Women in Mining Summit 2023 article header

The roadmap to leadership positions and sustained career success in the mining industry is fraught with challenges and women in particular face unique obstacles they must learn to navigate. In the lead up to the Women in Mining Summit 2023, Kanae Dyas, Workplace Support Manager from Anglo American and Rebekah Smiles, Senior Metallurgist at Northern Star Resources, shared insight into the challenges they have faced and overcome along their journey to positions of leadership.

Ms Dyas and Ms Smiles share the hard-won insights they’ve gained on:

  • Identifying and developing key character traits and skills an aspiring leader needs
  • Strategies to overcome obstacles that slow women’s path to leadership in mining
  • Key factors that will help you grow and succeed in your career
  • The lessons they wish they had learned earlier in their careers
  • Practical steps to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the industry

What’s one character trait or skill you see in successful leaders in the mining industry and how can an aspiring leaders build that strength?

Rebekah Smiles: “Successful leaders all have the ability to influence. When I think about the leaders I’ve looked up to the most in my career, the ones that have the most influence are those who put the time into their people. They build relationships with their direct reports, their superiors, and with the wider team around them. There is a feeling of mutual trust and open communication is welcomed. They are respected and they respect and value their team. They are extremely knowledgeable in their technical field, they understand the vision and needs of the business, are great communicators and help get everyone invested in the bigger picture.

“Many leaders in the mining game (myself included) have worked their way up from operational and/or technical roles – a space where you are largely recognised for your individual contributions – to leadership roles, where your success depends on your ability to influence a team of people to deliver the required outcomes. This requires a totally new skill set for most people.

“An aspiring leader can start building their influence as soon as they enter the workplace. Having a great work ethic and getting really good at your job is key, and so is taking an interest in the people around you; understand what motivates them, and what they see as hindrances in their jobs. Be genuinely curious and ask questions! Observe the leaders around you, taking on board the style and strategy that aligns with your values and taking note of what doesn’t. Identify those people you consider mentors and have regular conversations with them. You can learn a lot from someone who has walked the path ahead of you.”

Kanae Dyas: “Emotional Intelligence is a key element of successful leadership. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant, however EQ is critical as research shows that emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of overall performance, retention, organisational culture, the employee experience and their health, safety and wellbeing. Leaders with high emotional intelligence can utilise their emotions effectively to influence positive outcomes. This is vital particularly in safety-critical environments where high levels of psychological safety are required, and how psychosocial hazards are managed. Some leaders innately exhibit EQ and others may need coaching. It’s vital that we encourage, nurture and build the capability of leaders to authentically and confidently apply EQ to lead and support their teams safely and in a meaningful way.

“Historically we have been led to believe showing any form of the “soft skills” are an indication of weakness.  On the contrary this vital attribute is a skill in itself. To show one’s vulnerability, empathy and care and to be authentic is what resonates and inspires people.  It’s what connects us. To see, accept, and value people on a humanistic level rather than transactional interactions. As a leader it’s important to me how I influence outcomes not only for organisational performance but how I have led and supported those around me, and the impact I’ve had on others in a meaningful way. As leaders we should be asking ourselves regularly, “Did I ‘Show Up’ today and every day to make this a safe and inclusive workplace for those around me?”

What is a major obstacle that slows women’s path to leadership in mining and what’s a strategy to overcome that challenge?

Kanae Dyas: “In the mining industry there are several challenges women face but the most difficult is often the hidden hazards such as structural barriers and psychosocial hazards, indirect discrimination, and low levels of psychological safety.  These are harder to quantify, challenge and dismantle as these can often be embedded legacy issues and ingrained unconscious bias. We need to commit to reviewing these structures and have the courage to challenge and dismantle them to rebuild an inclusive and equitable environment that will support, develop, engage and retain female leaders. It starts with being an Ally, Defender and Advocate of female leaders to support them when they speak up, to create safe, inclusive and equitable opportunities for women, and to support them when they show up in being their whole-self.

“Secondly, as women we need to also be brave to not buy into self-limiting beliefs and imposter syndrome. Sometimes we may get in the way of our own success and even overcompensate. We tend to wait until we ‘perfect’ ourselves before we believe we are ready or worthy of opportunities. It’s vital to continue to develop our skills and confidence, engage with a career coach, take risks, surround ourselves with people who will challenge us in a positive way and elevate us. Invest in your health and wellbeing and relationships as your career is not a sprint. Although it may feel like it at times, you need to ensure you have the right support and strategies in place to help you sustain your journey, achieve your goals and overcome the challenges and setbacks. Importantly, back yourself and accept our imperfections as this is what makes us perfectly unique.

“Your point of difference is your currency.”

Rebekah Smiles: “One obstacle that can slow women’s path to leadership is the ‘motherhood penalty.’ For those women who do decide to have children at some point in their career, the process of taking an extended amount of time off work for parental leave, and then potentially taking on the majority of the childcare duties, often results in women returning to part time roles rather than full-time roles, or even working remotely. This lowers visibility and can lead to being overlooked for opportunities to progress.

“Whilst the progressive acceptance of flexible work arrangements plays a key role in retaining women in the workforce, I believe more work needs to be done to ensure that working parents are adequately supported with opportunities to develop and progress. Making paid parental leave available to both caregivers equally and for a sufficient period of time could encourage more women back to full time work. Alternatively rethinking leadership roles in mining and how they operate may be a step forward.”

 What is one thing that helped you grow and succeed in your career?

Rebekah Smiles: “Talent and work ethic aside, I owe so much of my career success to some awesome mentors (men and women) who believed in me and supported me with opportunities, for which I am eternally grateful. I also started working with an amazing career coach – an experience which, along with motherhood, I have found to be transformative. Having that direction and support is invaluable to success.”

Kanae Dyas: “Picking one thing as a defining factor is difficult as it requires several factors to grow and succeed in this industry.  For me it is five core principles that I live by and continue to apply:

  1. Stay true to my values and purpose of authenticity, care and respect. Am I living purpose and values? Am I making a meaningful difference to those around me?
  2. Being open to new opportunities in spite of the fear. Fail forward and quickly
  3. Align myself with positive people and projects that will challenge me professionally and personally to learn and grow
  4. Seek out mentors and sponsors
  5. Develop my brand and actively promote myself

Looking back, is there anything you wished you knew earlier or had done differently in your career? 

Kanae Dyas: “I’ve learned over the years not to spend time in the place of regret or to post-mortem past events as this can be damaging to our confidence and wellbeing. As women I feel we tend to do this to ourselves. I’m guilty of this, and even of having feelings of imposter syndrome, but I’ve become more seasoned in this space – it takes continued work. I’ve learned not to get stuck in the failures or try to perfect things.  Rather I believe the power is in embracing every situation no matter if it is a failure or success. It’s an opportunity to reflect, learn and grow. In my experience, and admittedly I have done this earlier in my career, too much time can be spent trying to perfect things and prepare for risk mitigation. We’ve had to do this based on the structural bias, stigma and stereotypes that society and institutions have created so we tend to overcompensate and question our abilities, sometimes resulting in missed opportunities.  

“I would say to my younger self, ‘Listen and trust your intuition, back yourself, you don’t have to have everything figured out, just give it a go, the learning is in the doing. Fail forward and quickly, don’t compare yourself to others, run your own race, hone your craft and step into the face of fear. You will be okay. In fact, you will be better than okay, you’ll be great.’ I feel I’m where I’m supposed to be living my purpose. The path I’ve chosen for myself was on my terms. The highs and the lows have brought me here doing what I love.”

Rebekah Smiles: “Looking back at my early career I was quite competitive, and it took me a while to realise it’s not actually a competition and helping other people succeed feels amazing! The only person I need to be better than is myself! I’m a work in progress and that’s okay.

“If I could go back, I would not miss an opportunity to help another woman shine. I would jump into working on myself and I would get myself a coach ASAP.”

What are some practical steps women in the mining sector can take to promote diversity, equity and inclusion?

Rebekah Smiles: “At a base level, I think everyone can promote an inclusive and diverse workforce by taking an interest in and getting to know our co-workers. Wherever possible, we can help people to succeed – give feedback, and mention names and examples of jobs well done. We can advocate for others when they may not feel safe to advocate for themselves.

“The other very important thing we can do is succeed ourselves. The more women and the higher women climb up the ladder – the more influence we can have.”

Kanae Dyas:

  1. Support each other. We’re in this together. Celebrate and elevate each other, create a positive and collective movement where women feel safe, valued and supported within the workforce. There is enough room at the table for all of us – and if there ever isn’t, create it
  2. Create and promote inclusive, equitable and safe spaces for marginalised women in mining. Culturally and Racially Marginalised (CARM) women experience higher rates of discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment. Be an ally and promote cultural safety. It’s critical that women of culture and colour in the mining industry are supported, represented,  and provided the same opportunities where our voices and skills are heard and valued
  3. Be a mentor and/or sponsor to develop and progress women in their careers

Attend the Women in Mining Summit to hear from Rebekah Smiles, Kanae Dyas and a host of other inspirational mining leaders from 8-10 August 2023. Learn more here.

Mining Magazine is a media partner of the Women in Mining 2023 event. 

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