Industry awards are a great way to gather and celebrate the achievements of peers. The 2024 Chamber of Minerals and Energy’s (CME) People’s Choice Award winner and General Manager of Remote Operations at Roy Hill, Lily Meneghel, sat down with Mining to chat about her win and her plans to use her new platform to promote gender diversity.

Mining: You pursued a Political Science university degree before pivoting to a career in the mining and resources industry. What inspired you to make this change?

Lily Meneghel: Growing up in the ACT, I was initially attracted to a career in political science – politics being a strong interest of mine as a young person. I was drawn to the possibilities of making positive changes that this career offered.

However, after I finished school, a holiday to Western Australia broadened my perspective. The vastness and intrigue of the mining industry captured my imagination.

What was it about the mining and resources sector that made you want to enter it?

Mining and resources appealed to me for the following reasons:

Being part of something big

The sheer scale of operations in the Pilbara was fascinating to me. The logistical challenges of moving millions of tonnes of iron ore was something I became really interested in and my career has been centred around solving these challenges. Equally fascinating was the fact that iron ore is used in so many aspects of our daily lives.

Innovation

Having a passion for technology, I was attracted to the sector’s investment in cutting-edge technology and continuous improvement practices. I wanted to be part of an industry that is not only economically significant but also at the forefront of innovation. At Roy Hill, I found a company that is led by Chairman, Gina Rinehart AO, who has pioneered a culture of innovation that has delivered not only safer and more efficient operations at Roy Hill, but right throughout the broader mining industry.

Professional growth

The diversity of roles within the sector offers vast opportunities for professional development. I was excited by the prospect of taking on new challenges and growing my skill set in a dynamic environment.

Local and global impact

Understanding that the sector is fundamental to building and supporting modern societies, I was drawn to the opportunity to contribute to an industry that provides essential materials for everyday life and technological advancements.

Locally, mining acts as the catalyst for economic progress in Australia and has a positive downstream impact on other industries which supports all Australians.

Upon entering the industry, you relocated to Port Hedland. What were the initial challenges you faced making the move?

In 2008, having just turned 22, I relocated more than 3,000km away to Port Hedland to start my first mining job with BHP. That is where my real journey began; where I embarked on a huge learning curve about the workings of the resources industry and the grand scale of the projects being undertaken in one of the most isolated places in the world.

The remote nature of living in Port Hedland was a significant change from living in Canberra. The transition required me to adapt to a smaller community and to find new ways to stay connected with loved ones. In facing these challenges, I focused on building strong relationships with my colleagues and the local community. This helped me to quickly feel at home in Port Hedland.

I embraced the learning opportunities presented by the new environment, which has been incredibly rewarding both personally and professionally.

You started in computer programming before moving to operational roles. Can you talk us through the various roles you’ve had within the industry that have led you to where you are now?

My entry point into the industry was based on my self-taught computer programming skills, but quickly after joining I realised my passion was in operations. Since then I have held a number of technical and leadership roles centred around optimising the movement of iron ore through the supply chain. These roles have provided the perfect mix of technical innovation and operational challenges.

My current role as General Manager Integrated Remote Operations at Roy Hill spans across the entire operations, optimising the movement and blend of iron ore from pit to port.

I’m really fortunate to lead a team of talented professionals who are committed to operational excellence.

What do you consider to be the biggest challenge you’ve encountered in your career to date? What has been the biggest highlight?

I commenced at Roy Hill as a Manager in Control Operations in April 2022. This role has proven to be the most challenging but also most rewarding of my career so far. The role involved me leading the successful transition of the AHS (Automated Haulage System) Control Operations to Roy Hill’s Perth Remote Operations Centre (ROC), making the decision to move the controlling equipment for this program 1,300km away in the Pilbara.

This was a complex and challenging project that required managing many layers of operations in a new organisation. The first move was organising a series of trials at the ROC to ensure it had the capability to work as expected and support all AHS and conventional functions required.

The second part of the transition was the human element; familiarising ROC personnel with the AHS system, terminology and processes, while ensuring sufficient training was provided to support full-scaled operations. The successful transition of the ROC has been valuable in terms of achieving significant organisational cost and time efficiencies and although challenging, a major personal highlight of my career to date.

Can you give some insight into your experience working in such a male- dominated industry? What are some of the unique obstacles you have had to overcome?

I’ve encountered a few unique obstacles that have ultimately contributed to my professional growth. One of the most significant challenges has been overcoming preconceived notions about women’s roles and capabilities in the workplace. To overcome these obstacles, I’ve focused on expanding my knowledge, skills and professional networks and taking all opportunities that become available to me.

You have been involved in mentoring programs and initiatives such as the Parental Return to Control Program and the Control Operations Traineeship Program to empower others, particularly women. What are some of your biggest takeaways from these initiatives?

A few key takeaways come to mind from initiatives aimed at empowering women and facilitating parental return to work, in particular into fields such as control operations.

Inclusivity boosts innovation: It’s simple; nurturing different perspectives can lead to more innovative solutions and better decision making.

Support systems are crucial: Programs that offer mentorship and support networks are vital for helping individuals navigate their careers, especially when returning from a break or starting in a new field.

Flexibility is key: Initiatives that offer flexible work arrangements for parents can be incredibly beneficial, making it easier for parents to balance work and family responsibilities.

Confidence building: Such programs often help participants build confidence in their skills and abilities, which is crucial for their growth and advancement in the workplace.

Skill development: Continuous learning and upskilling are important. Programs that focus on training and development help participants stay current with industry standards and technologies.

Barriers are being broken: These initiatives demonstrate that barriers to entry or re-entry into specialised fields can be overcome with targeted support and structured pathways.

Retention and satisfaction: Programs that support personal and family responsibilities as well as career development can lead to higher job satisfaction and retention rates among participants.

Role models matter: Seeing successful women in leadership and technical roles can inspire others and shows that career progression is possible.

Cultural change: Such initiatives contribute to cultural change within organisations, challenging stereotypes about who can succeed in certain roles.

Feedback and adaptation: Gathering feedback from participants helps to continuously improve these programs, ensuring they meet the needs of future cohorts effectively.

Why is it so important to you to mentor and empower others in the industry?

With fewer female role models in leadership positions, I’ve had to be proactive in seeking out mentors – both male and female. This has not only helped me grow but has also allowed me to mentor other women in the industry, fostering a more supportive environment for all.

For me, mentoring provides an essential tool in helping more differing perspectives find a home in mining engineering. Mentoring has been as much about my professional growth as it is to the people that I mentor.

You won the People’s Choice Award at the 2024 Chamber of Minerals and Energy’s Women in Resources Awards. What does winning the award mean to you? What message do you hope to convey to young women in the industry?

It was personally such amazing recognition to win the People’s Choice Award. I strive to provide a positive impact on the industry and this acknowledgement from my peers made the award even more valuable and appreciated. I hope the award serves as encouragement to other women in the industry that their contributions can be recognised and celebrated, inspiring them to strive for leadership in their own careers.

The award also highlights the importance of inclusion in the resources sector, sending a message that the industry values the perspectives and skills women bring to the table.

At Roy Hill, we are deliberate on both increasing representation of women in operational roles, as well as creating pathways for women into senior leadership roles. Through Mrs Rinehart’s leadership, we continue to implement initiatives that enable us to build a pipeline of talent for the future through higher numbers of women in our early careers programs which span across our trainees, apprentices, vacation and graduate programs.

It’s a complex challenge faced not only by the mining and resources sector, but all industries and sections of the community. I’m proud to be working for a company that is genuinely committed to encouraging more women into the industry and these events highlight the message to young women that their contributions matter, to aim high, seek support and be persistent.

What advice would you give to young women who are interested in, or are in the early stages of their career in your industry?

Embarking on a career in mining can be an exciting and rewarding journey. My advice would be to invest in your education, understand the qualifications required for the roles that you are interested in and pursue the relevant courses, certifications or degrees.

Build a strong professional network, attend industry conferences and connect with peers and mentors who can provide guidance and support. Seek out mentors, both male and female, who have experience in the mining industry.

Gain hands-on experience. Taking opportunities to work onsite to grow your understanding of the day-to-day operations of a mine is crucial for career growth. Be your own advocate, speak up about your career goals and don’t be afraid to negotiate for what you deserve.

Stay informed – keep up with industry trends and technological advancements. The mining sector is evolving and staying informed will help you adapt and remain relevant.

Be prepared for challenges. The industry can be demanding and sometimes male-dominated, so resilience and determination are key. Take care of your health and well-being; mining careers can sometimes involve long hours or remote work and your health matters.

Share your knowledge and experiences to be a positive role model for others and remember to support other women in the industry as you progress.

The mining industry offers a wide range of career paths, from engineering and geology, to finance and human resources. There’s a place for all skill sets and backgrounds and your unique perspective can contribute to the industry’s growth and innovation.

Lead by example and use your success to help others.

Featured image: Lily Meneghel speaking at the Chamber of Minerals and Energy’s 2024 Women in Resources Awards. Image: CME.

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