Alongside the industry’s shift to a greener future is the growing accountability for mine operators and workers to reduce the environmental and ecological footprint of mining. Daisy Ambach is no stranger to this, bringing her passion for protecting the environment to a career in the mining industry, working on tailings reduction strategies and even winning the 2023 Exceptional Young Woman in Queensland Resources award. Mining Magazine sat down with Daisy to learn how a girl from a small town in Belgium worked her way to a career in the mines of Australia.
How did you first get into your chosen field? Was it something you were always interested in?
I grew up in a small town in Belgium right by one of the country’s famous national parks – the Kalmthoutse Heide. This park bordered my primary school and so I spent a lot of time there going on excursions with my class and riding horses, as well as going for walks with my family on weekends. Being so close to nature throughout my childhood is why protecting the environment has always been something I have been interested in.
At school, I loved maths and physics and so I went on to study a Bachelor of Engineering, majoring in Chemical and Environmental at the University of Queensland. Through this degree, I completed multiple research projects on climate change, transitioning to a society with electric vehicles and renewable energy. This is where I was first exposed to the complex interactions between mining, the environment and climate change. I learnt the importance of sustainability to the clean energy transition which is heavily reliant on a substantial intensification of mining metals such as copper, nickel and cobalt.
It made me curious about what we can do to more sustainably integrate industrial operations, which the world so heavily relies on to function.
So I thought a career in the resources sector would be the best way to help solve this challenge.
Can you tell me a little more about the steps you took to get you to where you are now?
I would summarise my journey into two key steps: the first being choosing to be true to myself and my passion which led to unique opportunities; and the second step being to put into practice what I preach. I’ll explain each of those steps in detail, with a bit of context first.
After completing my studies, I started working for a multinational consultancy as a process engineer, and was almost immediately seconded to London which was quite exciting as a graduate.
When I was there, I worked in oil and gas alongside some fantastic engineers, mainly on process safety and design projects.
While I enjoyed the technical aspects of this job and the people I worked with, I was always passionate about the environment, having grown up with nature at my doorstep.
I wasn’t sure that my role at the time was going to lead me down a path where I could work on the sustainability challenges I wanted to work on.
How do you stay true to yourself and your passion?
I received a call from one of the regional directors one day and he asked how I was going. I decided to be honest and shared with him the concerns I had about my career path.
Within a few weeks, he called me again and said he had found the perfect opportunity for me – a project for the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) to develop an industry roadmap for reducing tailings and mine waste from the mining value chain. I didn’t have much mining experience at this point but it sounded exciting, so I said yes.
Throughout the project, we interviewed stakeholders from all around the world working on different technologies – from more accurate resource modelling techniques to new ways to sort waste from ore to repurposing tailings dams to solar farms. We built a long list of technologies that could make tailings reduction possible and worked closely with the ICMM on developing this into a roadmap.
In what ways do you practice what you preach?
After this project ended, I was fueled with a passion for sustainable tailings and mine waste management, and I wanted to put into practice what I had been working on.
A friend of mine was working at Mount Isa Mines and told me they were looking for a site-based Environmental Engineer. The role was perfect as it was to support the site with surface water and tailings management. I applied and was offered the role a few months later, and so I relocated to Mount Isa.
The Mount Isa mine site is incredibly unique – a 100-year-old operation with a large community on its doorstep. Through this role, I was exposed to many of the on-the-ground challenges of the site. I helped manage compliance for their surface water assets and tailings storage facility, including implementing the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (GISTM). The role required me to liaise regularly with operational stakeholders, and at times with local council representatives, regulators, and Traditional Owners.
Now, I work as a Senior Project Engineer with Glencore Zinc’s Capital Studies and Project Team. With my site experience as well as my diverse background in processing and environmental engineering, I try to bring a site focus and an integrated perspective to the major projects in the business’ portfolio.
Some of the projects I am working on are looking at opportunities for reprocessing and repurposing tailings, which could help the industry turn waste into something valuable and move towards a more circular economy.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered in your career?
In the early stages of my career, I sometimes struggled navigating the negative views and opinions society has of the mining sector. With news stories such as the world’s inaction on climate change; protesters coming to conferences; Samarco, Brumadinho and the Juukan Gorge incidents; sexual harassment in the mining industry; I have questioned at times whether it will get better.
The longer I am in the industry, however, the more I can see an appetite for change in the way we do things. So many of the industry’s largest companies are bringing in new standards and making commitments to be more sustainable and contribute to a net zero emissions future.
Resources are important to everyday life and will be instrumental in decarbonising the world. I strongly believe the industry is going to look incredibly different in the decades to come and will continue to drive myself and the industry to be better.
You recently won the Exceptional Young Woman in Queensland Resources award. What did winning that award mean to you?
I still haven’t quite found the right words to describe what it means to me, other than it has been such an honour. It is an incredible opportunity to represent the industry from regional Queensland as both a woman and a young person. I hope I can inspire others through this award to join the industry and be drivers of change that we will need in the years to come.
Winning this award has put you in a position where other women in the industry may look up to you – what message are you hoping to convey to them?
The mining sector is a rewarding and exciting career. There is so much change happening in the industry and we need women to bring innovation to drive that change. There is countless research which proves that innovative thinking is best facilitated by a diverse and inclusive environment. We need women to help build these environments and we also just so happen to be fantastic at navigating change.
There is no better time for a woman to join the industry with countless support, development and mentoring programs out there to empower women in various industries.
Can you give us some insight into your experience working in such a male-dominated industry? Have there been any particular obstacles you have had to overcome?
Prior to joining the mining sector, I never thought that gender would be a problem. However, even now, I am often the only woman in a meeting. Sometimes you do get treated differently because of that; and sometimes you do feel like the odd one out.
In general terms, I have found men tend to speak their mind more easily whereas women tend to ask for permission before sharing their view. It can make you feel vulnerable, and make you question whether you are good enough to be there. For me, learning how to work through that self doubt has been the biggest obstacle I have had to overcome.
What needs to be done in the way of gender diversity in the industry?
In 2006, women only made up six per cent of the workforce in Queensland’s mining sector. Over 17 years, this has grown to 22 per cent which demonstrates that barriers for women to enter the mining sector are slowly coming down. There are more women in leadership positions as well as trades positions, however, there is still work to do to reach gender parity in the industry.
So where to from here? I think there are two key steps the industry must take. The first is to continue mentoring women (as well as men) as they progress through their career. Mentoring is such a fantastic way to develop their skills and confidence, as it facilitates an open environment for mentees to share their challenges with someone who can be their sound board. I think something we can do better is making programs for mentor training available to leaders in the industry.
Secondly, we need to entice more women to join the industry. Building a more inclusive workplace culture and facilitating flexible working arrangements are fundamental to this.
“We need young people – we need the best and brightest minds to lead the future of this sector, because the mining industry we know today will look different in the decades to come.”
What advice would you give to people who are interested in or are in the early stages of their career in the same industry?
As a young person, I know it’s a crazy world out there – with navigating its challenges and opinions – making mining a difficult career choice. But we need young people – we need the best and brightest minds to lead the future of this sector, because the mining industry we know today will look different in the decades to come.
With an increasing demand for the minerals of the world, abandoned mines that impact the environment, critical job shortages and only 22 per cent gender balance in the industry, we cannot continue to do things the same way and so the opportunities to make a difference are endless.
They say you can’t be it if you can’t see it, so I challenge young people to see me and the stories of many others who are making change. Come and give this sector a try!
Did you have someone you could look up to when you were starting your career? Do you think you would have done anything differently if you had?
I have been lucky to have a lot of fantastic mentors throughout my career; both men and women. Not only have my mentors been nice, down-to earth and kind people, they have also sought opportunities for me to find my passion and do the work that I want to do. If it weren’t for these people, I am not sure I would have seen all the opportunities that exist in the mining sector for improving sustainability.
How do you spend your time outside of work? What do you do in your spare time?
I really enjoy learning as it is one of my life’s greatest pleasures. Currently, I am learning Spanish and taking weekly classes with a tutor based in Chile. I see language as an important facilitator for connecting with people.
I am also an enthusiast of the outdoors which I enjoy through activities such as hiking and camping.
Staying connected with my family and friends is really important to me and something I prioritise outside of work. I lost my dad unexpectedly at a young age and therefore value spending time with those I love most. Getting coffee with my partner on the weekend, going to the CrossFit gym with one of my best friends, and taking my mum for a nice lunch are some of my favourite activities.