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Women in the Australian Resources Sector

A passionate believer in the role of resources as an important economic contributor, my career has taken me across the globe where I have witnessed the positive impacts the industry brings to individuals, communities and our way of life. Recently, I was invited to speak about my role as a female in the predominantly male-dominated resources sector. Below is a short precis of what I discussed.

What are the biggest challenges currently facing women in the Australian Resources sector or women looking to start their career in this sector?

The mining and resources industry is critically important to Australia so it is disappointing to see results for gender diversity in resources decreasing. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of women working in the national resource industry dropped by 5,900 in the second quarter of 2015, meaning there are 7,200 fewer females working in the resources sector compared to the year prior.

It is disconcerting to see the proportion of female employees in the resource industry is just 13%. Skills shortages, an aging workforce, changes in legislation, work-life balance and working in remote locations all add to the challenges of the resources sector. Compounding these key issues are ongoing discussions surrounding factors associated with childcare, pay equity and input into political decisions, cultural norms around ‘caring’ roles and women-appropriate study and skills and a lack of sustained, active commitment from the top of organisations to achieving gender equity.

There is a hopeful sense that women are, at last, beginning to enter the senior ranks in steadier streams. The women who do occupy senior roles attract media attention and unfortunately, it is not always fair and balanced. Personally, I would like women to have positive reporting based on their merits rather than on their personal appearance. In saying this, the coverage does get us all talking which is a positive step in the right direction.

Despite the market challenges facing resource employers, if we are to prepare for future workforce needs and increase industry’s competitiveness, we must improve the gender balance across all occupations.

How has maintaining a leadership position within a predominantly male oriented field affected your career? Has this affected you?

As a woman whose career has involved stints as an Officer in the Australian Defence Force, a consultant in the mining, resources, aviation and construction industries, and subsequently as a General Manager, Director and Chief Executive Officer, I am delighted to report that being a woman in a male-dominated field has not affected my career at all. I am also able to happily report that 67% of the management team of Energy Skills Queensland are women.

I have worked predominantly in typical ‘male oriented’ fields so taking on a leadership role in the resources industry has not been a substantial change. Like any person undertaking any role, one gets out of a job what ones puts in, and I certainly place a large emphasis on outcomes over highlighting the fact that I am female. I will wield what influence and power I may have to inspire others, irrespective of the industry they work in and what gender they are.

I have always been convinced of the potency of female and male role models in lives and I can certainly confirm that my life is rich with them and richer for them. I have expert leadership guidance from the Chairman of my Board, Peter Price, and technical guidance from a senior expert in the oil and gas industry, Mark McKenna. These two gentlemen, along with my mother and two sisters, have provided immeasurable support over the years and assisted in navigating some of the more difficult situations thrown at me by the industries I have, and continue to work in.

Women, once in leadership roles, are highly effective, perform at least on a par with their male counterparts and the diversity they bring tangibly adds to productivity and success. I will certainly be aiming to do all of this, and more. Being female has not stopped me from pursuing my dreams and it certainly won’t stop me from chasing future goals either.

Women joining the resources sector are increasing but it’s not happening quickly enough. What can we do to speed up this extensive process?

Gender diversity has become a hot topic during the past few years, particularly noting representation of female Board directors and women in leadership positions. Women joining the resources sector is slowly changing, but not fast enough.

First and foremost, the way we look at the issue needs to change. We have been looking at gender diversity as a women’s issue rather than a business one. This fundamental shift in how we view the issue will assist in framing the strategies, resources and outcomes appropriately.

Various State-based and national organisations like Women in Resources, Australian Women in Resources Alliance and technical organisations like Women in Power and the National Association of Women in Construction, can play a role in encouraging greater diversity, by promoting the industry as a career option for young women. One such initiative provided by Energy Skills Queensland is the Queensland Workforce Skilling Strategy which enables stakeholders including women, to gain training in skills that will enable them to gain employment in the resources sector.

Ongoing mentoring and coaching, diversity capability workshops, industry awards and recognised diversity programmes will all aid in providing key messages to up the ante on women’s participation in Australia’s resources, allied and related construction sectors.

In all industries and organisations, there is a strong case for enhancing the contribution of women to the achievement of strategic goals. Ethical, education, public and social expectations for equal opportunities means that significant change and dedicated leadership is required in order to achieve equity and optimise the contribution of women.

What strategies should be adopted to ensure women are equally represented in the resource sector?

A number of initiatives and strategies are currently being used to promote women into leadership positions within the resources sector. Where and when possible, organisations must raise the profile of outstanding women by providing awards and honours to individuals as well as organisations who support the full participation of women. Providing professional development programmes for women aimed at empowering them is a great mechanism, as is the ongoing support and encouragement of women to pursue resource sector positions.

Additional work can be conducted in increasing funding for the development of education programmes on inclusive leadership, challenging stereotypes and unconscious bias as well as building partnerships with government, industry and the corporate sector to increase the percentage of women in the resource sector. Energy Skills Queensland is currently seeking partner organisations to conduct a pilot programme to upskill women currently in the resources sector to take up leadership and management roles.

Every person and organisation should seek to be a leader in modelling gender equality and encourage career progression. The end goal is to achieve an industry that maximises performance and capability by enabling all women and men to thrive equally. All staff should be able to participate and progress commensurate with their talent and aspirations and feel valued and inspired to do their best.

Whatever actions are taken, achieving genuine gender equality and effecting cultural change will be an iterative process and work areas should take the initiative to explore additional and new ideas.

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