In the coming editions of AREEA’s fortnightly News Update, feature stories will be highlighted from the Autumn 2019 edition of Resource People magazine.
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Industry veteran inspires the next-gen to “get into resources”
It’s easy to see why three-decade industry veteran Meryl Jones has been named one of the world’s most inspirational women in mining, as she encourages leaders to take action on gender diversity and inspires secondary school students into resources careers.
AS A second year geology student mapping South Australia’s picturesque Flinders Ranges, Meryl Jones became instantly hooked on the resources industry.
Now 30 years on, she’s even more passionate about the industry and is re-directing her energy to inspire the next generation and encourage leaders to better attract, retain and advance women in the sector.
Since 2012, Ms Jones’s not-for-profit initiative Get Into Resources has been influencing young minds to join the industry.
A large focus is spreading the message that the sector is accessible, attractive and advanced for all, having moved well past the common misconception of only being suited to blokes who like to get dirty and play with machinery.
“We all know there is a problem with girls not taking STEM subjects and I meet many girls who say they never knew what type of opportunities there were in the resources sector,” Ms Jones said.
“Young girls need to know that resources is more than rocks, big trucks and dirty blokes – that there are well over 150 different types of jobs on a mine site from a kitchen hand to general manager – and every one is essential for a mine site to work efficiently.”
With a career spanning a range of diverse roles across the entire length of the mining value chain, Ms Jones has enjoyed a prime view of the opportunities offered in the sector.
Now a business development principal at Australian gold miner St Barbara, Ms Jones could never have imagined the challenges and achievements she has conquered – now topped by being recognised as one of 23 Australian-based industry leaders to make the Top 100 Global Inspirational Women in Mining list in 2018.
“I’ve been lucky enough over the years to have had many interesting and often very challenging opportunities put before me – most of which I have taken on,” she said.
“I have loved every minute of my 30 years in the industry, and I am still completely hooked. I cannot see myself doing anything else, ever.”
Lifting women through her personal journey
Ms Jones is incredibly passionate about women realising the rewarding opportunities offered in the resources and energy industry.
Understanding from personal experience the roadblocks they must overcome, her story is one of inspiration for women who feel the challenges are too great.
“In 1996 when our first son was born, I chose to become a stay-at-home mum,” she said.
“I think the choice to stay home or return to work, in whatever capacity, is a very personal one and we shouldn’t judge other women on what they choose to do.
“Challenges do remain and we need to support our women by continuing to reduce those challenges, and strive to make the industry increasingly more inclusive.”
Despite the difficulties of working remotely while juggling family commitments, Ms Jones has never stopped learning and keeps striving for work-life balance.
She raised her two boys in a three bedroom house on a mine site some 400kms north of Kalgoorlie with a “residential husband” on a five-week on, one-week off roster.
After eventually settling in Perth with her husband and two boys, she was ready to return to the industry – this time in a significant step down from her pre-children role as exploration manager to be an administration geologist – but with family a priority, she wanted flexibility.
“Since that time I have transitioned through several other roles with a further two companies, all of which have been happy to have my contribution on a part-time basis,” Ms Jones said.
“What’s helped is that all of my managers have been parents themselves and they genuinely understand the need for flexibility.
“I’ve been very up-front about being a part-time employee right from that first interview after returning to work.
“My family was and is important to me and being happy in that space helped me continue to be a highly engaged and productive employee.”
In October last year, Ms Jones returned to full-time work – and still works flexibly – nominating her current role as by far the most rewarding as she draws on 30 years’ industry experience to apply her knowledge day-in, day-out.
“Evaluating opportunities right across the mining value chain from early-stage exploration opportunities through to active operations or those which may be at the end of their current lives, remains challenging and exciting,” she said.
“My current role with St Barbara is in business development and allows me to harness all of my experiences over a myriad of different professional roles, to review, evaluate, assess, advise on and pursue new business – from greenfields to operational merger and acquisition opportunities.
“I advise on investment strategy and business development, with an emphasis on high-level technical and financial analysis and due diligence, exploration and development strategy, and business sustainability.”
Mentoring and advocacy forms a large part of her role, helping St Barbara achieve industry-leading results for attracting and retaining women, particularly internally.
“I have been mentoring a woman in her 30s and now, in turn, she’s using those mentoring techniques to mentor a woman in her 20s,” she said.
With an inclusive and collaborative leadership style, Ms Jones places value on diversity of thought to deliver the best business outcomes.
“Drawing on those around you with varied experience, knowledge and perspectives ensures that conversations are expansive and fruitful,” she said.
“Ultimately you have to be able to distil all of that information through a funnel and into a final answer or result, so being able to bring everyone along on the journey is very important. It’s the “why” of any project you may be working on.”
Inspiring the next-gen into resources careers
Looking to the future pipeline of mining and resources talent, Ms Jones knows the resources sector must work harder to strategically position itself to attract school leavers.
She understands it is a different world compared to when she graduated in 1986 and wasted no time in getting “stuck in”, securing a mine geologist position with Forsayth Mining Services at Mount Gibson.
“The resources sector needs to work hard to establish its relevance in society,” she said.
“Those on the inside of the industry understand that almost everything we are involved with or use on a daily basis, had its origins in a mine somewhere.
“The community generally, and certainly our school children, do not have the same appreciation.
“Many students have little or no appreciation for the types of positions available in the resources industry. With over 150 different roles possible, there’s so much to choose from.”
The need to amplify the sector’s visibility to students was made abundantly clear when Ms Jones was helping her then 15-year-old son make subject choices for Year 11.
“I noticed the lack of immersive, hands-on experiences to enable him to understand the breadth of opportunities available in the resources industry, the opportunity that I was envisaging for him to experience,” she said.
Responding to this alarming gap, in 2012 Ms Jones founded Get Into Resources, an annual volunteer-led careers event which showcases the opportunities available in the resources industry to secondary school students.
Describing the initiative as a “thought bubble”, Get Into Resources has now grown into a vehicle for supporting the future talent pipeline by providing the information and inspiration for young people to make informed choices about their careers.
But the industry’s challenge to dispel myths is multi-faceted and includes established fallacies such as students thinking a university degree is required to work in the mining industry.
“ABS analysis of mining industry participants shows that only 25 per cent of mining industry employees have a Bachelor’s Degree or higher,” Ms Jones said.
“However, 45% of employees hold a qualification from TAFE, via a Certificate III or IV, Diploma or Advanced Diploma.
“The TAFE sector is a relatively untapped source of talent pipeline for the resources industry, and it is one of the main reasons why I joined the Governing Council of North Metropolitan TAFE last year.”
The four-day Get Into Resources program for 2019 commences on 19 June in Perth and will hope to reach more than 500 students.
Ms Jones’s employer St Barbara is one of the best-positioned miners to attract the attention of talented youngsters, with its leading gender diversity practices particularly well-known among the industry.
The company has been awarded the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) Employer of Choice for Gender Equality citation for the past five years –the only mining company to receive this recognition.
Earning the WGEA citation is no easy feat, but led by the company’s managing director and CEO Bob Vassie – a WGEA Pay Equity Ambassador – diversity and equality is integrated within core business strategy, discussed at board level and, importantly, championed by senior management.
“When I was looking for this current position with St Barbara, I was attracted by the values the company holds around honesty, integrity and respect,” Ms Jones said.
“I clearly remember thinking at the time that if the company can behave in this way and perform to these values, then we will be aligned in our thinking and strategy and I’ll be happy – and I can say I am very happy.”
Find out more about how Get Into Resources is inspiring a resources industry talent pipeline for the future, via getintoresources.com.
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