Interview with Stefanie Loader, Chair of NSW Minerals Council

  • By WIMnet

AusIMM Board Member and WIMnet NSW Committee member Pamela Naidoo-Ameglio caught up with Stefanie Loader who was recently appointed as Chair of the NSW Minerals Council. She had some great comments on the industry and her experiences so we thought we would share!

What initially attracted you to the mining industry? Was it a field you have always wanted to explore or was there a specific event or occurrence that inspired you to join it?

I never really considered joining the mining industry until I went to work in it! I was good at maths and science, and was encouraged by my year 12 chemistry teacher, Mr De Souza, to consider a career in science. He encouraged me to apply for the Comalco (Rio Tinto) Women in Science Scholarship, and much to my surprise I was successful. I hadn’t enrolled in science at the time, so had to risk a second round university place offer to get into maths and chemistry.  I worked at Boyne Smelters as a vacation analytical chemist alongside a geologist who got to work outside and take all the samples.  I wanted his job, so I got back to uni, changed tack to geology and chemistry, and here I am.

What do you love about your job and why?

The people! Everyday, I can, and I hope I do, encourage and support people to be successful at work. I get enormous energy from talking to people at Northparkes and in our community, and learning something from everyone. Our people give me energy to think about what can make our business and, by extension our people, even more successful. Take away the opportunity to interact with people, I will just wind down and stop.

What do you think is the biggest challenge or obstacle facing women in the resources industry?

Although mining continues to be dominated by men, it has been wonderful to see more women enter the industry over the last decade. One of the biggest challenges for the industry is maintaining momentum and focus on diversity, which includes not only women but also indigenous people, and at the simplest level not hiring in our own image. In countries such as Australia where the spotlight has been on diversity for many years, it is tempting to say that the problem is solved and lose focus. However, women, indigenous people and those who don’t fit the ‘stereotype’ still face real challenges of how to enter our industry.

The structure of a mining operation can be pretty rigid, and we are slow to adapt and change to look at how work can be done differently. My commitment is that every time a role becomes vacant, I challenge the hiring manager to think about how else that work could be done, and describe the role in terms of capabilities and skills, not years of experience.

How did you manage or overcome your own challenges/obstacles?

I am fortunate to have had access to some excellent mentors and coaches throughout my career. Having people encourage and support me was integral to my success. Women often underrate their own abilities, and for me it was important to make the most of every opportunity that came my way, even if I didn’t believe that I had 100% of the qualifications required.

What are some of the key lessons learnt in your career thus far?

Oh so many! I learn lessons almost everyday as I have a tendency to want to try new things and ways and they don’t always work out well! Perhaps my first lesson is be prepared to have a go and fail and learn from it! More pragmatic career advice – learn to write well. A well-structured, concise argument is difficult to create, and I find many people get to quite senior positions without this important skill.  My second piece of advice is to have a list of roles that you would like to have, and what are your non-negotiables.  When the Northparkes role came along for me, it fit just about all my ‘want to haves’ in a role – full accountability for the mining value chain, a residential location and a great place to live for me and my family.

What career accomplishments are you most proud of? Why?

I am proud to have been elected to the Chair the Board of the NSW Minerals Council.  We have a world class mining industry in NSW that I am proud to be part of and represent our member companies in the wider community and with government.

As a business leader, I am proud of the structural production cost changes that have been achieved at Northparkes – lowering our cost of production by over 20 per cent in less than six months and sustaining that level for more than two years.

As a geologist I am proud of being part of the Khanong discovery team. We were persistent in wanting to understand why there was a small intercept of high grade massive copper in one drillhole, and working with a great geophysicist, Mike Haederle, we defined and drilled out a 30Mt resource of around 3 per cent copper. As a young geologist that was magic!

What character traits have put you in good stead for success and what characteristics are required to excel in the profession?

There are no specific character traits required to succeed. In fact, I would argue that it is just as important to have a diversity of characters in the workplace, as it is to achieve gender diversity.

The character traits of mine that I hear about from are my passion and energy for everything I do, and an inherent desire to see an opportunity in every situation.

How do you manage the work-life balance?

I don’t distinguish between work and life, as I believe work is part of life. This doesn’t mean I advocate working long hours, but rather that we embrace each decision about how we manage our time. For example, if you decide to leave work early to attend a family event, you must commit yourself to that decision without guilt. The same applies if you prioritise an important work project another day. Many women, in particular, struggle with feelings of guilt when making these decisions, but it is important for our peace of mind that we acknowledge the choices we have made. As my husband is also a mining professional, we have chosen to add a ‘third parent’ to our family to assist with our two young kids.

In your new role as Chair of the NSW Minerals Council, what do you hope to achieve or is there anything in particular that you would like to see done during your tenure?

It is important to me to really get to know the issues impacting members of the Council and key stakeholders in my capacity as chair. In the past few months I have taken time out to visit several mining operations in Gunnedah and the Hunter Valley. The mining community has so many stories to tell, and it is my aim to listen and work with the community to share those stories with the general public. The Voice for Mining campaign has done a fantastic job getting the message out there over the past year. It is also important that we work closely with the government to develop legislation which is mutually beneficial for the industry and the people of NSW.

What is your best piece of advice for a woman looking to enter the resources industry, and what advice would you give to those seeking to take the next step in their career?

Go for it, join us in any capacity – if you are mining or geotech engineer, metallurgist or geologist and there aren’t those jobs available at the right time, join as an operator or technician, anything. One thing about the mining industry is that we may not yet be very flexible about how work is done, but we are very good at giving people who want it a few careers in one!  I have explored for gold, copper, created and managed databases, worked on exploration strategy and planning, written Board papers on cyclones, sorted diamonds, and now run a mine. Many careers in one!

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