Featured Innovator

This Houston energy executive is helping to create more women mentors in business

When Myrtle Jones was rising through the ranks of an energy company, she didn't have a female mentor to look up to. Now, she hopes help connect young women with mentors digitally. Courtesy of Myrtle Jones

If you're a young woman in business, you're probably familiar with the struggle of finding a woman in business to be mentor. Here's some good news for those women: There's an app that's looking to change that, and there's a good chance you've already downloaded it on your phone.

In 2017, Austin-based Bumble, the dating and social mobile application, launched Bumble Bizz, an application that seeks to connect industry professionals and foster networking and mentoring opportunities. As of 2019, users have the option to see only women on the app, too, in order to foster their professional network of women.

Myrtle Jones, senior vice president at Houston-based Halliburton, knows a thing or two about the importance of mentorship, in large part because she went without it for much of her career. Jones, who's participating in Bumble Bizz's launch efforts, has become known as one of Houston's most influential and inspiring women in business. She spoke with InnovationMap about the importance of mentorship, how she wound up in the energy industry, and how interested professionals can become mentors to the next generation of professionals.

InnovationMap: What role did mentorship play in your career?

Myrtle Jones: I think people fail to realize that I came up in the industry before mentorship was really a thing. I started working in the energy business in the early '80s, and women were new to the industry. We were somewhat getting ourselves established in the business world – there was no such thing as someone saying, "We're going to get you linked up with mentors," so you had to find role models. I always had role models, and I always looked at the fact that women should have an equal opportunity in the workforce, and that we belonged in the workforce.

I was going to make my way in corporate America, and my motivation was believing that we had just as much right to be out here as men did.

IM: Did you have a mentor in your earlier days in the professional world?

MJ: A very wonderful sponsor came in as a treasurer when I was at GlobalSantaFe [now Transocean], and he was eventually promoted to CFO. He was someone who picked me out of the crowd and noticed I brought a lot of value. He brought me to executive meetings and board meeting and gave me an opportunity to show what I could do.

IM: How'd you get involved in the energy industry?

MJ: It wasn't that I was looking to go into energy. At the time I got out of school, the hottest job market was Houston, Texas, and it was the energy business. I went to Mississippi State, and the oil and gas companies were expanding their search outside of Texas and attracting people to move to Texas. So, that's how I ended up in the business. Other than the energy business, the economy was a bit slow around the rest of the country.

IM: What are some of the professional obstacles and adversities that you've faced as a female, especially in a stereotypically male-dominated industry?

MJ: First off, it was men getting used to seeing women in this industry, and just having to build those relationships and build mutual trust. A lot of it was just building trust, and overcoming a lot of prior stereotypes and beliefs that people had about the role [of women] in the workplace.

IM: Tell me about the role of technology and innovation at Halliburton.

MJ: There's so much technology development at Halliburton. A lot of people don't realize that Halliburton is a technology company. We have a fully fledged research and development center and we file hundreds of patents each year. The technology that Halliburton has developed has led to significant improvements in terms of oilfield services.

IM: What's your advice for folks reading this who are interested in mentoring, but aren't sure how to get started?

MJ: Make yourself open to it. When I'm in networking situations, and I'm meeting someone who's committed to their career, and they're looking for ways to talk to me, I open myself to that opportunity. I have a number of people who I mentor at Halliburton. For people who want to be mentors, it's really not that hard. [Mentees] are looking for that sounding board, and for someone who's "been there, done that."

So, even without having a formal organization to go through, people can become a mentor through their own network, or seek out organizations that have formal mentoring programs.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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Building Houston

 
 

Kyle Judah is executive director of Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Photo courtesy of Lilie

When Kyle Judah accepted his position as executive director at Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, he had spent less than 48 hours in the city of Houston. In fact, his first two months in the role have been spent completely remote and out of town.

Still, his limited in-person interaction with the city and with Rice made an impact.

"One of the things I found so exciting about what's going on in Houston right now that, quite frankly, was incredibly attractive about the opportunity to come and join Lilie and Rice was that Houston has these big pillar companies in energy and health care and all these critical areas that the world, the economy, and the society needs," Judah says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "That's all in Houston right now."

Judah and Lilie's goal is to help identify the innovation happening on campus at Rice and bring it to the world. And, he says, Rice as a whole has a huge place in the greater Houston innovation ecosystem. The challenge is identifying what industries Houston and Rice have an opportunity to disrupt.

"We can't just copy and paste what works for the Bay Area or what works for Boston," he says. "We have to figure out what is going to be the authentic right sort of centers of excellence for Rice and for Houston — areas like energy, health care, space. It just so happens that these areas that Houston and Rice have historically done better at than anyone else — those happen to be the most grand challenges for all of humanity."

Another priority Judah has leading Lilie, which was founded at Rice in 2015, is to make sure opportunities are available for everyone. This month, the university launched the Rice Experiment Fund — a $500 semesterly stipend available to all students. The funds are meant to be used on early market testing and experiments, which can be prohibitive obstacles for students.

"We want to make sure that the diversity of entrepreneurship at Rice speaks to the diversity of the city in our backyard," says Judah, adding that diversity and inclusion is at the top of mind for programs like this.

Judah shares more on where he plans to lead Lilie and his early impressions on Houston's startup scene in the podcast episode. Overall, he's found it extremely welcoming.

"I found that everyone here wants Houston to win," he says. "We're really playing as a broader collective, and that's incredibly special."

You can listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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