Mother's Day Spotlight: Chris Gibbs Stewart
This was originally published by Davey Bickford Enaex.
Christine Gibbs Stewart became CEO of Austmine in 2014, but she hasn’t had what you’d call a ‘typical’ mining career.
“In my early career I was selling industrial products all over Central America,” Christine says. “Everyone thought I worked for the CIA because that was more believable than me selling a boiler to a cement factory in Guatemala.”
She has never shied away from working in male-dominated industries, but mining didn’t initially jump out to her as the place where she would find her calling. When she found her way in, it wasn’t via a passion for the commodities themselves, but for the global business network of the industry, specifically the Mining Equipment, Technology and Services (METS) sector.
“When I worked in the US, I used to do a bit of business with Codelco, and when I moved to Australia I got introduced to METS,” she says. “I got involved in METS as my expertise is in international business and export development, and of course, METS is a natural fit given how internationally focused the sector is. The METS sector kind of sucked me in to where I now have a deep passion for it to succeed. This happened through the great companies that make up the METS sector, exciting stories of international conquests, the really cool innovations, and most importantly the fantastic and inspirational people who are part of METS.”
According to Christine, there are great advantages to being a woman in an industry like mining. “Women are natural negotiators, are skilful at bringing people together and are great at building relationships,” she says. “All my career I have worked in heavily male dominated industries and I haven’t found being a woman a disadvantage at all. Sure, some situations can be tricky, but if you handle them right you will earn greater respect. It will be a great day when we don’t have to talk about leadership through a gender lens and we focus on experience and results versus how high your heels might be.”
There are a lot of forums and events which bring women in mining together to share stories and celebrate success,” she says. “The AusIMM’s Women in Mining is one of the groups I am involved in from time to time.”
AusIMM’s Women in Mining network is an initiative that functions at a national level, with state branches, to attract women to the minerals industry and support inclusion and career development. Christine also works to recognise and champion the role of women within Austmine, particularly via STEM opportunities.
“We have a really great group of women who are involved with Austmine, and while women might not be the majority of people in the room at our events, it is important that we are well represented and so I am proud to be part of that,” she says.
Austmine also runs a STEM METS Career Pathway Program which places students studying STEM into internships with our members. About half the participants in this are women and a high percentage of these go on to have a METS career.
One hurdle to attracting young people to a mining career is the fact that many are not aware of the breadth of possibilities within the industry, particularly within technology and innovation.
“When we talk to students about careers in the METS sector they are blown away with the opportunities available,” she says. “Our program last year received over 400 applications for the internships available.”
The solution? Shifting the way we talk about mining as a career, as well as sharing more stories like Christine’s to highlight the unique pathways and opportunities that can bring someone into the industry - and keep them there.
“Mining is not about being in some remote location digging rocks out the ground,” Christine says. “It is also about finance, design, communications and data. Many people working in mining get to travel the world to amazing places and it offers an opportunity to work for some of the world’s most innovative companies.”
One thing the mining industry does very well, according to Christine, is invest in its people, and retain the best and brightest. This is achieved through a range of innovative and future-focused programs, projects and partnerships.
“There are several private-public partnerships to advance training and skills development in growing technology areas like automation,” she says. “I would actually like to see the mining engineering degree re-designed to focus on the important technologies coming to the fore in mining. Not enough credit is given to the high-tech knowledge and skills that we possess and are needed in the METS sector. I hope one day to see a mining innovation degree. That would be something terrific to pioneer here in Australia.”
While we are in the midst of difficult and uncertain times, Christine believes the resilience of the mining industry in the wake of COVID-19, and its ability to pivot to remote working and innovation in the interim, will demonstrate its value as an Australian employer in the long term.
“It is very exciting to work in an industry that contributes so much and makes a real difference to the Australian economy,” Christine says. “No doubt mining will be front and centre in leading the recovery. That is something to be really proud of.”
Thank you to Chris for being a part of our Mother's Day series, highlighting women in Mining.