Honor Sheard, Environmental Safety and Security Manager for Marathon Petroleum Company, has a big job at a big manufacturer in the bigger-than-big oil and gas industry — all of which have historically been dominated by men.
“My job is to make sure that our refinery is in compliance with all the rules and regulations — and making sure that all the people on site have the resources to be able to work safely and know their environmental limits,” says Sheard.
It’s a job in which Sheard is making a big impact with her unique ability to engage with people.
“She connects with employees inside the plant as well as with people outside the plant,” explains Matt Mahler, Marathon Maintenance Manager. “She cares. She’s genuine. And she doesn’t stay behind her desk. She’s out in the field almost daily, making herself available during shifts, during sequential meetings, walking around the plant. It makes her approachable to everyone.”
Sheard’s ability to connect by listening and communicating with authenticity have served her well as a woman breaking into a male-dominated work environment.
“Years ago, when I was the only female on our leadership team, many of the men had stay-at-home wives who handled sick kids and other issues. I wanted to be authentic, sharing that sometimes I had to leave for an appointment with one of our boys, or to go home to get our kids and make dinner. I needed to set expectations that this is normal, and that people need this in their lives,” says Sheard.
This is genuine Sheard — a fiercely devoted wife and mother as well as a hard-working and capable team member. One who has paved the way for women in an otherwise male-dominated field.
“As a guy,” states Mahler, “I do feel that Honor’s had to prove herself differently than me. She’s had to work harder and longer. She’s also had to back her judgement with more science because sometimes people question what she says simply because she’s a female.”
One person who values everything Sheard says is David Leaver, General Manager of the Marathon Detroit Refinery.
“When you engage with Honor, you can tell she’s listening and that she’s going to respond in a thoughtful manner,” says Leaver. “When she does, people follow her because they know she cares about them and their concerns. It’s what makes her such a great leader.
And, as our world balances energy needs with climate change, Sheard’s unique brand of leadership is needed more than ever. After all, she’s an environmental engineer who helps run an oil refinery. Proof that passion for refining — and the environment — aren’t mutually exclusive.
“Our refinery is vital to Michigan,” says Sheard. “We’re producing fuels that we all use every single day. Plus, we’re reducing our emissions year after year after year to help make our environment safer. We’re proud of that.”
Sheard hopes she can be a role model for other women in manufacturing, like Whitney Walton, Director of Marathon Security.
“I take pride in my position and know that it’s because of people like Honor,” says Whitney. “She’s a great leader, period. I can pull inspiration from her as another female.”
Regarding the future of women in manufacturing, Sheard thinks it’s pretty simple: “It should be everyone’s goal that women and minorities have equal seating in the conference room, the control room, the board room — in every room. If females are 50 percent of the population, we should have 50 percent of the seats at the table.”
“To accomplish this,” added Sheard, “we need to convince women to get outside their comfort zone. Unfortunately, some jobs are still viewed as ‘men’s jobs.’ Some women don’t even know some of these jobs exist. So, encouraging, sharing and showing is part of the solution.”
Being recognized as the 2020 MFG Woman of the Year Award means a lot to Sheard — and her entire family. As a working mom in a year like this, her husband Jon Sheard, in-laws and parents have all rallied around her to help keep home life (and home schooling) on track as she continues to keep health, safety and security a priority at Marathon.
Even after her toughest days on the job, Sheard is reminded that she’s on the right track each night when she tucks her boys into bed.
“It’s the snuggles and the ‘I love you mama’s that make me feel like I can keep doing this.”