Donna Frater: Networking vital to mining retention

Published: 08/03/2013

15 July 2009

By Emily Roberts, HighGrade

RAISING the profile of women in the mining industry has been a career-long duty for Donna Frater. Now as chair of an Australian national networking committee, she is in the driver’s seat to continue the reforms she sees as vital to achieving greater diversity in the mining sector workforce.

As chairperson of the The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (The AusIMM) Women in Mining networking committee (WIMNet), Frater presented findings from AusIMM’s Employment and Remuneration Survey to the Victorian Parliament earlier this year. She described as her “most memorable achievement” appearing at the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment and Workplace Relations before its public inquiry into pay equity and issues related to increasing female participation in the workforce.

“It was an honour to be invited to represent the WIMNet committee and to discuss the influential work and issues that The AusIMM Employment and Remuneration Survey brings to light,” she said.

The survey was aimed at examining the drivers of gender pay inequity and the stubbornly low participation of women in the professional mining workforce, and proposing solutions to overcome underlying problems.

Currently women account for only 18% of the mining workforce, compared with 42% of the total Australian workforce. The numbers of women in operational roles is particularly low, with women comprising only 7% of the technical professional workforce and 3% of the site-based workforce.

Frater said while the number of women in the industry was “improving”, more focus was needed to ensure “the retention of this group of skilled workers longer than they are currently staying by employing flexible work packages and policies in companies”.
“This will reduce turnover and reduce recruitment costs, whilst building our industry and promoting full utilisation of the mining communities we have,” she said.

“I have said before that it is only the women within the mining industry who can improve the mining industry. We must have the commitment to voice our concerns and the energy to put effort into finding solutions to enable change to happen. The AusIMM is particularly supportive of our committee with several exceptional people who lead the advocacy and policy interaction with all levels of government. The WIMNET committee puts in place practical solutions to issues and is advancing the position of women in our industry with role profiles, support of recognition programs and lifting the profile of concerns.”

Frater is in her first year as chair of the group but has been on the committee for eight years.

“I started with the committee when I was living at Paraburdoo [Western Australia] and I appreciated the contact with other professionals discussing the same issues and working on positive solutions,” she said. “As chair I have appreciated the passion and efforts that the members put into this work whilst still carrying on very full careers in the far flung corners of Australia. It is a good feeling to help others with the problems that I encountered in my career and to feel that you are making the industry a better place for those coming through behind you.”

The Women in Mining network has its own state-based groups which encourage networking through regular events, sponsored by various companies both large and small, and runs professional development forums to help broaden women’s skills in career planning and negotiation that may help them progress professionally. These are two crucial areas for women, says Frater. “It has been suggested that women don’t network as well as men,” she said. “I think this is particularly true in the Australian mining industry and that we need to improve our effectiveness in this area so that we have the chance to meet those who have smoothed the path before us and to learn from their experience.

“If we improve this element I think it will help to increase the number of women in senior management positions, corporate leadership roles and as directors on boards.”

Frater began her mining career in the early 1990s with McElroy Bryan Geological Services after graduating with Applied Geology (Honours) from the University of New South Wales. She was working on Central West NSW and Hunter Valley coal exploration projects before joining Rio Tinto in the Hunter Valley. She then joined Tarong Coal in exploration and production before heading to Western Australia to Hamersley Iron in 2001.

“I worked as a batch geologist at the Paraburdoo mine and enjoyed immensely the change in geological fields,” she said. “Working and living in an isolated community like Paraburdoo was a great experience and getting a chance to discover the amazing WA regional areas was a wonderful life experience. I started an MBA by distance during this time to continue some study and completed this four years later.”

In the early 2000s she moved back east to be nearer to her family and started with BMA (BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance) as a project geologist working out of the Central Queensland office at Moranbah and looking at near mine exploration.

“I worked on both existing operations and greenfields exploration projects, working to understand the deposits and regional geology of the area,” she said. “I then took a role as senior project geologist to focus on greenfields exploration activities before moving to Brisbane in 2005 to join BMA’s project development group. I am now one of the principal geologists here working primarily on an expansion project on one of our existing mines.”

Frater grew up on a cattle property in Central NSW and always wanted a career that was primarily based outdoors, but also offered variety and travel.

“I have a real passion for geology and have often wondered at my good fortune to be paid to do the work I get to do and the places I have been able to get to,” she said. “I love the science of geology and being able to relate current deposits to the fantastic activity of the earth so long ago.”

“I personally feel it is such a fantastic science with very practical applications and I would like to do more to keep encouraging schools to teach geology and for people to study it at university.”

She believes the industry has much to offer as a career, and it should start implementing plans during the current downturn to nurture its future workforce.

“I think the mining industry can take advantage of the downturn to train the people they know they will need in years to come,” she said. “Start utilising the people in the mining communities and train these individuals living in the townships, develop a broader skill base and not have to increase the accommodation requirements. Utilise the latent population of partners in the townships. Create flexible work shifts where applicable to utilise equipment and engage the community.

“I personally really enjoy the diversity and dynamic nature of my current role and have many areas I still wish to develop in. I enjoy the project aspect of my work and hope to develop my people management skills over the next few years while still maintaining my interest and energy in increasing diversity in the mining industry in Australia.”

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