Mentoring and support: The key to gender diversity

19 Feb 2019

Jo-Anne Dudley's mining engineering degree has taken her around the world. Starting out as an underground mining contractor, then moving to Northparkes Mines in New South Wales where she spent 10 years, Jo has experienced the mining industry in South Africa, Namibia, Canada and Arizona, Salt Lake City in the USA, the UK and across Australia.

The Brisbane-based mother of two is currently the Senior Manager – Strategic Mine and Resources Planning with Rio Tinto and regularly travels between Australia and Mongolia, managing 30 people across three locations: Brisbane, Ulaanbaatar and the Oyu Tolgoi mine.

As a passionate advocate for gender equality in engineering, Jo works hard to encourage young women in the sector, and helps to develop a pipeline of talented female graduates through her work with local high schools and her position on the board of the UQ Women in Engineering program.

“Earlier in my career, I used to lament the lack of women entering STEM, and in particular, the engineering side of the mining industry, and think ‘they’ should do something about it,” Jo said.

“As I started leading teams, I realised I could do something about it!

“Later, when I became a parent, it dawned on me that schools and parents are the real ones who influence what their children grow to choose as a profession. So, over time, I have been involved in a number of initiatives that I felt could increase the pool of women who might make engineering their careers.”

Jo believes that in order to retain women in the industry, mentoring and career-long support is vital.

"To get more women in technical, engineering roles we need to have a multifaceted approach: encouraging more women into engineering studies, supporting them while at university and early in their careers, and continuing to provide quality career opportunities as they develop."

Women in Mining and Resources Queensland (WIMARQ) is a supportive network that organises regular events for women to meet like-minded professionals, as well as providing inspiration through engaging speakers and enabling introductions to potential mentors.

“I have been involved in WIMARQ Mentoring for three years and have provided mentoring to four wonderful women in my area of underground mining,” she said.

“I really enjoy being a mentor and believe it not only keeps women in the industry, but prepares them for their next career steps and allows them to find a strong network.

“As a bonus, I get to develop relationships with really interesting, passionate young women who are carving out their own unique careers.”

With young children and a busy career, Jo has often sought advice from her mentors on how to survive and thrive, during those busy years.

"Mentors have played an important part in my career, with the best ones able to see more in you than you can in yourself."

Jo has now been honoured for her contributions, too. Jo was named Queensland Exceptional Woman in Resources in 2018 by the Minister for Women at the annual Resources Awards for Women event organised my WIMARQ and the Queensland Resources Council earlier in the year.

"It was humbling to receive the 2018 IWD Award that has enabled me to ask others to join me in encouraging more young girls to consider engineering. Together we can make a difference."

Recent studies have consistently shown that diverse teams make for an innovative, successful and profitable workforce, and Jo agrees that the change can be felt on the ground.

“Just having women present in a workplace makes it a more positive place to work for me personally; the workplace starts to reflect how a healthy society looks and that makes for a healthier workplace,” she said.

“Young men also want the flexibility that attracts women to a workplace, so catering to a perceived need from women may also attract high-calibre male talent.”

"Young girls need to see women are suitable candidates for all jobs. We need to make sure that, as they enter the later high school years, they can see themselves in engineering roles and have the self-belief to pursue studies and subsequent careers. Once into engineering studies, we can provide guidance, mentoring and prepare them for the workplace, but you can only support and encourage those who walk through the door."