Jo-Ann Dudley: Rio advisor says women need to mean business

Published: 08/03/2013

9 July 2009

By Emily Roberts,

THERE has never been a better time for women to enter the mining industry, according to Women in Mining and Resources Queensland (WIMARQ) chair Jo-Anne Dudley, and perhaps also to become leaders in the sector’s still male-dominated upper echelons.

An expert in block cave mining, Dudley currently works for Rio Tinto in Queensland as a principal adviser for mining, technology and innovation. She has been chair of the Queensland women in mining group since December and is heavily involved in programs that encourage women to enter the mining industry and to become leaders in their profession.

“As women we need to be aware that our public behaviour is used to evaluate our performance and abilities, particularly by senior managers, and consequently we should be prepared to modify our styles to help those perceptions, get some practise, approach meetings thoughtfully and prepare what you are going to say beforehand,” she said.

“Some men appear to behave very confidently and decisively in meetings and other public gatherings. This helps them to be perceived as having those qualities.”

Dudley believes “a multi-faceted approach” is needed to increase the number of women at senior levels in the mining industry, featuring:
* Networks of women (of different strengths and levels of seniority) who can mentor each other.
* Platforms to practise public speaking and communication skills with other professionals.
* Training sessions through valuable organisations such as Women on Boards, where women can practise their ‘pitch’ and get a window into how people at senior levels think.
* Access to inspirational and thought-provoking speakers at events.
* Promotion of active involvement in awards such as the Queensland Resources Council’s awards for women, role models, and recognition of the contribution of women at all levels of the industry.

Dudley is planning to hold eight quality sponsored WIMARQ events in Brisbane this year and a number of regional events as well. “We would like to see the regional membership become stronger as this is often where people can feel the most isolated,” she said. “We have just launched a fantastic website and we will continue to improve that over the coming year as well.”

Dudley originally entered the mining industry looking for a well-paid job that offered interesting and flexible work that “contributed to society”. She still maintains that focus.

“I originally wanted to be a research scientist but as no one from my family had been to university I was focused on getting a good job afterwards so started looking at the job ads only to find that jobs were scarce and not well paid [in that area],” she said. “In contrast there were many job ads for mining people so mining engineering became of interest. There were plenty of jobs and it seemed that you could live in the bush or in the city.

“The job ads sounded really interesting and somewhat flexible so I was happy to look at mining. It also seemed important to me to make a contribution to society and it is a job with an obvious angle there. It was also a time where there were many poor cases of environmental rehabilitation and poor corporate behaviour towards individuals, communities and the environment and I felt that a good way to change it was from within.”

After graduating from the University of New South Wales in the early 1990s, Dudley decided to work for a small mining contracting company, Faminco at various mines including Mt Elliott, McArthur River, Gunpowder and Renison. She then worked for Northparkes Mines in roles from underground worker to production engineer and technical services engineer, and managed an underground contract (“It was a wonderful place to work – very streamlined because it was relatively low margin and had to be efficient”). She also got her underground manager’s ticket in 1996 and completed a Graduate Certificate in Management.

Dudley then had time off work while she had two children before securing a role in Rio Tinto’s Technical Services division in 2005 “where I’ve worked on many fascinating projects for the last four years, including the evaluation and eventual acquisition of interest in the Oyu Tolgoi Mongolian copper mines, uranium underground mine planning, KUCC (USA) underground potential, and Resolution (USA) underground potential”. Dudley has also managed the design and deployment of a technical professional development program for senior engineers and geologist (and business analysts) which is ongoing and has had more than 400 attendees over four years. She currently manages a small technical team.

During her career Dudley says she has acquired many leadership qualities which she hopes to share with others. “From the beginning, being able to behave in a natural manner (for you) and to be considered successful and offered leadership roles is a challenge,” she said. “In some ways, I find that you need to communicate like a certain type of man to be considered for senior roles and to be taken seriously. Strangely, these days when I get to work directly for senior leadership they are always surprised then things are done as we have discussed and on time with no fuss and only key issues raised. Consequently, it seems that we still have some way to go to be able to see through the ‘huff and puff’ to what an individual actually contributes.

“The ability to combine having a family and working is still a key issue that needs to be overcome in the industry. I left my last role because I was told in no uncertain terms that my role was a full-time role and that once my maternity leave was over I needed to return to work on that basis. I was desperately tired and struggling with two children and working with my husband who had a manager role in his workplace – I needed a bit of time to sort things out but that wasn’t recognised. Maybe I didn’t ask in exactly the right way for that manager to accept the suggestion but it shows that the amount of family friendliness that an organisation has is probably limited to those characteristics in your direct manager.” “Your work and work style can be your business card.”

Dudley says she is proud of her career achievements, and her ability to balance work and family life; a career progression that many younger women could mirror and learn from. “Moving into a corporate role (technical services) has been a fantastic move and I’m determined not to get stale in a role again,” she said. “So, make sure you think about regular moves. Recognise that there is a balance between never asking for moves or promotion and it all ‘being about you’.

“And remember it’s not all about work really – it’s important to be satisfied and fulfilled at work but family and friends are incredibly important so don’t lose touch with those parts of yourself. If you are doing an intense job, recognise that at some point you may want to step back and take on a less hourly intensive role for a period of recuperation.

“Being a woman is now a point of difference more than a negative factor. That point of difference can be a trademark for a woman. For women coming in today there has never been such a positive attitude to women in the workforce. There is still plenty of demand for technical people and this means that gender differences are pushed aside to get good work done, so your work and work style can be your business card.”

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