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Queenslander takes out women in resources top gong

5 Sep 2014

By Cameron Atfield (Brisbane Times and Sun-Herald journalist)

A leading figure of the Queensland mining industry has taken out the top national award recognising women in the traditionally male-dominated resources sector.

Laura Tyler, the asset president at BHP Billiton's Cannington mine in north-west Queensland, beat a strong field of nominees at the first annual Women in Resources National Awards at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre on Tuesday.

In accepting the Exceptional Woman in Australian Resources award, Ms Tyler said she was proud to come out ahead of a high-quality field of contenders.

"I think it really talks to how great we are as an industry and how bloody awesome the women are that work in this industry," she said.

"It's a really great place to be."

Ms Tyler said while massive inroads had been made to advance the position of women in the resources sector, more needed to be done.

"When I first started in mining, I remember going underground in the UK and people downing tools because it was unlucky to have a woman on the shift, it was unlucky to have a woman on the level, and they wouldn't start work until you left," she said.

"Nowadays, it's not unusual to see women on our crews, women leading teams running entire sites.

"These achievements are real and we should be really proud to be working in an industry that empowers and builds in this way."

In his welcoming address, Thiess mining executive general manager Michael Wright said the resources had a male-dominated workforce "not by design, but by legacy".

"At the height of the boom, some three or four years ago, business was booming and labour was scarce and we finally woke up to the fact that there was a significant pool of very capable women in the community that we needed to engage with.

"We made a very conscious decision to be more inclusive and gender balanced in the workforce that we had and we set upon developing a culture where our people saw diversity as a part of how we do business."

Mr Wright said Thiess had set a target of 20 per cent female representation by 2020, up from the current 13 per cent.

Keynote speaker Mike Fraser, the president of BHP Billiton human resources, said the industry was "still struggling" to obtain gender balance, with less than 15 per cent female representation in the workforce.

"Our industry has yet to reach its potential when it comes to women in technical and key leadership roles and recognising the value they bring," he said.

But Mr Fraser said the "hidden bias" in the industry still held many people back.

"Every individual has, inherently, some form of bias whether it be around nationality, ethnicity, orientation, gender, age, perspective or beliefs," he said.

"To overcome this, we need to work with our individuals to help them understand what that is and how they would actually react to diversity in the workplace, because ultimately these biases can impact on decision-making and ultimately the culture that exists in the workplace."

And the fact Mr Fraser had followed Mr Wright and Assistant Natural Resources and Mines Minister Seath Holswich in the speaking order was not lost on him.

"It felt a little bit auspicious that I was the third male speaker at a Women in Resources National Awards," Mr Fraser said.

"But I guess that's something we can aspire to change for the next round of awards."

The other winners were:

  • Gender Diversity Champion in Australian Resources: Stuart Forrester, Iluka (Western Australia)
  • Excellence in Diversity Programs and Performance: St Barbara Limited (Western Australia)
  • Outstanding Australian tradeswoman, operator or technician: Katherine George, Total Instrument Controls (Tasmania)
  • Exceptional Young Woman in Australian Resources: Cindy Emmett, Anglo Australian (Queensland)  
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