Bronwyn Barnes is the Chamber of Minerals and Energy’s Outstanding Woman in Resources Award winner for 2015. Jane Goldsmith and Rachel Dally-Watkins spoke to Ms Barnes about her diverse executive career to date.
Q. What is your educational background?
In 1988, I earned a Bachelor of Arts in French and Medieval History from the University of Western Australia, and in 1992, received my Graduate Diploma of Business (Management) from Edith Cowan University.
I’ve done several other awards and course throughout my career – I studied Corporate Reputations, as well as Company Law at Edith Cowan; Leadership at the Creative Leadership Centre in San Diego; and in 2012, I completed a Company Directors course at the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
Q. What steps did you take to reach your current role, as the chair of Windward Resources?
I have more than 16 years experience in the resources sector in WA, Australia and overseas, mainly transitioning early stage development projects and exploration assets into project development assets. I’ve had the opportunity to be heavily involved in strategic planning work, business planning and working at very high executive level inside an organisation.
I started my career in January 1993, in the research and development sector. I began as an interpreter and translator for Transcom International in Australia, which was dealing with a French company. From that role, I progressed up to head of investor relations, marketing and government lobbying.
I was then approached by Anaconda Nickel to run their Federal Government lobbying program. I started part-time in January 1998, coming off maternity leave, and ended up in a full-time role shortly after that. My department merged with corporate affairs and I ended up running Anaconda’s new corporate affairs department. I then embarked on a long career of leading corporate affairs for various resources companies in WA.
To skip a few years, I joined WMC’s executive leadership team WA prior to the takeover by BHP in July 2005. I was there for about two years before I left the ‘major world’ to become managing director of ASX-listed explorer Graynic Metals, where I worked in Guatemala and Cuba.
After Graynic, I moved into executive board roles and leadership teams on strategic planning, looking at project development and acquisition. For the last four years, I have been working on a project in West Africa, transitioning the project from an exploration asset into a development asset.
Q. What is your most enjoyable role to date?
I loved them all, to be quite frank. They’ve all been quite different. I do particularly enjoy the opportunity to work offshore. I think the WA mining industry can contribute a lot to the development of emerging nations’ mineral industries, and I’ve very much seen that first hand in my roles in Central America and West Africa. I have enjoyed the opportunity to transfer the knowledge base we have here into developing countries, as they move forward to develop their own mineral industries.
I also like working in the mineral development space in general. I think it’s a very exciting phase to be involved in, as opposed to project operations.
I’ve also really enjoyed working with different groups of people. I had a wonderful opportunity to work with Twiggy [Andrew Forrest] at Anaconda and after that, I went back and did some work for him in the early days of Fortescue. Working for majors is always a fantastic opportunity to understand the drivers of the larger, diversified miners. . I have been very fortunate to work with so many great companies and in so many different locations in Australia and overseas.
Q. Congratulations on receiving CME’s Outstanding Woman in Resources Award in March. What are your thoughts on gender equality in the resources industry?
It’s quite a complex issue. We want diversity and equality in the industry, but the industry supports so many roles and so many different facets – ranging from site to the boardroom, and from technical to administrative – the scope is quite large and I don’t think there is any one thing that can be done to have an impact across all areas.
For me, I look at women in the space I operate in – senior leadership roles. We still have a long way to go in terms of greater female representation in executive ranks. I think it’s about boards making it a priority: when they come to select board members, they have to put some effort into targeting women. That’s one of the major challenges we still have ahead.
Q. What are some of the barriers to women’s involvement in mining, and what can be done to overcome these?
In the resources sector, we need to encourage female students to make career choices which will lead to their participation in the sector and emphasise the value they bring to it. They need to know it’s an open opportunity for them.
I think the fundamental barriers to women in the workplace, generally, include access to education and access to childcare. Childcare in Australia is incredibly tough in terms of both access and cost. We also need to look at the workplace a little differently: this model of ‘working 9 to 5, five days a week’ is an outdated model. It works fine for some people, but there’s a large proportion of our working population for whom it doesn’t work.
We need to have a more flexible attitude towards how to juggle parenting while still making a contribution to the workplace.
Unless we actively tackle these issues, they will remain ongoing, major barriers to women in the workforce on an equal basis.
Q. What roles and responsibilities do you fulfil as the independent director of the Martu People in Port Hedland?
My role is a part of an interesting board structure, that we’re seeing become more and more prevalent in indigenous communities. These communities have access to large ‘buckets of money’, which generally come from Native Title agreements. Bodies are set up to manage and disperse the funds in an appropriate manner, in line with the wishes of the community but also in a manner that falls under a governance framework.
Independent directors on indigenous trust are in a minority; there are usually only one or two independent directors on these boards, and they work together with other majority board members, who are members of the community.
My role is very much about skills and knowledge transfers; sharing skills and knowledge around strategic and business planning, budgeting, corporate governance, conflicts of interest, and just generally ensuring disciplined decision-making processes.