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Zoe Yujnovich at Shell Canada, Calgary.

Stephanie Leblond

Zoe Yujnovich is executive vice-president of heavy oil at Shell Canada Ltd.

One of the reasons I love the industry that I work for is the opportunity to experience different parts of the world. There are many differences across cultures, some a bit obvious – like the food we eat and the things we do. But in essence, there is a really strong commonality. People all over the world want to come to work, be recognized for doing a great job, and contribute to something that energizes them. Everyone wants to make a real difference.

Sponsorship played a very important for my career. It's somewhat subtle, but I think mentors tend to be more active in terms of perhaps guiding me on specific things. Sponsors are the people who were advocating, perhaps, without my knowledge. They were sitting at the boardroom table or around the leadership table, as roles were being considered and my name was being put forward as a possible candidate.

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As a woman in a male-dominated sector, I've had a very positive experience. That said, I still look around at the industry as a whole and feel that there is still under-representation of women in senior leadership roles. There are many, many things that contribute to that, but I strongly advocate that our companies should be reflective of the diversity of our communities.

My passion has been around trying to make a difference in how we contribute to developing the world from the resources that we have. Looking back now, I certainly didn't have that in university. I've learned just how much of an impact the mining industry had on communities, and I've since – as I moved around the world and now moved into the oil and gas sector – just come to appreciate how important and impactful we can be to our customers and to the communities that we operate with. That's really been what fuels my passion.

I am an extrovert-turned-introvert. I used to be far more extroverted; I used to get a lot of energy from being around people and liked to be the one who talked more. Now, I actually really value listening to others before I speak. I like quiet time when I leave the office to be at home, be with my family, and reenergize in private.

I know what I know, I know what I don't know, and I don't know what I don't know. And I'm always expanding my knowledge to what I don't know I don't know. The stuff I know I don't know, I can actually get help and support on. But the things I don't know about are blind spots that have the potential to really create concern. That's what I try to focus on at this point in my career.

Work-life balance is a bit tricky because it indicates that, at any moment, things are in perfect harmony. For me, it's really about making sure that I have the time, or create the time, to spend the time that you need to look after your own health, to look after the family, and to make sure your key relationships are good.

I gain a lot of energy by keeping fit, and I enjoy competing in half and full marathons. I use it as a meditation time. It's not a time to focus; it's actually a time to lose focus and try not to have my mind filled with too many distractions. But I have found, and have come to appreciate, that for some, they gain energy from a walk in the park, or from visiting an art gallery, or from spending time with their kids or their family. It's about finding out what gives you energy rather than what saps the energy from you.

Our kids grew up in Montreal and so have a very strong language in French. My sense is that they affiliate perhaps more with their Canadian culture, although they still recognize Australia just because it's the heritage that they come from. One of the things that strikes me is just the generosity and the care in Canadian people. We felt really at home here in Calgary, of course we miss Montreal, but Canada is a wonderful country to live in.

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As told to Karl Moore and Aya Schechner. This interview has been edited and condensed.

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