The women in mining panel discussion was a highlight for visitors at this week’s AIMEX, with a cross-section of ladies working in the sector sitting down to share their varied experiences.
Chaired by Lainie Anderson, a director of Mining Family Matters, the panel included Margaret Davies, regional manager supply chain for Anglo American, Elizabeth Watts ,operations manager at Xstrata Coal NSW, Gabrielle Horn, apprentice auto-electrician at Anglo America's Drayton Mine, Natalie Bussau, manager for operational readiness at Improvement Resources and Dr Ana Duarte, solution consultant for the mining industry at GE Intelligent Platforms.
The women spoke about their varied experience in the mining industry, what inspires them and their hope that more women would see the industry for the opportunities it could offer.
Entering the industry
While women are still under-represented in the mining industry, making up only 15 per cent of the nation’s workforce , the panelists were adamant that being a woman in the male-dominated field was not an issue and that there was no difference on the job between genders.
Watts says there aren't many barriers for women wanting to enter the mining sector, and that the most important aspect was to figure out what you wanted to do and just go for it.
Bussau agreed, stating that getting into the industry is about talking to as many people as possible.
“Take every opportunity that comes along,” Bussau said.
“It’s really about having a go.”
Bassau said showing aptitude, and having the right attitude was key to getting a start, adding that often opportunities would soon present themselves.
“The mining industry is very small, everyone knows everyone,” Bussau said.
“If you get in there and do a good job people will try to find you another job, they love the fact that you’ve had the passion to get in there and have a go.”
While Davies suggested those who want to get into mining should not just look at big mining houses but also consider suppliers and manufacturers’ to widen the scope of opportunities.
Networking and Mentors
The woman all agreed that initiatives like mentoring for women, family friendly rosters and affordable childcare were all ways the industry had succeeded in ensuring more women entered and stayed in the sector, agreeing the sector had come a long way in supporting its workers.
Having a strong network of mentors is important for women who wish to succeed in the mining sector Duarte explained.
“They’re not so emotionally involved and are able to drive you and give you tips and suggestions,” Duarte said.
Horn explained working at Anglo’s Drayton mine there is a strong culture of mentoring, with each apprentice assigned one tradesperson.
“That works better for me, I have more time to learn from him and gain one-on-one experience,” Horn said.
Watts explained mentors can come from anywhere.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who’s high up in the company, it doesn’t have to be the general manager, it can be an operator with 20 years experience who’s seen young engineers come and go who can often give the best advice,” Watts said.
“Sometimes a mentor will find you just because of the way you go about your work or interact with people,” Watts said.
“My advice would be don’t close yourself off to people just because they’re not the general manager,” Watts said.
While the sector can offer women many opportunities with the promise of a great salary, travel, and varied experiences, it can also take its toll with often long periods away from home and tough conditions.
However the panel was quick to point out that issues in creating a work/life balance were not just apparent in the resource industry.
“I don’t think the challenges of being a working mum are any different in the mining industry,” Davies said.
Anderson agreed, stating that family dynamics affected everyone.
“All families struggle from time to time, whether you’re in mining or not,” Anderson said.
Anderson, who’s guides for families working in the resource sector has sold over a 95,000 copies nation-wide is, says communication is the most important issue for families dealing with difficult rosters.
“FIFO families are usually very functional, work together as a team and are very aware of all the pros and cons,” Anderson said.
Duarte spoke about making the right decision in terms of where women wanted to be based and whether working at a residential mine or undertaking a FIFO role was best fit.
“You need to look at what’s important to you and your family,” Duarte said.
Passion and getting in there and "having a go" was Bussau's advice to women looking to get into the mining industry.
While Watts said the most important lesson she had learnt was to treat people “the way you expect to be treated”.
However it was put best by Anderson who stated:
“Women in mining are gutsy chicks.”