Heather Bell: Balancing family, study and career wins Rio Tinto Coal woman top Queensland female mining award

Published: 25/02/2014

08 March 2013

A female mining engineer who has quickly moved up the ranks to regional manager while balancing a young family and completing her Executive MBA has been awarded this year’s overall female mining award in Queensland.

Rio Tinto Coal Australia’s NSW regional manager for resource development Heather Bell, 33, took home the top gong at the Queensland Resources Council’s annual Resources Awards for Women announced earlier today in Brisbane.

Heather was promoted to her role last month after an 11-year career in a range of site, technical, corporate and managerial roles across Queensland and New South Wales. She is the youngest manager and the only female in her team of people that work across both states. Her job entails managing the identified strategic portfolio value for Rio Tinto Coal Australia across New South Wales, including greenfield and brownfield developments.

Upon accepting her award Heather said: “I’ve probably spent more time out of my comfort zone than in it across my entire career and I still have the drive to keep pushing on. I’ve been able to have a family and complete my Executive MBA while working for Rio Tinto Coal Australia thanks to flexible working arrangements and a very supportive team and home life. Having said that, I’ve definitely had some crazy moments including sitting a three-hour MBA exam at 39 weeks pregnant! But during this period in my life, l was promoted twice within the company, both while working part time. I feel I am living proof that the industry is continuously doing more to attract and retain women and reward them for hard work.”

Not one to shy away from a challenge, Heather obtained two statutory tickets in 2005 while working as a mining engineer in the Hunter Valley. The tickets enabled her to have the statutory responsibility for the safety of people and site during a designated shift, as well as be able to undertake mine manager positions.

Heather said: “At the time, it was rare to have both of these tickets at such a young age and even rarer for a female. I wanted to prove that women could hold frontline leadership roles on a mine site.”

Heather’s determination to push the boundaries saw her go on to become the first female open cut examiner and shift boss at NSW’s largest open cut coal mine at 27 years of age.

“I remember fighting tooth and nail for that job. It meant that I became one of only two open cut examiners per shift at the site, the first female open cut examiner for the mine ever as well as the only female filling a statutory position at the time.”

Since those early days, Heather has passionately shared her experiences to help and encourage other young women and men achieve success in their studies and careers. Her involvement in activities with the University of Queensland and her role as a volunteer graduate ambassador for Rio Tinto reflects her philosophy that education and training is the epicentre of a rewarding and challenging career in the industry.

Heather said: “My role in the Rio Tinto graduate programme is to offer advice and mentoring to graduates across Rio Tinto nationally. So far this has included speaking at the graduate orientation day and also mentoring two graduate engineers. I also participate in recruitment activities and have presented at various universities including the University of New South Wales and the University of Wollongong.

“Through another colleague in my team, I have also supported a number of initiatives run by the University of Queensland, including being a keynote speaker on behalf of Rio Tinto at UQ’s SKIRTS women in engineering event last year and attending UQ careers days to discuss career options in the mining industry. I’ve also sat on interview panels for UQ vacation work positions.”

Rio Tinto Coal Australia acting managing director Darren Yeates said: “I congratulate Heather for her outstanding achievements in her career to date and winning this year’s top Queensland female mining award. Heather is an exemplary role model for the many talented women that work for our business and the younger generation of women who want to enter a pathway into our sector in the future.”

The annual Resources Awards for Women acknowledge and promote the contribution and achievements of women in the minerals and energy sectors while advocating the industry as a career option for women.