Australian Mining Prospect Award Winners: Woman of the Year – Liz Watts

Liz Watts has proven herself to be a strong role model for women in the mining sector. Working as the operations manager at Glencore’s Glendell mine, Watts is responsible for a workforce of over 380 people and a $200 million operating budget.

As a leader, Watts recognised early in her career that the mining industry was more about managing interactions with people and influencing outcomes than it is the ability to “move dirt and mine coal”. 

She holds the view that the skills required not only to survive but to excel centre around leadership and more importantly, leadership that results in positive change.

“The ability to effectively develop a vision, align the horsepower and energy of the team and move forward with compounding momentum was not on the curriculum of my mining engineering degree.  I have learnt the value of these skills through being exposed to leaders who emulate these attributes,” Watts said.

Watts’ own personal and professional objectives are centred around identifying opportunities to improve her own leadership ability so that she has more to offer the team around her in assisting them to reach their full potential.

Taking out this year’s Prospect Award for Woman of the Year, Watts said she recognised the importance of attracting more females to the mining sector.

The judges stated that Watts was recognised for being a positive role model that has “challenged the paradigm of women being not willing or able to perform such frontline roles in the open cut coal mining industry”.

Growing up in New South Wales’ Hunter Valley, Watts graduated with a Mining Engineering Degree in 2001, as the only female in a class of seventy.

Watts kicked off her career with Rio Tinto, progressing quickly through the ranks to be promoted to Superintendent level within four years of graduation.

In January 2012, Watts was promoted to the role of operations manager at the Glendell Mine which last year produced about 7million ROM tonnes. 

Watts now has the responsibility of managing a site with a workforce of over 380 employees and contractors and a $200 million operating budget.

Glencore said very few females exist in senior operational roles in the Hunter Valley coal mining Industry, stating that by taking on positions such as open cut examiner, production superintendent, mine manager and operations manager, Watts has reset the paradigm in terms of the aspirations and achievements of women in mining. 

With women in the NSW sector still under-represented, making up only 11 per cent of the state’s total workforce, Watts said there was a wealth of opportunities for anyone who wished to carve out a career in the sector.

“I think it’s more the fact that maybe females don’t have a full appreciation of the different roles and the different opportunities that are available within in mining which may be the reason for the low representation,” Watts said.

“From my experience, I haven’t found anything that really holds you back – if you want to get and have a go it’s certainly supported and endorsed.”

A passionate industry ambassador, Watts advised anyone who wanted to be involved in mining to figure out what they are good at and “go for it”.

“If you want to have a go, mining is the place to do it,” she said.

“There are so many aspects to mining that you’re not necessarily channelled into one path which is the great thing about mining- you’ve got so many diverse options.

“I would just say if you’ve got a high level of energy and you want to be creative, be in the outdoors and interact with people – mining is definitely for you.”

Watts has developed strong networks with women and mining professionals generally within the NSW coal mining Industry both internal and external to Glencore’s immediate business.

Most recently, Watts participated in discussions aimed at identifying industry recommendations to address Women Representation in Male Dominated Industries. This work is being facilitated by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

As a manager residing the local community, Watts actively contributes to the social fabric of the surrounding areas by facilitating support through Glendell for a number of local initiatives.

Glendell’s Corporate Social Involvement partners include the Mt Pleasant School (improvements to the school), Singleton Heights Pre-School (funding to establish a school Veggie Patch), Ovarian Cancer Appeal, Camp Quality, Singleton Junior Rugby and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter.  

Watts also has a keen interest in mentoring and providing support to candidates undertaking studies towards their statutory qualifications within the Coal Competence Board framework. She actively makes contact with these students and volunteers her time towards exam preparation and sharing her knowledge of open cut coal mining operations. She also facilitates study groups for both Open Cut Examiner and Open Cut Manager’s certificates of competence and assists learners with education / training issues, provides technical mentoring and supports and encourages these candidates to develop their understanding and application of industry frameworks.

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