WORDS: Rebekka Sutton || IMAGES: Gingerhouse Photography
The resources sector is traditionally a male domain, with women making up less than 20 per cent of the workforce. But fortunately for the sector, it employs an individual who loves her job, is driven to make a difference and wants to turn those statistics around.
Meet Melanie McCarthy, Victoria’s first female mine site general manager.
With 20 years experience in the minerals industry, eight of those as a company director, Melanie says she knew early on in her career that she wanted to be more in control of the resources businesses she worked in.
“I remember watching the leaders I worked under and thinking, ‘I wouldn’t do it that way’ or ‘I wouldn’t treat people that way.',"says Melanie.
“I was already a professional engineer but I quit and moved to where I could get a job as a casual underground operator, operating heavy equipment. I took a huge pay cut and started studying mining engineering.”
Melanie was the first woman in South Australia to be awarded her First Class Mine Manager’s Certificate of Competency, and after 10 years as mining manager at Mandalay Resources Costerfield Operations near Bendigo in regional Victoria, Melanie was appointed general manager in 2017. She now leads 250 people and manages a unique underground mine and processing plant.
She was recently recognised as the 2018 Exceptional Woman in Resources at the Victorian Women in Resources Awards.
“In the past I wouldn’t have necessarily put myself up for an award but lately I’ve realised I don’t celebrate enough in my life,” says Melanie.
“I think in general, women are humble; we don’t put ourselves forward. When we speak, we speak about our teams and in terms of “we”. We don’t talk about the “I”, or seek recognition for what we’ve achieved.
“What drives us is making a difference, and what I’ve learnt is if you want to make a difference, the best way to do it is to be in a position of power.”
Since taking on the top job at Costerfield, Melanie has changed employment contracts and employed women on flexible work plans. She has increased the female representation of the mine’s leadership team from 28 to 50 per cent. She has also improved the parental leave policy and partnered with local businesses to increase the prosperity of the Costerfield and Heathcote communities.
“The first time I went on maternity leave, I didn’t get any pay. The next time I had a baby, I was in charge and I’d put all of that in place.”
Melanie also set up Women in Resources Victoria, a networking group for women in the sector. She is keen to challenge the stereotypes and encourage more women to get into the mining industry.
“There are challenges such as the remoteness of the work, but the opportunities are amazing,” she says.
“I love working in regional Australia. I’m surrounded by fantastic people and we’re making something that’s really valuable to society. My “me” time is actually coming to work.
“Mother nature is awesome and it’s amazing working and being in the earth every day. Even just the smell of it. Today I’m in the middle of a sheep paddock and I’m at work.
“One of the other really awesome things about mining is that it pays really well. I’ve seen so many families transformed by the opportunities that opens up.”
For Melanie and her husband, it has meant being able to start a farming business. The couple now run over 3,000 acres of land north of Bendigo where they live with their two children. They also have a property near Kerang.
“It’s something we’ve always wanted to do and mining has enabled us to fulfil that dream.”
It has also enabled Melanie to undertake study in business and life coaching; another passion which she says has been transformative for her as a leader.
“The people who work for me are my greatest resource. Being able to talk to a coach in the workplace is making a real difference for them.” She is also working with people outside her business, from leaders and managing directors to graduates.
“I love the Bendigo region so much. It’s such a great diverse economy. Plenty of people come here for the mine work, love it and want to stay.
“The coaching is helping me connect with other local businesses and industries and explore the opportunities that exist for my team if they leave the mine but choose to stay in the region.
“I really want to help build people’s confidence and help them see what’s possible.
“When I made the decision to leave my job and study mining engineering it was deliberate but at the time it was really scary.
“It was the desire to be in leadership roles and actually make a difference in people’s lives that drove me. Now I want to help others find and connect with that drive in themselves.”
This article was first published in OAK Magazine Issue 4 (2018)