Helen Adamson details her extensive career in mining and gives advice to today’s future leaders
You’ll never get into engineering. Those were the words uttered to my best friend and I by our Physics teacher in our last year of high school. Twenty-five years later, reflecting on a career I have enjoyed immensely so far, I am pleased we didn’t listen.
I graduated as a Chemical Engineer from Curtin University and my first job was with an alumina producer. Alumina is what is used to make aluminium, one of the most globally used metals, and the production process is diverse, complex, and full of interesting chemistry and challenges. For that reason, I have pretty much spent my whole career in this industry, but it’s been full of variety in terms of roles and opportunities.
Entering the workforce as a young engineer, things were just beginning to change on the equal opportunity and discrimination front. Training was being rolled out to the male dominated workforce with the focus to change the hearts and minds related to gender paradigms. I could now thrive in my environment. As a graduate I was encouraged to do hands on field activities – pump tests, field trials, plant modifications - which was a great to collaborate, problem solve, and take on roles that stretched me, sometimes it felt too far, I was never unsupported.
This experience really set the tone for my career. It empowered me to speak up and share my thoughts, while also making me aware that creating a culture where people can do so without judgement was important. It gave me the courage to take on new challenges, which also helped me encourage others to step out of their comfort zone and do the same. It created my passion to help young engineers tap into their wealth of capability, which drove my desire to be involved in university engineering final year design projects, participate in graduate programs, and of course to mentor.
I joined Hatch after taking time out to start a family. I won’t say it was easy – moving from operations into design engineering is no simple task at the best of times, and with baby brain, which is a thing, it was much harder. What I found amazing and really appreciated was the culture. It was so supportive and aligned with my values. Hatch were happy to be flexible and for me to work part time, I had young kids of course, the people were welcoming and worked as a team. I could contribute my thoughts, ideas, and experiences easily. Once again, I found an environment where I could thrive.
I have now been with Hatch for 16 years, and although longer than I ever imagined when I joined, it is the: culture, people I work with, the experiences and opportunities I have had in being able to participate and make a difference in all manner of ways that make it important to me.
I am Hatch’s Global Director for Bauxite & Alumina and manage Perth Operations. I have recently returned to Perth after living in the UAE for nearly 8 years, and never imagined my career would have taken me to so many places and unique roles. Every leader today will at some point be replaced by a young person. So to the future leaders, if I have learnt anything from how I started out, it is to give it your best and work hard for what you want. Treat others as you want to be treated, support people with constructive feedback that helps them to achieve, and embrace diversity.
This article was written by Helen Adamson from Hatch, a Major partner for AusIMM's International Women's Day Event Series 2023.
Hatch is a Major Partner for AusIMM's International Women's Day Event Series. For more inspiring stories like Helen's, follow AusIMM on social media and the hashtag #CelebratingWomeninMining