Although she has long held executive roles in the oil industry, now Susie Tompkins Buell has one of the few female CEOs for an oil and gas company. Before leaving the oil and gas giant Chevron, she founded the Buell Foundation with a vision to address climate change and other environmental issues.
The Chevron CEO held a meeting on June 27 to discuss company sustainability, diversity, and leadership training. She was introduced to the audience by Dorothy Kalins, a speaker at the Company of Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Summit.
“Even if somebody perceives you as being corporate irredeemable and unqualified, they certainly don’t see you as a threat,” Kalins says in the video (watch above). “There’s just something in the way you say the word ‘you’ and say the word ‘here’ and ‘it’s’ that is inclusive, inclusive of everybody.”
Referring to a design flaw on one of her foundations’ projects, Buell continues: “I use inclusive instead of which, because it is not the word we want to use, but it’s the word that everybody can relate to and say.”
For Buell, like many people of color, gender, and ethnic groups, defining inclusion as inclusive has always meant showing a level of equality through the language used. For example, before calling the BP Gulf oil spill by its correct name, the Deepwater Horizon incident, the company’s captain was only allowed to refer to the accident as “bodies washing up.”
Her Buell Foundation was created in response to the environmental consequences of climate change: rising sea levels, rising temperatures, and increasing storms. Buell published a book—Called to Action: Voices from the Fringe of Climate Change—that seeks to show how scientists and activists around the world are fighting for climate change solutions.
To be clear, the Buell Foundation was a good get for Kalins, a woman who’s been in the leadership business since she was named CEO of Intel Corporation in 1999. However, Buell gives Kalins credit for educating her about how to use inclusive language, especially in relation to climate change.
“I used to refer to [climate change] as global warming and that’s not inclusive,” she says. “What I feel I would love in the future is if you could refer to something as global warming, which is not inclusive, and to climate change, which is very inclusive. And the way I’m referring to it is ‘climate change,'” as Kalins counsels, Buell continues, “because it’s both to begin with.”
For her part, Kalins thinks of herself as the “loud and brash” segment of the wider corporate community. “I think it’s important to tell the story of what happens if we don’t change course,” she says. “Let’s also be persistent and open-minded and civic-minded. And not simply be focused on a partisan project.”