Deb Lord: A job finding the right balance

Published: 09/03/2013

17 March 2009

By Emily Roberts of HighGrade

AN advocate for part-time working arrangements in the mining industry, Deb Lord is a shining example of how a professional can balance her own career development while juggling family commitments.

Although the SRK Consulting principal consultant (geology) is the first to admit it’s not always an easy road she says she is completely satisfied with her decision to work part time. And she hopes more companies will begin to realise the benefits of part-time working arrangements.

Lord, who has two young daughters, works three days a week in SRK’s West Perth office. She was the first professional in the company to adopt a part-time working agreement, and its success has now seen more staff follow in her footsteps. Flexibility on the part of the employer was of course vital to the move working. Lord noted many workplaces continued to be discriminatory towards part-time workers even, surprisingly, some run by women.

“I still think it is hard for people to accept people working part time so I think the career opportunities are unfortunately a bit more limited for part-time workers,” Lord said. “Perhaps that’s why there are fewer women managers.

“Yet there are a lot of people who wear a number of different company hats so I can’t understand why in a way why it should be like that.

“One of the things I do find a bit disappointing is that many women maintain that to advance in your career you should work full-time. A growing number of men are more interested in [having a career] and being involved with the kids too. Once that happens more and more people will understand it will be less limiting.”

Lord began her geologist career in Kalgoorlie with WMC Resources after she completed a Bachelor of Science (honours geology) at the University of Melbourne. Working in Kalgoorlie was an “eye opener”, but one of the best moves of her career.

“It was a bit of a culture shock after moving from downtown Melbourne, but I did a lot of things in Kalgoorlie I don’t think I would have done if I had moved to another capital city. It was great experience work wise; WMC was fantastic, and we got to know management and the board. I also took up painting, pottery, photography, and played tennis and volleyball.

“I guess it would have been fairly similar [for a graduate anywhere in Australia] in that you would have been put out to get field experience anyway but I did enjoy Kalgoorlie. It’s one of those places that is such a part of the gold industry and part of Western Australia that I was very glad I lived there for a couple of years.”

After travelling overseas for nearly a year, Lord soon got a project geologist position with Placer Dome where she eventually became a senior geologist. She was based in Perth, working around Laverton as well as having stints in China and Canada where she lived for more than six months. During the six years with Placer, Lord discovered a deposit near Granny Smith called Keringal, which she named with an Aboriginal word meaning ‘happy camp’.

In 1997, Lord and her husband decided to work overseas and they settled on Santiago. SRK was just opening a Chile office, and Lord worked there with about 25 others, including three expats.

“We were there nearly three years and because of my background in Canada I worked part of the time in Brazil,” Lord said. “I worked between Brazil, Chile and Peru. Chile was a great place to live because Santiago is quite westernised.”

Back in Perth and before having children, Lord worked three days a week with SRK and spent two days studying for a diploma in industrial design. She has always loved art and design, but the diploma also gave her an option to fall back on in case she, and/or her geologist husband, got retrenched during the industry downturn. But they both kept their jobs, and Lord is yet to finish her diploma. But she would like to, one day. For now she is committed to continuing her professional development and has aspirations to be a company director.

“Long term, I would like to get more involved with the management side and perhaps on boards,” Lord said. “I try and see opportunities in my current workplace that will lead me to those opportunities down the track. A lot of the work in my current role is more on the corporate side – understanding the business of exploration, where as in the past I was much more involved in the actual exploration process.”

Lord believes she is a positive person who likes to surround herself with likeminded people, from whom she has drawn inspiration particularly early in her career.

“Megan Clark [now head of CSIRO] worked with me in my first job at Western Mining,” Lord said. “She was working in project generation and I was working in projects, so we weren’t necessarily in the same group but she took an interest in what I was doing. She gave me suggestions and was a real mentor to me and I still see her. She – and other mentors – have just given me great confidence in myself and encouraged my professional development and encouraged me to continue with what ideas I have had.

“Within Placer, Greg Hall was a mentor. He had a great interest in the actual science, not just the logistics so he encouraged me to think not only about what the drill rigs were doing but what the drill core was telling you. He had great confidence in me and said I could go anywhere and do anything.

“Then in SRK it was Mike Etheridge who is not with SRK anymore. When I went to start up things in Chile I was really the only geologist there and he came across and helped me out on projects and gave me a lot of support, so that was really good.

“All of those people are very enthusiastic about their work but they are also very enthusiastic about life in general so they are always good fun to be around. I don’t really think I have a particular mentor at the moment but I am constantly inspired by professional women that I come across through my children who manage to combine these incredible careers with two or three or more children.”

Lord also acts as a mentor for the younger generation, as well as women and men looking to emulate her work-life balance.

“As one of the first professional women to have kids in the company, SRK has proved to be incredibly flexible,” she said. “They are not a small company now but they are not a big public company either; they are shareholder owned / employee owned so they are very personable and flexible with working hours.

“I have great hope that more and more people will do part time because it suits a lot of different lifestyles – that is, people who do work for more than one company, people going into retirement, the younger generation that wants the lifestyle. We are not as bound now to have one full-time job.”