STEMM Profile: Alex Atkins | Geologist and Mining Engineer | Deloitte | Perth | WA
“I’m often frustrated by society’s polar opposite expectations for mums and for professional women – it’s impossible to meet both sets of expectations on your own and requires a reliable, non-judgemental and loving system of support”
A Chartered Professional Engineer and Fellow of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM), Alex has two Bachelor of Engineering degrees (Mining Engineering; Mining Geology), First Class Mine Manager’s Certificates (Western Australia, WA; Queensland, QLD); an MBA (Finance) and is a Graduate Member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
Alex’s mining career spans over 25 years in many commodities (gold, copper, lead, zinc, silver, tin, nickel, iron ore and coal). The first 15 years of Alex’s experience (pre-kids) was on-site operational mine management (mainly FIFO underground and mostly working for Placer Dome). Alex was in the first wave of female mining engineers/mine managers to work underground in WA, QLD, Tasmania and Papua New Guinea (PNG). This is followed by over a decade of consulting and regulatory roles – Alex was the first female WA District Inspector of Mines.
Alex is a regular industry speaker and published author, mainly on geotechnical risk and seed finance. As Manager at Deloitte, Alex adds value at the Board and Executive level on strategy-risk frameworks, audit and risk, legal compliance, financial modelling/valuations, data analytics, feasibility studies, due diligence and innovation.
Alex is a Director and Audit and Risk Committee Member of The AusIMM and Executive Director, Treasurer and Governance Committee Member of Earth Science WA. She sits on the AusIMM Consultant’s Society National Committee and the AusIMM Perth Branch Committee. Alex was previously a Director of Advocare (not-for-profit) and a national committee member for AusIMM’s Women In Mining Network (WIMNet). Alex is a trained and active mentor for Women In Mining WA (WIMWA), Curtin University, WA School of Mines and the University of WA.
Alex is a proud single mum of two young children. Her oldest child has high functioning autism. Since learning about autism, Alex has been on a journey of self-discovery. Alex’s parents help her with the kids so that she can progress her career.
What has been the biggest barrier you have faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
Women were not legally permitted in WA and QLD underground mines until 1986 and were still not legally permitted to work underground in PNG in the mid 90’s, so there were a lot of concrete obstacles and superstitious attitudes to overcome when I worked underground in these locations. I basically never gave up.
On one occasion in 1987, I turned up at a remote mining town to work for my Christmas break after having been hired as a vacation student (thanks to having a boy’s name). When I turned up at the office the manager tried to put me back on the bus saying there was nowhere for me to stay as they only had a Single Men’s Quarters (SMQ). I promptly located the local parish priest who found me a local family who offered me a bed in their garden shed for the summer holidays – and my job was secured!
What would you say is your most valuable personal attribute that has helped you succeed?
Remaining positive after setbacks – getting up and pushing on with a strong work ethic.
What support structures did/do you have in place that have facilitated your success?
My family, particularly my parents, are amazingly supportive. Most jobs in STEM (which are basically male-dominated) are not set-up to balance the opposing demands of parenting and work. I’m often frustrated by society’s polar opposite expectations for mums and for professional women – it’s impossible to meet both sets of expectations on your own and requires a reliable, non-judgemental and loving system of support.
Who and/or what inspires you to achieve?
Other accomplished STEM women, especially mums. They include NASA astronauts, women on boards, executives, partners at Deloitte and academics. They all inspire me to be the best I can be. The women who most inspire me are: Denise Goldsworthy, Sharon Warburton, Vanessa Guthrie, Julie Shuttleworth, Megan Clarke, Natalie Chapman, Erica Smyth, Melinda Hodkiewicz, Nicki Ivory and Penny Stewart. Most of these ladies are mums. They are all very composed, positive, smart and resilient.
How do we keep more females engaged in scientific careers? How do we retain women?
Our leaders must act to create an inclusive culture (not just talk!). Training on unconscious bias is needed to help women and men realise we all have ‘mind-bugs’ based on generations of social conditioning, which we need to correct. Leaders need to ‘walk the talk’ on flexible work, enabling virtual collaborations and a greater sharing of knowledge and opportunities through technology. Women need to be sponsored by senior leaders.
Follow Alex on Twitter: @AlexAtkins17