Isolation – both geographical and personal – is common in the resources sector. Sabina Shugg AM, founder of Women in Mining and Resources Western Australia (WIMWA), overcame her feelings of isolation and now uses her experiences to empower women, while promoting diversity and inclusion in the industry.

Having had her father and an uncle study geology at the WA School of Mines, Ms Shugg had some knowledge of the Australian resources industry before she even began her own career in the sector.

Following in family footsteps, Ms Shugg would eventually graduate with a degree in Mining Engineering from the WA School of Mines in 1993.

Ms Shugg’s career in the industry, however, started before her tertiary education – working as an assay clerk at the Jubilee Mine in Kalgoorlie. This opened up a number of opportunities, including roles as pit tech supervisor, surveyor and eventually pit supervisor.

Career progression

After university, Ms Shugg began working underground and held a variety of roles from underground operator to underground manager, quarry manager and more.

Reminiscing on her early career, Ms Shugg said, “It was an interesting time and some days were more difficult than others. People are generally happy to give you a go if you come in with the right attitude, so all you can do is do the best you can.”

Having gained experience in both open pit and underground mining environments, Ms Shugg was able to secure her first-class mine managers ticket but wasn’t quite ready to use it right away.

“It was a matter of getting some experience as an engineer, doing things like ventilation, drill and blast, planning – really understanding what it is that makes the mine work.”

Ms Shugg said that kind of experience, as well as working in tandem with other parts of the mine – such as metallurgy, geology and maintenance – is the nuts and bolts of what goes on in a mining environment.

Sabina Shugg visiting local village near Abujar mine Cote D’Ivoire, May 2024. Image credit - Tietto Minerals

Sabina Shugg visiting local village near Abujar mine Cote D’Ivoire, May 2024. Image: Tietto Minerals

Highlights and challenges

Careers in the mining industry can take on many forms, both on and offsite – something Ms Shugg can attest to. As well as working in mines, Ms Shugg’s career has involved a number of corporate roles, from technical and management consulting roles and Board positions, to a position as Director at the WA School of Mines.

Ms Shugg said that the biggest highlight of her time working in the sector is the growth that she has witnessed for women in the industry.

“The mining industry has so many opportunities. So many people I know started as operators and ended up in roles such as managers and directors. There are some fantastic career options with wonderful financial outcomes for people, their families and their communities as well.

“Part of what I have tried to do along the way is support women, to make sure that those many opportunities are available for women and not just for the lucky few.

“If we can make workplaces welcoming for women, they’re welcoming for everyone.”

The power of shared experience

Ms Shugg said there were times throughout her career where she felt isolated – both professionally and geographically – and despite utilising existing resources, didn’t quite find the support she was looking for. As a result of this, it occurred to Ms Shugg that a group specifically for women in mining might be able to fill the gap.

Ms Shugg began to explore how women in the industry could get together to find a way forward and make a difference and in 2003 she founded pre-eminent Women in Mining and Resources Western Australia (WIMWA) to do just that.

“For our first event, we just all got together and everyone had a lot to say – 60 people turned up and we were all pretty excited to have this forum.”

Following a number of grassroots networking events, Ms Shugg’s peers were able to get contributions from their companies to host the events and provide speakers, allowing WIMWA to host eight to ten events per year.

With this support, WIMWA was able to highlight the conversation on diversity, which led to higher level and longer- term support from industry and helped get some of WIMWA’s initiatives off the ground.

Due to WIMWA’s early success, the organisation began to host a one-day seminar that grew into a two-day summit, enabling more people to participate. Recent events have had up to 1,200 attendees each day and, unlike WIMWA’s early days, the audience at WIMWA events is now roughly 30 per cent men.

“It’s great for everyone to come along and see things differently. They can then go back and make real changes in their organisations.”

WIMWA also hosts a mentoring programme, in which mentees are matched outside their own organisation, which has helped close to 1,500 people over more than a decade and led to some excellent outcomes.

“People have had all sorts of changes in their careers and lives as part of the WIMWA mentoring program and they go out and share what they’ve learnt with their teams and their communities.”

Over time, WIMWA has shifted and led the conversation in Western Australia and further afield with its activities and by creating a forum for women (and men) in the mining and resources industry to talk about their lives, share their experiences and extend their professional networks.

A changing industry

According to Ms Shugg, things have changed a lot since she entered the mining and resources industry, especially for women.

“In the beginning of my career, there were really no senior women in the industry and across the huge range of jobs available, there were very few women. Progression in the industry was very much linear, which often precluded women from getting into particular roles.

“Now, there are women doing every kind of role right across the sector.”

Ms Shugg referred to diversity and inclusion statistics from the Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia, which indicate that women comprise 21.5 per cent of the resources industry in Western Australia.

“With women in more senior positions, things are being done in a way that wouldn’t have been considered in the past. A long time ago, people wouldn’t have even imagined women being in these roles.”

Speaking further on diversity in the workplace, Ms Shugg dismissed the idea that some women in the industry only get their job because of their gender.

“Most women get their jobs because they’ve got the right skills and the right values.”

In all of the changes the industry has experienced, Ms Shugg likes to think that her work with WIMWA has played a role in shifting the conversation. Though the industry has made strides in inclusion and diversity in recent years, there is still room for improvement.

“Women have plenty of attention on them as to whether or not they’re doing a good job.

“We need to focus on supporting everyone – women and men – in the workplace to get the best outcomes.”

Empowering young women in the sector

For women in the early stages of their career in the resources industry, Ms Shugg’s first piece of advice is to stand tall and remember that they have earned their place in the industry.

“You’ve got the job, you’ve got the skills and training and you’ve got the values. Every time you walk into a room, you should remember that you deserve your place in that room.”

Ms Shugg also emphasised the importance of enlisting the help of a diverse group of allies to combat the isolation that can sometimes come with working in the industry.

“You need a group of people you can rely on to get the support you need, not just the support you want. In the same way that there is a need to have a mixture of thinking to get the right challenges in a team; for you as an individual you need
to have allies that are on your side, but also those who think differently to you to challenge you to help you to grow.”

Ms Shugg said that ultimately, promoting women’s inclusion in the industry comes down to leadership.

“The way people role model their behaviour and display their values trickles down. When workplaces and spaces are welcoming for women, they’re welcoming for everyone.”

Ms Shugg said that people from diverse backgrounds who didn’t fit the previous model of how things were done in the industry – whether it be diversity through gender, sexual orientation, religious or cultural beliefs – have more of a presence in the industry than ever before.

“There are a lot of complex factors that go into creating a welcoming environment, from the recruitment process, to training, to the support provided for employees, but again, these structures rely on strong leadership.”

“Once those standards are set, the rest follows on.”

Featured image: Sabina Shugg speaking at WIMWA’s Festival of Ideas i. Perth, September 2023. Image: Rift Photography

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