Celebrating Women in Mining | Tan Farquhar
Women in Resources Awards finalist, Tan Farquhar is an extremely accomplished mining professional. After surviving life-saving heart surgery and the violent unrest in Zimbabwe as a child, she was the first in her family to go to university. She also became one of the youngest superintendents at Rio Tinto, at age 26.
Can you tell us about your role at Rio Tinto?
My current role is Principal People Empowerment, which was created when we started deploying the Rio Tinto Safe Production System (RTSPS) across our Iron Ore operations. RTSPS is a transformational program that empowers our frontline team members and encourages a mindset of supportive leadership and continuous improvement. It’s an interesting role as it enables me to draw on my background in both management consulting and operations. No two days are the same! The part I love about my job the most is making a difference for our team members on site through implementing transformational change as part of a global organisation. I love hearing about how we have simplified their work, or when they are feeling more engaged and empowered. I get to work with so many talented and passionate individuals who inspire me every day!
Can you tell us about your experiences in the industry early on?
At 26, I was one of the youngest Superintendents and one of a few female leaders on site. Being a young female without operational experience had its challenges initially, and I often experienced impostor syndrome. I got remarks such as ‘you’re too young to be a leader’ or ‘you got the role because you’re female,’ but I drew inspiration from my past and focussed on what I could control. I surrounded myself with a support network of people I could learn and grow from. I was able to demonstrate my leadership and technical skills in an unfamiliar and uncertain environment.
My leaders at Rio have supported me through my career journey to get me where I am now. They believed in my capability, which helped push me to continue to grow personally and professionally.
Congratulations on being a finalist for the Outstanding Young Woman Category in the CME, Women in Resources Awards! What does this Award mean for you personally?
Thank you! I am incredibly honoured to be nominated as a finalist. The annual event recognises the power of gender diversity in the WA mining & resources sector and highlights the significant efforts of individuals and companies to continue progress in this area. My journey and experiences to date has meant I’ve had to navigate life with courage and resilience. I live every day to the fullest, with empathy for others and jump at new challenges with determination. I hope I’ve inspired others to have the courage to have an open mind, step outside their comfort zone, try something new, and even consider a career in the mining and resources sector.
Growing up in Zimbabwe, I never would have thought I would be where I am now, let alone a finalist in the CME Awards. I’m so grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had, and I want to make sure I provide the same mentoring and support for others. It’s important to recognise that everyone has a unique story and that even if you’ve had challenges in your life, the possibilities are endless if you’re given a chance, the right support and work hard.
There is still work to be done to increase gender diversity in resources. What can organisations do to attract a diverse talent pool?
I think organisations need to continue to find ways to actively foster inclusive environments and encourage authentic leadership. Their leadership combined with a physically and psychologically safe environment will help team members to be supported and flourish. I admire the Transferrable Pathways programs Rio Tinto has initiated, recognising leaders in other industries, and attracting candidates to mining. It would be great to see other initiatives like this in our sector.
Organisations need to make it easier for women returning from parental leave to re-enter the business. It’s great to see organisations such as Rio Tinto, leading the way with gender-neutral parental leave and flexible work opportunities but there could be more done across our industry to support new parents get back into work.
What changes, if any, have you noticed since you transitioned into the resource sector, with regards to diversity and inclusion?
Since joining the resources sector, I have noticed a change in the importance placed on women joining mining. I have seen an increase in the recruitment drives to get more women into the resource sector and I feel that many companies are prioritising this.
When Rio Tinto released the Every Day Respect report, I thought it was confronting to read at first but then I felt proud to work somewhere that publicly called out the behaviours they want to change and the work needed in that space. I’ve really felt there has been a shift with the culture since the report and the creation of the Building Everyday Respect initiative. The changes we’ve seen in training, facilities and information has been felt and it only continues to grow.
What’s great to see is that it’s not just Rio but also other companies making positive changes and steps towards diversity, and inclusion. It’s not going to be an overnight quick fix - changing culture and behaviours takes time, but we are on the right track.
The Transferable Pathways program is a great example of taking a chance on different ways to include more women in mining. Thinking outside the box for new ideas and programs or pathways is essential to continue to move forward.
You volunteer at Women in Mining WA and the WA Mining Club Young Professionals, aswell as mentor through the UWA Career Mentoring Program. What does it take to be a good mentor?
Mentoring has always been important to me. Everyone’s journey is unique, and I love helping people own their potential and find that spark that helps them flourish.
To me, a good mentor is someone that listens to you, is relatable, caring, and able to provide constructive support. They create a space that enables you to step outside your comfort zone and have honest two-way conversations without judgement. They bring a strong commitment to confidentiality and approach the relationship with a high trust peer-to-peer mindset. It’s up to the mentee to make the most of the mentoring and drive the success. It’s important to remember that building trust takes time and mentoring is about sharing, be brave and ask for feedback.
I’m fortunate to have a couple of brilliant mentors, internally at Rio Tinto and externally through WIMWA who I trust wholeheartedly, that I can turn to for advice and inspiration, whether it’s to help guide me through decisions, navigate challenges or even be my cheer squad when I need a pick me up.
I think it’s important to take the time to understand the individual’s personal interests and strengths, to help them draw out how they can contribute and grow in the best way that suits them. This helps with establishing a clear purpose and creating impactful goals.
What advice do you have for women who want to thrive in a career in mining?
I often find women, hold themselves back from applying for roles and speaking up in forums with subject matter experts when they think they might not have experience - when really, they do! It is essential that people define their strengths and have the courage to share these and promote themselves. I understand how difficult this can be as it’s something I have had to work hard on myself. I want to help people overcome these hurdles by advocating for them and providing them with support and encouragement.
Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to give people the courage to go after those positions or use their voice in a way they didn’t think was possible. I believe if people work hard, paired with the right behaviours and values, they should be given the opportunity to advance in their career. People can thrive if they are given the chance and the right support.
Rio Tinto is an Signature Partner for AusIMM's International Women's Day Event Series. For more inspiring stories like Tan's, follow AusIMM on social media and the hashtag #CelebratingWomeninMining or catch up via our latest news!