Never underestimate yourself. You are capable of doing anything when you have willingness to learn, ask, and seek.
Mining engineer Retno Nartani entered the industry in the early 1980s, at a time when very few women even considered this as a career option, and in a country in which women’s roles were culturally defined very differently. Thirty years later, she is well known in the Indonesian mining community, as her curiosity and skill in learning from her surroundings have facilitated her career path progression. Her success in rising to become a director of a large mining group is due, in no small part, to the very supportive environment created by her first employer and their commitment to employee development and diversity. As a mother of three, she is proud of her family and their support. Retno is now focused on giving back to the industry, paying forward by sharing her knowledge and experiences with others, encouraging younger miners to achieve the best they can dream of, and promoting safety and Good Mining Practice.
By Kathy Sole
You trained as a mining engineer at a time when there were almost no women represented in this industry. What attracted you to a career in the mining industry?
When in high school, I impulsively decided to pursue my education in an engineering area in which less women were interested. At that time, I did not have any idea of what mining was: the only knowledge I had was that not many of my female friends talked about it – unlike they talked about architecture, or chemical engineering, or biology.
In recent years, you have held several very senior roles in Indonesia mining companies. Please describe your career progression and current role.
In 1987, I started in a coal company (PT. Kaltim Prima Coal – affiliated with Rio Tinto and BP) that had almost completed its exploration stage, so I can say that I am blessed because I was involved in several development stages; namely, exploration, infrastructure, and facility construction for production preparation and then production. I spent 21 years with that company, rising from the position of mining engineer up to manager level. From what I observed, this company has an excellent system for people development, therefore I was developed well.
I then moved to other companies. Owing to my extensive experience with the previous company, I was offered a role as General Manager and later moved up to Director level.
In 2013, Sinarmas Mining Group offered me the opportunity to join as Operations Director of PT. Borneo Indobara. I was in that position for four years or so. At the end of 2016, I was assigned as the Director of Health, Safety and Environment (HSE), which was a newly established directorate to streamline HSE management across the various sites. I observed and analysed that safety is most critical to manage, because it involves people: hence, the focus is to manage people to align their mindset to “safety is a need, a necessity—not a priority” because priorities changes. The need to go home safely is important, as most of us have a family or relative waiting for us at home.
What have been the most challenging and rewarding experiences or projects of your career?
Promotion – every time I was promoted, I had a deep feeling of being challenged…I was wondering whether I can fulfil the requirements of the new or higher position. Nowadays, I can immediately google, for instance “how to be a good manager” or “what is the difference between manager and general manager”. But back then, it was different – there was no internet at that time, so what did I do? I watched, I observed, I asked a lot, I read, I persevered in learning from my surroundings, and so my lateral thinking or critical thinking skills became well developed. So when I was promoted, I was equipped with soft skills for doing my job. When I spent more time working, it paid off in the long run.
As a leader in this industry, please share your leadership philosophy and how you manage diversity in the workplace.
My leadership philosophy: integrity and commitment (do the right things, even when no one sees us, and walk the talk).
Diversity management: never differentiate in assigning assignments by gender, and keep promoting the concept of team work.
When our “flying hours” are extensive, we can readily identify the attitudes of our team members, and for those whose attitude is not in line with the environment, ask them to fix it immediately.
What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector, in an industry that is predominantly male? Do you feel you have had to adapt to ‘fit’ the industry? Have you had mentors or sponsors that helped you on the way?
I experience that my male colleagues treat me with respect. Yes, I also think I adapted well. I did not have mentors as such, but in my first company, many of my superiors had a strong commitment to diversity management and people development; coupled with my lateral thinking, they helped me on my way.
Do you believe women in mining groups can help to change the image of the industry and make the sector more attractive to women?
Do you have any advice to young women starting out in their careers? What do you wish you’d known when you were 25?
Never underestimate yourself. You are capable of doing anything when you have willingness to learn, ask, and seek; and broaden your network. Promote yourself to the world.
What do I wish I’d known when I was 25? To better balance my life between work and leisure.
Have you any hobbies, pastimes, or secret talents that you would like to tell us about?
I recently discovered that I am passionate about teaching or sharing knowledge with others and developing people. I also like to share my knowledge with people, when explaining something, I almost always use a drawing or sketch, because this can be more easily understood by others.