Following her graduation from the University of Newcastle, Kelsie Clarke threw herself into the deep end, packing up her life in New South Wales and moving across the country to take a job in Western Australia. Kelsie sat down to chat with us about how that decision led her to a role in leadership, a visit to Antarctica and being awarded the 2023 Chamber of Minerals and Energy’s (CME) Outstanding Young Woman in Resources Award.
How did you get into your chosen field? Was it something you were always interested in pursuing?
I grew up in Newcastle, New South Wales and attended a selective performing arts school. I was great at STEM subjects, however I also loved acting and even directed a few plays. Some of my teachers suggested that I attend science and engineering events, which is where I met a chemical engineer who offered me work experience at the CSIRO, which lit the fire.
Up until this point, I didn’t know one single engineer. I decided to study civil engineering at the University of Newcastle, and the rest was history.
You started your career at Woodside as a graduate civil engineer. Can you tell me about the various roles you’ve had within the company that have led you to where you are now?
After graduating, I rejected chances to work closer to home to take a position in Perth. My only previous visit to Western Australia had been for the interview at Woodside, however I knew that if I didn’t make a leap of faith and go outside my comfort zone then, I never would.
I worked in various civil and structural engineering roles during the graduate program, including offshore and subsea, before transferring to Karratha as a Structural System Engineer, where I was responsible for structural integrity management at the Karratha Gas Plant (KGP). I moved into a Project Engineer role, managing external engineering resources and projects at KGP.
I later became an Engineering Team Lead, leading a team of project engineers, project services and data scientists, and then a Maintenance Engineering Team Lead, leading a team of structural, rotating and mechanical engineers and overseeing end-to-end support for maintenance activities and strategies at KGP. I was also the Engineering Lead for a number of major shutdown maintenance activities.
Following my move back to Perth in 2022, I moved into a Business Adviser role, before moving into my current role as Business Readiness Lead for the SAP/4HANA project implementation at Woodside.
Outside of work you participated in a three-week expedition to Antarctica with Homeward Bound. Can you tell me what you learned from that experience that you try to bring to your job and your role as a mentor for women in STEM?
The remoteness of Antarctica generates a level of learning and reflection not experienced anywhere else in the world. What I have learnt from that experience is a deep sense of resilience, to be authentic, and to foster a place of trust with those around you. I have embedded these principles into the way I work, and in the advice that I provide to others, leading by example with these foundational skills.
You’ve been involved with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) for many years now. What is it about EWB’s vision that resonates with you?
EWB believes in a world where technology benefits all.
Engineering has improved the lives of people throughout the world, however there are still many people who do not have access to things that are taken for granted in Perth. Access to clean water is engineering, access to healthy fuels for cooking is engineering – it is woven through society in every way.
I became involved with EWB in my first year of university and have been in a range of roles, from supporting Sanitation projects and earthquake research, to being Chapter President of Western Australia. I am now Deputy Chair of the Board of EWB.
Engineers can change lives, and I believe that if this was more widely appreciated through society, we would have a larger pool of people entering the profession.
What do you consider to be the biggest challenge you’ve encountered in your career to date?
Becoming a leader at a young age has been the most rewarding and challenging experience of my career. Working with good and intelligent people is enriching, yet there are hard conversations and decisions that need to be made. Acting with integrity and addressing this front on is vital to leadership.
Through leading teams, I have experienced so much growth and a deep sense of reward, knowing that my leaders are there to back me and believe in me. What I have learnt and my advice to others pursuing a leadership pathway is to maintain credibility in everything that you do, listen and trust your team and hold empathy towards others, which is incredibly important.
Being in a leadership role is so rewarding and has provided me with some of the best moments in my career so far.
You recently won CME’s Outstanding Young Woman in Resources Award. What does winning the award mean to you?
I am incredibly proud and humbled to have won this award and to represent a strong cohort of young women in the WA resources and energy sector. To be able to stand up and call to action my peers and industry leaders to actively back young women in this industry at the stellar CME Women in Resources awards was an experience I will never forget.
I always strive to leave an easier path for younger women coming after me in this industry and I hope this award will showcase what is possible to others.
Winning this award has put you in a position where other young women in the industry can look up to you as a mentor – what are you hoping to convey to them?
My encouragement to other young women in the industry is to be authentic, be bold and back yourself. As the world transitions to a lower carbon future there will be so many new opportunities in resources that emerge. This industry presents an existing opportunity to be at the forefront of that change, and the equal representation of women will ensure a fair and just transition for communities around the world. It won’t be easy, but unless you push yourself, you will never realise your full potential. Think authentic, think bold and be your own advocate.
Can you give us some insight into your experience working in such a male-dominated industry? What are some of the obstacles you have had to overcome?
In male heavy teams, the tiny micro exclusions that I have experienced have been much more challenging to overcome than the typical, more obvious forms of gender bias. Like myself, many women in this industry have experienced the more obvious forms of bias and exclusions. But it’s the things that are not so obvious that can really dig under your skin. These are hard to call out and challenging to resolve, such as someone talking over the top of you or moulding yourself to fit in with the culture.
My approach has always been to focus on forming strong relationships with my peers, seeking to understand other perspectives, and focusing on delivering good outcomes for the business.
If we want an inclusive culture where we retain valuable people, we all need to work together to counteract these subtle behaviours, otherwise we will erode over time the progress that we have worked so hard for.
There’s work being done to diversify the workforce but in your opinion, what still needs to be done in the way of gender diversity in the industry?
Systemic and evidence-based structural change at the school, university and workplace level.
Gender diversity is improving, however, the mix of gender is not where it needs to be to be sustainable. I have seen incredible improvements to gender balance over my career and I have also seen gender balance go the opposite way with a few people moves or resignations.
The site engineering lead team that I was part of when I worked in Karratha was all female, bar one colleague and our boss. This was an incredible, delivery focused team that achieved a lot of value. The environment that we fostered for the wider engineering team is a highlight of my career so far and I now know what it feels to be part of a high performing team. Only a year later, I was working in a male dominated team (who were great colleagues). The numbers and distribution of women in operational, technical and leadership roles is not yet at a critical mass but I believe that this can absolutely be turned around.
We should not lose sight of how far the industry has come, however, there is still a large gap that needs to be closed to ensure gender balance in the resources industry is achieved and truly sustainable.
What advice would you give to people who are interested in or are in the early stages of their career in your industry?
Change begins at the end of your comfort zone. I have found the greatest opportunities and experiences have come to me by pushing myself to continuously learn and explore the unknown.
This industry is unique in that it gives you the ability to either find the niche you love, or if you enjoy trying new things, there is a lot of flexibility to move around into different roles. There are so many options in front of you right now, and it is only yourself who can decide which pathway to go next.
What do you like to do outside of work? How do you spend your free time?
I’m an avid theatre and ballet goer, I like to run, go to the beach and travel as much as I can with my husband. My time in Karratha gave me a love for camping and the outdoors.
I have a dog and two cats, and over the past year we have embarked on a large renovation at our house, which has kept us very busy.