Jody Cellar knew she wanted to become an engineer from the age of 12. She took on her first paying job at 13 – assisting in a recreation program for disadvantaged children over summer breaks and cleaning private homes throughout the year. By 23 she had the financial means to study engineering. Hired at the peak of the mining boom she has found the industry to be full of opportunity, challenges and reward. She encourages embracing a diverse and inclusive workplace. She supports quotas across all levels of the industry, for women and other minorities as she believes every individual has some level in which they unconsciously hold back others or even themselves. And she says you’re not going to be successful by being nice and agreeing all the time – there are times to disagree, object or confront. It’s important to do this in an honest and respectful manner and be open to other people’s views. Most importantly, she says – Take care of yourself. By Camila Reed
How did mining come to you? How did you choose mining as a career?
From a young age, I knew that I wanted a career that would help me travel the world and afford me a financially comfortable life. I observed the adults around me and questioned them on their careers and success. I was greatly inspired by a distant relative, named Jamie, who I would see every couple of years at family reunions. Jamie moved to the United States from Lebanon at the age of 15 and was the first female to Electrical Engineering graduate from Portland University in 1973. By the age of 12 I had decided that I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Jamie and become an engineer.
After getting my Chemical Engineering degree, I spent the first seven years of my technical career with URS Corporation, engineering water management and treatment systems. A majority of my work was in municipal and industrial wastewater, including management of storm water runoff and treatment of acidic drainage from mine sites. After four years working on projects across the U.S. and Canada I transferred with URS to Auckland (my degree was already getting me around the world!).
In 2007 I spent a 6-month secondment overseeing construction of a system to collect and treat runoff from a remote coal mine on the South Island of New Zealand. Large open cut mining areas coupled with annual rainfall in excess of five meters made for a rather large-scale water management system. My time and experiences at this coal mine got me interested in permanent work in mining. My husband and I moved to Perth Australia where I got a job in Rio Tinto’s solar salt division.
What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector?
I have found the industry to be full of opportunity, challenges and reward. Hired at the peak of the mining boom, my role was in a very fast paced momentum towards expanding the salt operations. As the resources market has scaled back, my work has changed to process improvement and optimising quality to maintain market share.
I definitely notice the gender gap and am quite often the only woman in a group. That said, there are a lot of amazing women in my organisation and I cherish working with them and look forward to the gender gap continuing to decrease.
The leadership of Rio Tinto have recognised the importance of its role in improving inclusion and diversity across the Group. To this end, the Rio Tinto Executive Committee committed to a number of actions and included diversity and inclusion in their personal short-term incentive plans in 2015. This includes, but is not limited to, setting specific objectives to improve gender balance in both senior management and strengthening our female leadership pipeline.
Have you/do you encounter much discrimination?
I have not encountered direct discrimination. Rio Tinto is an excellent company with strong values on promoting diversity and Rio Tinto holds its people accountable to these company values. Never the less, there are times that I do feel that men, women and even myself unconsciously limit my capability and opportunities. Unconscious bias is a consistent tendency to respond in a particular way without considering relevant information. I’ve noticed a lot of information and studies on this topic over the past couple years. The more people learn about and are aware of unconscious pitfalls in promoting diversity, the more we can consciously act without bias and improve diversity in the workplace.
Have you had mentors and sponsors that helped you on the way?
My current and previous bosses have been the closest thing to mentors. I’ve been fortunate in that my last two bosses are very proactive at hiring and developing women in their teams.
Could you share one or two challenges you’ve experienced in your career and how you overcame them?
Disagreeing or being at odds with a colleague is a challenge which requires calmly and professionally confronting the issue with the individual and giving them the opportunity to come to a common understanding. Addressing issues with individuals has always worked for me, but if it ever were to become necessary I would be sure to escalate the issue to appropriate management.
What are you passionate about in your work?
I love data based problem solving and decision-making, evaluating operational data in order to identify the root cause of problems and opportunities to improve efficiencies, identifying and evaluating multiple options to determine the optimum solution, and realising progress and improvement achieved through knowledge sharing and teamwork. This might further explain why I really enjoy being an engineer!
What would you love to do next?
Help others less fortunate than I. I love what I am doing now. My only real plan is to continue to enjoy the journey, take pride in the work I do, and take-on opportunities (and challenges) as they come. From a young age, any time I saw a shooting star I would wish for a happy life. Now when I see a shooting star, I give thanks. I am thankful for my will and for the many people who have inspired and helped me. It has not been an easy road, but I have succeeded – I am happy. Looking ahead I want to do what I can to help other minorities to access opportunities and achieve the accomplished lives they deserve.
What is one thing you wish you’d been told when you were starting out that you know now?
How to negotiate. At a WIM seminar in 2013 I saw an excellent presentation by Margaret A Neale, Academic Associate Dean it the Stanford Graduate School of Business. The presentation was titled Negotiating from the Crib Room to the Boardroom, the challenges and surprising advantages when women negotiate. The learnings from this presentation enhanced my willingness and ability to negotiate, and I’ve reaped many benefits by doing so.
Do you sit on a board? If not would you like to?
I’ve always said I personally am not interested in sitting on a board, and I’d leave that to other talented and capable women out there who are inspired and motivated to do so. I’ve always preferred doing technical work. However, maybe I have conveniently told myself that I am not interested when the underlying truth is a lack of confidence. At this stage I would not rule out sitting on a board at some point in my career; before then, I still have a lot to learn.
What is your opinion in the women on boards debate? Are you pro quotas or against them?
I support quotas across all levels of the industry, for women and other minorities. Every individual has some level in which they unconsciously hold back others or even themselves. The mere desire to not be biased is not enough to overcome centuries of cultural conditioning. It takes a lot of learning and practice to change these ingrained habits, and setting quotas can force momentum in the long hard path of cultural change. Hopefully through time, the value of diversity will simply become the unconscious norm.
Do you believe women in mining groups can help to change the image of the industry and make the sector more attractive to women?
Most definitely! It provides an excellent forum for women to network, learn and advance their careers. I personally am very appreciative of women in mining groups. Over the past two years, I’ve attended the annual seminar created by Women in Mining and Resources, Western Australia. The number of amazing speakers, men and women, at these seminars is surreal. Each time I walk away on a high, filled with new knowledge, inspiration, renewed energy and empowerment. These inspirations help me to do a better job and be a better leader.
Any advice to young women starting out in their careers?
Be genuine, reliable and courageous. If you run into barriers or difficulties, find someone who you can talk to and who can advise and assist you. Encourage and embrace a diverse and inclusive workplace and have courageous conversation. You’re not going to be successful by being nice and agreeing all the time – there are times to disagree, object or confront. It is important to do this in an honest and respectful manner and be open to other people’s views. And most importantly, take care of yourself. Make the time and necessary action to keep stress at bay, and continue to build on your capability and confidence.
What challenges have you experienced by virtue of working in an industry that is predominantly male? Do you feel you have had to adapt to ‘fit’ the industry?
I think the hardest thing in my career was getting my degree. I met many amazing people at university and felt I had truly come in to my own. Twenty-five percent of the chemical engineering students were female, so not a bad ratio. However, I found the schooling to be extremely challenging due to standards set by demanding professors and some very intelligent students around me (girls being some of the smartest). I made it through on sheer determination and persistence. I didn’t have the top grades in class but I had an engineering degree – proving will and capability to succeed.
I don’t feel I have had to adapt to ‘fit’ the mining industry. Rather, I would say the industry has let me flourish. My degree and consulting experience has been a great foundation while the industry has further developed me in areas of leadership, teamwork and driving change. Sure there have been tough times in which I have felt beaten down and tired. My way out of those times has been to identify the causes of the stress and work through an action plan to confront and rid any issues. I greatly enjoy work in the mining industry, and I want to encourage and help other women to do the same.