Australian geologist Marianne Harvey is pushing at the boundaries as she prepares for an all-female science voyage with Antarctica as the backdrop. Come December she’ll spend 20 days on a boat headed to Antarctica as part of the Homeward Project. She couldn’t pass up the opportunity, not only because of ‘the cool rocks and penguins’ but because it offers training in communications and leadership. Marianne is passionate about communication and developing her skills in this area and she’s willing to challenge ideas as she thinks this normally pays off. Her advice is be confident and not be afraid to speak up because a little bit of self-promotion goes a long way as demonstrated by our male peers, who’ve dominated mining in the past. By Camila Reed
What will be the biggest challenge on the Homeward Bound trip?
The biggest challenge for me personally is actually committing to this. I think I have already done that and I know I will benefit from whatever happens on board.
The idea behind Homeward Bound www.homewardboundprojects.com.au emerged from the recognition of the extraordinary lack of women in leadership positions in STEM and the cost to our planet. The main purpose is to train us to be leaders in making decisions on sustainability usage in resource usage and climate change.
Antarctica is not the focus, it is the backdrop for this initiative – a 10 year outreach initiative to reach 1,000 women. The majority on the boat are Australians, 76 women scientists from all walks of life and from all around the world.
We will all have the same unusual experience and this will bring us together to collaborate better.
My other challenges will be setting foot on board the boat… because I hate boats. I also hate the cold but it will be summer when we go, so I’m sure I’ll cope.
I know that I’m a little opinionated and that I need to use diplomacy but it’s the case that hopefully I will gain a solid grounding in conflict resolution and emotional situations. The whole time I’ve been very nervous that I’d have very different views to everyone else on board. They’re probably down the greener end of the spectrum than me.
It’s a case of stepping up to a challenge. There’s nothing like stepping out of your comfort zone to gain confidence!
How did mining come to you? How did you choose mining as a career?
I had a fantastic female geology teacher in my last two years of secondary school who was an inspiration and she suggested I study it at university. My other career option at the time was as a music teacher, so after browsing newspaper ads for geologists I figured I might make more money in that field.
On graduation from university I gained a position as an exploration field geologist in which job security became an issue in the mid-90s, so I took a role at a mine in the area.
What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector?
In that first underground mining job being a woman was a particular disadvantage when spending significant time underground… the bathroom facilities were definitely not set up for women. That aspect was simply disgusting. Sanitary facilities aside, mostly I have enjoyed my experience working in the mining sector. I’ve never really considered myself separately as a woman in the sector – just one of the normal work force.
Have you/do you encounter much discrimination?
I’ve personally not encountered any negative discrimination whatsoever. Positive discrimination, yes, certainly. I found being a woman underground I never had to walk far up the decline before some bloke would stop and give me a lift. Most guys would tone down their language or apologise profusely once they realised there was a woman in their presence. Once they got to know me they relaxed a lot as they realised I couldn’t care less how much they swore.
In terms of harassment, I’ve experienced that on one occasion and witnessed similar behaviour from the same individual towards other women in the team. In my case, I just branded him a personal “space invader” and right from the start made conscious efforts to move away from him every time. I never felt comfortable working for him though, and certainly can’t say I ever liked him as a boss.
Have you had mentors and sponsors that helped you on the way?
Barely any that were female. I had a lot of respect for some of the old timers I worked with, guys who were passionate about the geology and the interpretation work that went into modelling orebodies. And then there’s Professor Iain Stewart of Plymouth University, who I met briefly at a conference a few years ago. He helped me think about how to get into the space of communicating facts and help communities through social upheaval.
Could you share one or two challenges you’ve experienced in your career and how you overcame them?
Personality conflicts with a female peer and a female superior. Myers Briggs personality testing showed us to have very similar profiles and the three of us clashed on numerous occasions. From my perspective I just learned to shut my mouth/bite my tongue until the heat of the situation died down and I could approach whatever the issue was more diplomatically.
Another challenge was when I was supervising a team of contract geos core logging day-in day-out. There was tension in the group as they not only worked together but had to live together after hours. The job they were doing was particularly boring so arguments and personal misunderstandings as well as gossip started disrupting their work output.
I started to spend more time teaching them what their work was actually used for in the process chain and how to interpret the geology from the data they were collecting. This seemed to help them engage more in the project itself and eventually we ended up with some of the particular individuals competing in their work rather than disagreeing on personal issues.
What are you passionate about in your work?
I am passionate about helping mine planning teams get the best out of the geological data they’ve collected. I’m also driven to ensure the data that is collected is appropriate for what is needed and is of the highest possible quality as I despise wasting money.
I’m passionate about my communication skills. A lot of the time in the mining environment people sit in their silos but I like to blow up these silos, say between mining engineers and geologists. I’m not shy in speaking up and coming forward to question anything really and most of the time it pays off because it helps me to provide the best service I can. Communication is key to being successful.
What would you love to do next?
I would argue to date that we have not been mining sustainably at all. We’re getting better at it but most of the resources we use are still finite. We have to get a whole lot better if we don’t want to run out.
I believe that people working in mining companies do want to do the best they can in their roles and they don’t want their company to make an environmental mess of things. But that conversation does not seem to get out there to the general public.
So I would like to get into a communication type role next to make more of that connection. Help people understand geological issues that crop up in their communities.
What is one thing you wish you’d been told when you were starting out that you know now?
There’s nothing in particular I wish I’d been told when starting out, but I wish I had had the knowledge of organisational psychology principles and the use of emotional intelligence within the workplace that I now possess. Perhaps the “Queen Bee” behavioural characteristic would have been useful to have known about in my early career.
Do you sit on a board? If not would you like to?
Well I guess I’m the Managing Director of my own company but it’s certainly not a listed entity and only has two shareholders… Yes, I am interested in gaining a board position at some stage in the future.
What is your opinion in the women on boards’ debate? Are you pro quotas or against them?
I’m against setting quotas as I think they undermine the position of every female that is then accepted into a role.
Educating the corporate community about unconscious-bias is more important and I think we’ll find the confident, strong and capable women who are interested in board roles will just increase over time as a flow-on effect.
Do you believe women in mining groups can help to change the image of the industry and make the sector more attractive to women?
Yes, I do think women in mining groups have a role to play in enhancing the image of the industry and certainly from personal experience, having had increasing numbers of female voices on some issues has definitely improved the “quality of life” in the mining workplace.
Any advice to young women starting out in their careers?
Be confident and don’t be afraid to speak up. A little bit of self-promotion goes a long way in industry, as demonstrated by our male peers who’ve dominated mining in the past.
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 don’t feel I’ve had to adapt to fit the industry at all. I actually prefer to work with men as generally I don’t find them to be such harsh judges of character as some women. The only challenges I’ve ever really experienced being a woman in the industry have been as a result of inappropriate infrastructure. So at times I’ve experienced seriously un-glamorous working conditions but you do what you have to do to get by. You know, you build a bridge and get over it. Or simply “take a teaspoon of cement.”
How do you find the work/life balance?
I’ve never done Fly in/Fly out (FIFO) since having children so I can’t really comment on that aspect of the industry for families. Before I had children and lived residential, work-life balance was always good, even in the smaller, remote towns. My short experiences of FIFO/DIDO were not great – I found it difficult to engage in the community in which I lived, only being there part of the time.
I’ve been a consultant now for around 12 years which has been great in terms of flexibility, especially now that I have children. Working for yourself though has its own stresses – “where’s the next “meal” coming from?” It’s difficult to walk out of the office and leave your work behind, especially when your office is your home.
I’ve always had a very good opportunity to have a very good work life balance but I have observed that some of my friends that have worked in mining with successful careers there are only a few that do have children. They mostly have kids and leave the industry. It’s quite surprising that even though companies are becoming more accommodating in terms of flexible work arrangements, for whatever reason, women still end up leaving the industry.
Have you any hobbies or pastimes you would like to tell us about?
I live on a large block of land so I keep chickens, ducks, a dog and a couple of horses. I guess I do enjoy farm maintenance activities like slashing paddocks and landscaping my gardens with rocks (funnily enough). My kids are still quite young so they keep me busy when I’m not working. We go bike-riding or to the beach in summer.
Because I did imagine myself as a teacher all those years ago in high school I think I’m quite good at communicating and I love mentoring juniors. So I started doing the Rocks and Minerals Roadshows at schools.
I had all these beautiful rocks and I live in the Hunter Valley with all the coal mining and climate change debate. Mining was getting a hard time and I thought that without having subjects like geology available at schools anymore, well how do we communicate to the younger generation that this is still important to society?
We do have to exploit resources. I just didn’t want all the youngsters to come through thinking mining was entirely bad — so I thought if I can instil a bit of a love of rocks in some of them, then there’s hope.
Everything that we do has some sort of link to natural resources.