It might be a traditionally male-dominated field, but more and more women are carving out successful careers in operational industries.
We spoke to 14 women smashing career goals in the operations sector and asked them to share their advice for women looking to get ahead in a male-dominated industry and how their WORK180 Endorsed Employer supports their career ambitions.
Rebecca Sellars, Operational Readiness Specialist, Hatch
What’s it like to work at Hatch? “As a minority in a male-dominated industry, it’s encouraging for me that Hatch acknowledges the benefits of a diverse workforce and is actively fostering that culture.
At Hatch, I’ve had great managers and mentors that have advocated for me to take on a wide range of challenging assignments aligned with areas in which I want to grow professionally. I’ve also been sponsored to participate in both technical and leadership professional development.”
Her advice? “You’re valuable and so is your time, so be confident in your abilities and self-promote. We all have equal opportunity, so don’t let people talk you down or take advantage of you.”
Sarah Palmer, Project Manager – Capital Projects, Boral Australia
Her advice? “Stand up and speak up! Say 'yes' to opportunities that present themselves, even if you don't have direct experience in the role. Back yourself, be true to your values and be clear on your priorities.”
Claire Lendrum, Senior Project Engineer, Laing O'Rourke
Her advice? “In the early stages of your career, grab challenging opportunities with both hands – see it as an adventure. Because there might be times in the future where you’re unable to pick and choose your opportunities due to family obligations.
Be courageous and confident in your abilities. Have a desire to learn – it’s ok not to know everything. It’s amazing how at the beginning of the day/week/project we might feel overwhelmed by the enormity of a task, but dig in, focus, ask questions and it won’t be long before others are coming to you for advice.
Finally, be respectful to those around you. It takes a team with vastly varying skills to construct a successful project.”
Tania Peterson, Senior Engineer, Robert Bird Group
Her advice? “If your organisation doesn’t have a formal mentorship program, communicate your goals to a superior and find someone committed to your development. When you have someone that advocates for you, doors will open.”
Shalee Tull, Trainer with a Certificate III in Surface Operations – Curragh coal mine, Thiess
How has Thiess supported you? “I needed to balance my family life, and I find the benefits of the even time roster, lifestyle and consistent income worth it.”
Tarnya O’Hara, Project Team Lead – Olympic Dam South Australia, UGL
What’s it like to work at UGL? “I love the variety and challenges of my job. It’s never boring, and I’m learning new things every day. I have progressed very quickly at this site and feel supported.
To the women considering a career at UGL, I would say ‘just do it’. UGL is on the front-foot with implementing a lot of gender diversity initiatives, and are proactive in providing opportunities and support for women in non-traditional roles.”
Her advice? “Always ask questions.”
Sarah O’Reilly, Operations Commercial Partner, Winc Australia
What’s it like to work at Winc Australia? “I’ve worked in supply chain operations for a number of years, and it’s great to see at Winc’s Richlands DC there are many women in the team. We have women picking, packing, driving forklifts, unloading trucks, doing inventory tasks and managing DC teams. In fact, I have an all-female team.”
Her advice? “Believe in yourself – you can do anything put in front of you. Don’t fear being outside your comfort zone, embrace it! Ask questions, be curious, and you’ll be surprised how much you’ll learn.”
Gail Farlow, Acting Area Manager South – Field Services, Unitywater
What’s it like to work at Unitywater? "During my nine years at Unitywater, I’ve always been well supported and encouraged by my leaders and colleagues to pursue my career and personal goals. I have had the opportunity to participate in training and mentoring programs, act in higher level roles and been given access to a wide network of people to support my development journey.”
Her advice? “Be a good communicator, be open to opportunities and feedback, and continue to learn anything and everything that comes your way. You’ll be required to go out of your comfort zone at times but that’s healthy. Test yourself."
Verushka Potter, Mechanical Fitter, Alcoa
What’s it like to work at Alcoa? “I recently completed my Mechanical Fitting Apprenticeship with Alcoa, and I’ve secured a 12-month contract as a qualified tradesperson at the Kwinana Alumina Refinery. Mid-way through my apprenticeship, my personal circumstances changed, and I became a single mother. I’m grateful for the support Alcoa provided me during this change, particularly in being flexible with my working arrangement.
I enjoy the diversity of equipment and jobs I get at Alcoa, and see opportunities to grow my career here.”
Wanya Gu, Project Quality Engineer, Alstom
Her advice? “Be brave and ask questions. Your team members are willing to provide opportunities and share their knowledge, you just need to ask. Some challenges are difficult to tackle, even frustrating, just breathe and take your time. Remember to celebrate your development, no matter how small the achievement.”
Marcelle Watson, Geology Superintendent, Evolution Mining
How has Evolution Mining supported you? “A flexible work arrangement allows me to start later so I can drop my son off at before school care. Without this flexibility, I would not be able to perform this role. It’s very important to me that I can attend special school functions that occur during normal work hours such as certificate presentations and sporting events. I make up the time spent offsite at these events. I greatly appreciate this flexibility.”
I’ve recently been promoted to Superintendent – Discovery & Resource Definition, an opportunity I’m so very grateful for as it will round out my experience across the geology disciplines at Evolution. It also means leading a bigger team, managing a bigger budget and supporting the team to find a new discovery.”
Tahnee Rettke, Regional Maintenance Leader, Aurizon (pictured middle)
Her advice? “Build respectful relationships and tap into the depth of knowledge around you – 99% of the time people will happily share their knowledge with you.
Verbalise your ambitions with your leaders and ask for feedback on your development. If there is an area that interests you, ask if there are upcoming opportunities to back fill in roles within that area.
Make the effort to get involved in new initiatives and wrap your arms around any training that comes your way.”
Carla Devine, Divisional Operations Director, ITW
Her advice? “Don’t be afraid to take or ask for an opportunity outside your expertise and comfort zone. It is when you’re outside your comfort zone that you gain the experiences and learnings to progress.
Taking the leap to move from finance to operations was one of the scariest career moves I’ve made but it has definitely been the most rewarding.”
Kelsea Kurtzer, Mining Engineer – Medium Term Prominent Hill, OZ Minerals
What’s it like to work at OZ Minerals? “At OZ Minerals, I’ve been presented with a number of opportunities to develop my career, and likewise I’ve been supported when asking for opportunities, be it training, a professional development event or to follow career aspirations.
Working for OZ Minerals has been a very positive experience for me. I have managers that are really supportive and open to discussing all ideas. Recently I have also completed a period of flexible working that has allowed me to better work my roster around my role requirements and personal life.”
Her advice? “Express your career aspirations, whether that be to a leader or mentor. Once you have people around you that know where you want to go, you can start working together on a plan to get you there. Take the opportunity, don’t wait until you’re 110% ready.”
Subscribe to our fortnightly Women at Work email to find out about new stories, events and career building resources
About the author
WORK180 is a jobs board with a difference! We pre-screen employers on paid-parent leave, pay equity, flexible working arrangements and more. Find your dream job here.