Michelle Tracey doesn’t like to talk too much. A leader with over 30 years of engineering experience, she’s much happier “getting on with it”. Indeed, a quick look at her resume shows she’s done just that.
A world of experience, a fresh opportunity
Having graduated from chemical engineering in 1988, Michelle spent twelve years at an aluminium smelting company, progressing through seven roles while also doing an MBA and meeting her husband-to-be. From there, she moved into focusing on project delivery, working for both the owners’ companies and also for EPCM consultants and contractors. That gave her the opportunity to travel, work and live in China, Canada, Jamaica, Solomon Islands, Chile, USA, Columbia and Peru; her favourite location. She later returned to Australia and ended up working for BHP in Adelaide. Following a short stint in South Australia, Michelle moved back to Brisbane in late 2018 accepting a unique and exciting career opportunity with South32.
As Project Director at Eagle Downs Coal Management, Michelle oversees a project developing an underground longwall metallurgical coal project near Moranbah in Queensland. She is accountable for the ongoing care and maintenance of the mine site, and for activities including site investigations and exploration drilling programs. She also leads the team developing the feasibility study and execution plan for the billion-dollar project.
“I wanted to get back to Brisbane, so this role is a great opportunity. To have a marquee project delivered from here is rare and is going to become rarer and rarer.”
Michelle is also enjoying the connection she has with South32, a company and employer bringing a fresh approach.
“South32 is a smaller, younger, more dynamic business than many in this space. We have a less hierarchical structure and there’s room to develop and shape processes. But we’re also large enough to have strong values and strong delivery. At South32, we value safety very highly; one of our breakthrough commitments is that we guarantee that everyone goes home safely at the end of every shift. That’s a core personal value for me. As a leader, my primary role is to create a safe workplace, and South32 expects that I will absolutely deliver.”
I&D: less talk, more action
Michelle also feels positively about South32’s focus on inclusion and diversity (I&D). She’s proud to be helping them create “an inclusive workplace where we hold ourselves and each other to account to deliver our values, and where everyone's unique differences are recognised, valued and celebrated.”
Michelle is no stranger to I&D in mining, having experienced positive early thinking and action earlier in her career.
“Back in the 80s and 90s, I was fortunate to work with some really progressive thinkers in terms of inclusion and diversity, so I had fabulous mentoring, support and progression as well as some significant challenges. From 1997 to 2000 I was in a management team that was gender neutral and that delivered 25% female participation across all roles. Today, some companies are talking the talk but they’re not achieving even what we were then. At South32, there are people I’ve known for 30 years, including some of those same people driving gender diversity all those years ago.”
Michelle says that South32 are actively delivering a range of I&D initiatives with a ‘less talk, more action’ approach which she clearly finds refreshing.
“Led by our CEO, Graham Kerr, we have diversity in terms of age, gender, race, sexuality and culture. Our Chair is a woman and our Board is 40% gender-balanced. Graham’s leadership team is the same. There are great opportunities around flexible working, and we have internal targets because what you can’t measure, you don’t manage.”
As an experienced leader in her field, Michelle has much insight and perspective to offer on I&D in mining. And while others might put their feet up and feel they’ve done their bit, Michelle is pushing harder than ever for an equitable, inclusive industry.
“I’m at a stage of my career where I’m no longer apologising for calling people out. I’m in a position where I can use my voice, hold others to account and say, ‘If not, why not?’ Last week, a prospective contracting partner told me their diversity target is 2%. They were trying to say how hard it is. I said, ‘I’m running at 35% so tell me again why this is so hard?’ We need to have the dialogue.”
Michelle is clear that I&D goes well beyond gender:
“We talk about gender because it’s the easiest one to measure. But in the same way, for example, I want to influence indigenous employment, and also bring in other talent from outside the mining industry. The coal industry in Queensland can be a particularly closed shop. It can be very hard to walk into if you haven’t had 35 years of experience doing the same thing. I’m trying to use this opportunity to help others progress and help the business achieve greater diversity.”
We ask Michelle what advice she’d offer other leaders trying to move the dial on I&D:
“You’ve got to lean in to it; it requires determination and tenacity. We’ve brought in an indigenous trainee, and it’s taken far longer than it should of – sometimes you feel like it’s all up-hill pushing. But I’m still pushing; I’m not taking the easy path.”
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