Born to a middle class family in rural India, Mary Bastian had an interesting upbringing. She attended school in Sierra Leone, West Africa, where her father was a teacher, and later returned to her home country where she got a degree in chemical technology – a rare choice in those days for a woman in India.
“I was fascinated by research and chose to continue my studies by doing a Master’s degree in chemical engineering even though most of my relatives were opposed to the idea. They felt that it was a waste of time and resources encouraging females to do higher education and wanted me to follow the traditional route of getting married and starting a family,” she says.
“Later on, I did get married and had children, but only after obtaining my PhD in Chemical Engineering. Now I am balancing my career with being a wife and a mother.”
Mary joined Shell in 2009 after gaining experience at General Electric and Dow Chemicals. Her first role at Shell was as a process research and development engineer working on areas like biofuels, techno-economic evaluation of processes, solar fuels and carbon capture. “I was attracted to the sheer vastness of the company, the diverse nature of the people and the endless learning opportunities. I’ve always felt encouraged to take my career to the next level,” she explains.
Mary likes a challenge and since moving into a managing role a year ago, she has learnt to refocus her energy. “I’m a perfectionist and I want things to be done in the best possible way and I followed this approach in my previous roles, but when you’re managing your workload and people at the same time, you have to prioritise.
You’ll never be able to do everything perfectly. It’s the same in real life – balancing a career with your personal responsibilities is not easy, but you can still do your best without trying to be perfect. I’ve learnt to concentrate on the job at hand and when I go home, my focus is on my family,” she shares.
She would share the same advice with new employees. “When you start a new career, do not get distracted by everything around you. Focus on the job at hand and only make commitments when you are confident that you’d be able to deliver on those commitments. If you take these basic steps of being responsible and working with integrity, the career opportunities you want will always come your way.”
She’s also an advocate for being yourself at work. “Something that’s always struck me about Shell is how people truly have the opportunity to be their natural selves. It shows in how we are encouraged to work in a way that suits our personalities. Some people work flexible hours while others choose to change roles often. I also enjoy the cross-cultural collaboration – I spent a year in Amsterdam and it was great to see how people from different backgrounds could work towards the same objective,” she says.