Tamara Chapple: “You don’t need to be one of the boys.”
Tamara Chapple has been in working in mining and resources since 2005 in training and safety roles. She’s the Learning and Development Superintendent for leading global mining group Rio Tinto.
Rio Tinto focuses on finding, mining and processing mineral resources. It recently became the first Australian mining company to become an accredited White Ribbon workplace, for taking active steps in the workplace to stop violence against women.
Why did you choose mining?
I think mining chose me. I have always had an aptitude for organising and getting things done. My background in agriculture provided me with an appreciation of machinery operations and maintenance, and working in environments that did not involve being inside the whole day. Mining offered me the opportunity to utilise these skills and provided resources to get things done (as long as I could provide the justification).
What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining industry?
I have always worked in environments that favoured my practical and logical nature – mining requires you to be both. You need to be able to be courageous when people are not behaving in an acceptable manner, right from the get-go – and while that may not make you the favourite, it does hold you in good stead for the years to come.
Could you tell us about some challenges you have faced in the resources sector and how you overcame them?
People generally want to know you care and that you know something meaningful about them. While I get that, come Monday morning I am thinking about what needs to be done or hasn’t been done. I am fairly task-orientated, and this, combined with a fairly reserved nature, has me sometimes approaching others more as resources than people. Early on in my career I would set a calendar invite just to make the time to talk to my team members about stuff! Today, while I am not quite as blunt, I do still think to myself after a few minutes of small talk, “Would it be too early to ask about the job I wanted done?”.
I think the notion of life balance is unattainable. Being a mum of four and working a full-time job with a partner who worked roster, I found the constant juggling act of combining school drop-offs, sporting events, meals, my partner’s roster, domestic duties etc., and then being able to flex to job requirements, quite challenging.
I recall making arrangements to run a training session in Emerald on a certain day of the week (I worked in Biloela). My boss called me into his office to see if I could change the date of the session to a day later. I said, “Sure no problem”, but internally I was thinking, “Holy heck”. I had nine different stakeholders (including daycare, what roster was my partner on, who would pick up older kids from school?, would I take my twins with me?, could I get daycare in Emerald? etc.) I had to consult in order to change the training out just by a day. I rarely made time for myself; there wasn’t any time left!
How did I overcome this circumstance? I had to come to terms with not being able to do everything. Life balance implies equal weighting; this is never the case. Family comes first (where it counts) but that doesn’t mean on the day that work may not take the priority.
You can’t beat yourself up about not having everything in order 100% of the time. I weighed up time cleaning and doing chores with time with my family, and family won out. I got some paid help with the house and I walk now most days. Once upon a time, I would not leave work until dark; today I am able to leave my desk without guilt, because I know just the smallest amount of time for me makes me a better mother, wife and worker.
What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about knowledge. I want people to know the right things to do and how to do them in order to keep themselves and others safe, productive and effective. I don’t want to waste time; I want any training or process that we do to make sense.
And most of all, I feel deeply about my responsibility to others. If there is something I do or don’t do that could impact on someone’s child’s, son’s, brother’s or mother’s safety, then I must be unrelenting in my efforts.
Any advice to young women starting out?
You don’t need to be one of the boys. Embrace the diversity; its ok to think a little differently to others – this generates ideas and improvements and provides a rounded approach.
Don’t be afraid to try something new. There is never the perfect time to take on a project that makes you feel a little out of your depth or to have a crack at work you may not (yet) know a lot about.
Lastly, don’t forget yourself in the chaos and momentum of life.