Interview with Lilian Fandriana, VP of Development at BP

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“When I was in university about forty years ago, pursuing an engineering degree was not common for a woman. I was also a minority in the sense that I was an Asian woman in a crowd of Western men.”

Written by: Vanessa Sandra

One of the first people who jumps to my mind when it comes to women pioneering in business is Lilian Fandriana, who I had the privilege of meeting a few years ago. Not only is she currently the VP of development at BP, Asia Pacific, but she has also held the positions of President of BP Asia, President of BP Nederlands, and VP of Finance in BP Asia Pacific. Mrs. Fandriana has been very supportive of my pursuits leading up to college and in college, giving illuminating pieces of advice on how to make the most of the experience, so I asked her to share her college experience in Stanford pursuing an engineering degree that ultimately propelled her to work in the energy sector, as well as some words of advice for us here at BU.

 

Was it intimidating at all? How did you deal with the pressure, and how did you successfully make your place in university?

It was definitely intimidating–when I first arrived, I was sick to my stomach with fear. Many of the other people, especially the men, in the class were very outspoken, confident (and often picked more!) and I was overwhelmed. I learned that I should not be defined by demographics, and that always, we should always speak up for ourselves. We’re not promised anything, so we must be willing speak, ask, and demand.

 

Was your experience in the job industry similar to that in college?

In university, you still have the benefit of having objectivity with quantified scores and tests. In the job industry, there is much more room for subjectivity and projections. As I moved up the rank, I noticed more sophistication, in that though people are thinking the same way, they don’t verbalize it to you, which makes it harder for you to know how to improve. There’s definitely bias up there. Boys play with boys, and us girls have to speak up to keep up. I don’t completely blame them–I think it’s an unconscious thing that they do. They judge you based on how you talk, and they relate the way you talk to other women that they know, based on their own experiences, which could lead to a misconception about you. Now it becomes your burden, your responsibility, to make your point and make yourself heard as you.

 

Where do you see the future of women in business going?

There are several ways I see women progress in society. When I was new in the workforce, there would be people who assumed that my ideas in engineering projects were the men’s, but luckily, I had friends around me who spoke up and told them the idea was mine– work together, make friends, and boost each other up. Be confident, but also be humble enough to accept help and help others. Now as VP of development, I put a lot of focus in the women in my sector and help them when they need help.

I see more women stepping up in the high-tech industry, such as Sheryl Sandberg, and holding leadership positions there. I would love to see more female “Mark Zuckerburgs” trailblazing their way through this industry.

Also, I see the Gloria Steinbeck perspective on feminism as a bit misleading. I believe that women should be confident no matter what they decide to pursue, whether that would be in the workforce or being a housewife. I truly admire women who take pride in their lives as a housewife. There’s no shame in not working a job like mine, because all women, as well as men, are built differently. We should stop making it seem like women who have a job are stronger because that is not true. We can’t change our identity as being women–why would we want to? I love being a woman! We just have to learn how to embrace being a woman and make the absolute best of it.

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