Fiona Nicholls: Rio Tinto top executive wins prestigious resource sector award for women

Published: 02/07/2013


By Queensland Resources Council

A Brisbane woman whose global role takes her from Mozambique to Namibia, the USA and back again has won this year’s Queensland Resources Council Resources Award for Women.

Fiona Nicholls, Vice President – External Relations for Rio Tinto Energy is the only female member of Rio Tinto Coal Australia’s executive committee. She is also one of three women on Rio Tinto’s global Energy product group executive committee and has recently been appointed as a board member to The Brisbane Institute.

Fiona, who began her career in the resources sector in 1987 with Santos as an environmental officer, was appointed General Manager Environment with the Rio Tinto Group in 1997.

In 1999 she was posted to London to take up the position of General Manger Social and Environmental Reporting.

She returned to Melbourne as General Manager Sustainable Development for Rio Tinto’s energy product group in 2002 and in 2006 was appointed General Manager External Relations for Rio Tinto Coal Australia. In 2010 Fiona was appointed to her current global role.

‘Mining is an exciting industry and I enjoy the opportunity to lead, challenge and drive my team to think outside the box and continue developing and implementing meaningful programs that strengthen our social licence to operate,’ said Fiona.

‘Diversity in the workforce is something that is necessary in order to enable an environment committed to improving the way we work and adapting to new issues and ideas,’ she said.

Rio Tinto has more than 2400 employees in our Brisbane offices, and 17 percent of these are female. This is a big improvement on past years, but we recognise that there’s still more work to do.’

QRC Chief Executive Michael Roche said the awards, along with the annual International Women’s Day breakfast had become pillars of QRC’s Women in Resources Action Plan, aimed at improving the attraction and retention of women in the resource sector.

‘Over the next decade, under a full growth scenario, we will need an additional 40,000 skilled people to service 66 new resource sector projects representing capital expenditure of 142-billion-dollars,’ said Mr Roche

‘It’s vital that we encourage women, who are still significantly under-represented in our ranks, to enter and, importantly, remain in our sector.’

The 20010-11 survey of QRC member companies shows women represent 11 percent of employees in ‘non-traditional’ roles, such as engineering, trades operators and senior management, compared with 6 percent in 2006.

‘It’s also heartening to see women moving up in our ranks,’ said Mr Roche.

‘The latest survey shows women like Fiona represented 9 percent of executive management, compared with 7 percent the previous year and 13 percent of senior management, up from 12 percent in 2009-10.

‘And, women represented 9 percent of project managers, up two percent, and 19 percent of superintendents, up 9 percent.

Since 2006, the number of women working in Queensland’s resource sector has grown from 4000 to 10,000 according to the Australain Bureau of Statistics

The awards and breakfast, run in partnership with voluntary networking group Women in Mining and Resources Queensland, attracted a crowd of more than 600 at Brisbane’s Sofitel Hotel today, along with more than 200 at simultaneous events held in Mount Isa, Moranbah and Townsville, which were linked via live video broadcast.

Brisbane’s event, hosted by media personality Wendy Harmer, was followed by a high tea for 200 at the Stamford Plaza.

Winners/Finalists RAW awards 2012

Overall Winner
Name: Fiona Nicholls
Position: Vice President – External Relations
Company: Rio Tinto Energy
Location: Brisbane

Name: Carolyn Hillard
Position: Manager Engineering Technical
Company: Sedgman Limited
Location: Brisbane

Highly Commended
Name: Carolyn Collins
Position: General Manager Environment and Water
Company: Arrow Energy
Location: Brisbane

Name: Bryony Andrew
Position: Development Manager – Mount Isa Copper Operations
Company: Xstrata Copper
Location: Mount Isa

Name: Jacqui McGill
Position: General Manager South Walker Creek
Company: BHP Billiton Mitsui Coal Pty Ltd
Location: Nebo

Name: Michele Todd
Position: Open Pit Production Supervisor Handle Bar Hill open-cut
Company: Xstrata Zinc
Location: Mount Isa

Name: Lauren Byrne
Position: Mining Crew Coordinator/Plant Operator Blackwater Mine
Company: Thiess
Location: Blackwater

Highly Commended
Name: Nicole Stone
Position: Operator Collinsville Coal Mine
Company: Thiess
Location: Merinda Qld

Megan Walker
Position: Control Room dispatch operator Blackwater Mine
Company : BMA
Location: Blackwater

Name: Rhiannon Martin
Position: Apprentice Electrician
Company: BMA Peak Downs Mine
Location: Moranbah

Runner up
Name: Jessica Wust
Position: Automotive Electrical Apprentice (4th year) Callide mine
Company: Anglo Coal
Location: Biloela

Highly Commended
Name: Hayley Daniels
Position: Electrician BMA Blackwater Mine
Company: BMA Coal
Location: Blackwater

Gender Diversity Champion
Name: Joann Kirby (Jo)
Position: Process Engineer
Company: Sedgman Limited
Location: Brisbane

Runner up
Name: Kate McCutcheon
Position: Mining Engineer Ernest Henry Mine
Company: Xstrata Copper
Location: Cloncurry

Highly commended
Name: Rebecca Capper
Role: Human Resources Specialist
Company: Anglo American Metallurgical Coal
Location: Moranbah

Best Company Initiative
Company: BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA)
Project: BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance Diversity Plan

Runner up
Company: Clough
Project: Women@Clough Strategy
Highly Commended
Company: Echelon Mining Services
Project: Employee recruitment and retention strategy

Name: Caitlynd Gardner
School: Spinifex State College

Runner up
Name: Morgan Fenwick
School: Spinifex State College

Highly Commended
Name: Tara Ogden
School: Moura State High School

Best Company Initiative – BMA wins gong for encouraging women in resources sector

Gender Diversity Champion – Brisbane engineer and mother of two Joann Kirby recognised for encouraging women to take up careers in the resource sector.
Operator category – Michele Todd, indigenous mine supervisor takes Operator category
Trade Category – Rhiannon Martin, an apprentice electrician at BMA’s Peak Downs Mine wins Trade category
Overall – Runner-up – Carolyn Hillard
Overall- Highly Commended – Bryony Andrew
Overall – Highly Commended – Carolyn Collins
Overall – Highly Commended – Jacqui McGill
Gender Diversity Champion – Runner-up – Kate McCutcheon
Gender Diversity Champion – Highly Commended – Rebecca Capper
Operator – Runner-up – Lauren Byrne
Operator – Highly Commended – Nicole Stone
Operator – Highly Commended – Megan Walker
Trade – Runner-up – Jessica Wust
Trade – Highly Commended – Hayley Daniels