. So, that’s probably where my passion for D&I comes from.”
Having made the decision to be vulnerable, and to be open about her medical condition, has empowered McKane to become an advocate and ally for others, not just those with different abilities, but anyone outside the dominant group in industry. This June, she gave a speech on “Genes, Memes and Clever Machines – Disability Rights Reach New Lows and New Heights” at the (Not IRL) Pride Summit held by Lesbians Who Tech.
While McKane says she is “well versed” in what it’s like to be disabled and navigating the world from that perspective, she acknowledges there are plenty of other life experiences she doesn’t have personally.
“A perfect example would be right now with the global pandemic. Suddenly, many of us are working from home and that affects everyone differently. I have a heart condition, and obviously I don’t want to get COVID-19. Other members of my team have elderly parents; some have kids they have to homeschool. Every single one of us has a different impact from this. I think you’re being ‘meaningfully inclusive’ when you put in the effort to be consciously aware of the people around you. It actually does take effort from all of us, and that can be the difference.”
The turmoil and unpredictability of COVID-19 have added a never-before seen element, in addition to the energy industry being in a major down cycle at the moment, and yet McKane still says, “The industry is a great place to be right now. It’s perfect timing because there’s so much going on with digital tech, in particular. And that’s empowering a lot of change in the organization. Oil and gas companies are requiring different skill sets and very digitally-savvy individuals for roles around data science, and all kinds of technology-enabled innovations that will pioneer the low carbon energy solutions of the future. That’s really what providing energy to the world is about over the decades to come.”