Sabina Shugg was used to being the only woman in mining sites. Now she speaks about her experience and how to get more women into this industry.
Being the first woman to work as an underground mine manager in WA after being awarded the Western Australian First Class Mine Manager’s Certificate of Competency is quite an accolade in itself. But in the years since, KPMG’s National Lead, Mining Performance Sabina Shugg has gone on to receive a bagful of other awards for her work in the mining industry in WA.
In June 2015, Shugg was named on the Queen’s Birthday Honours Roll for significant service to the mining industry through executive roles in the resources sector, and as a role model and mentor to women. Other accolades include being named in the AFR Westpac 100 Women of Influence and the 100 Global Inspirational Women in Mining.
“It’s nice to be recognised, but it’s also particularly good for the industry to be recognised so people outside of the industry realise mining is not just for blokes,” said Shugg, who established Women in Mining and Resources (WIMWA) as a networking group back in 2003.
Recognising women in mining
Shugg established WIMWA upon moving to Perth. She had previously been working in remote locations in management and operational roles and was keen to establish her own network of women in the industry.
“I was feeling a bit isolated – I’ve felt that professional isolation throughout my career at different times,” she said.
“I thought it would be good to have a place where women could get together and share stories and find out what others were doing in their work and lives.”
For Shugg, WIMWA has provided an outlet where she has been able to share the challenges of everyday working life with her peer group. As she said: “A problem shared is a problem halved.”
Initially, the group met to hear speakers from the industry talk and to network with their peers. But over the years, this has grown to include a one-day conference called the WIMWA Summit, alongside the regular meetings. This year the event, which was held in September, sold out months in advance and attracted some 550 women from the mining industry in WA.
“I didn’t set out to establish WIMWA with the idea of getting awards, but I think it’s great recognition of the impact the organisation has had on the community and the mining industry here in WA,” Shugg said.
WIMWA has more recently branched out into mentoring, and programs matching pairs of 35 to 40 mentees with mentors are run twice a year.
On the right path
Shugg’s path into mining was an unintentional one. Initially she went to university to study arts, but after she was kicked off the course and in need of employment, she took a position in exploration as a field assistant at a gold mine in Kalgoorlie.
“I was in the geology department and managed all the sampling and so on. Then I worked as a surveyor and then I became a part-time pit supervisor,” she said.
It was while working in that role that she decided to start studying mining engineering through the WA School of Mines in Kalgoorlie, part of Curtin University.
“Over the next few years [while studying] I continued working at the same gold mine in Kalgoorlie and then in the long breaks in summer, I would go and work somewhere else for a couple of months. One summer I went to the US and worked in a big copper mine there.
“I think, having that ground level experience has certainly helped me understand all the things that people at different levels in the industry have to do.”
In WA a prerequisite for the First Class Managers Certificate is five years’ experience in and around mines, as well as specific underground experience.
“It’s good for the industry to be recognised so people outside realise mining is not just for blokes.”
“In underground mining there are lots of important things that go on in terms of ventilation, drill and blast and planning and so on, so you fulfill all these different roles in an effort to be a well-rounded engineer and manager,” said Shugg, who recommended that engineers make the most of the opportunity to gain experience doing relief underground management roles.
“A lot of these mines are FIFO, so people will be there one week and not the next, so there are some good opportunities to fill in as underground manager and get some experience that way before you actually go for a full-time underground manager job.”
A range of experience
In her career Shugg has worked as everything from a drill and blast engineer to an underground manager, and more recently for management consultancy Momentum Partners, acquired by KPMG last year. The work has allowed her to consult for some of her past employers, and see people she formerly gave jobs to progressing up the ladder. She shares the same pride in seeing WIMWA evolve into a strong community of women.
“The mining industry certainly has opportunities and it’s good to help ensure that there are a diverse group of people getting those opportunities, and people realising those opportunities and being successful and making a difference in their communities, families and lives.”
When pushed on the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated industry like mining, Shugg prefers to focus on the opportunities the industry poses as opposed to the challenges.
“The reality is that nearly all of our industries are male dominated, so we’re not that unique,” she said.
“I think if you put your best foot forward, have the right attitude, and get on and do things, people might initially cause you a bit of grief. But if you keep moving forward and keep on keeping on, they very often accept you.”
It’s important for her to spread the message to people outside the industry that mining offers opportunities for both sexes – whether it be a mine manager role or mining engineer role.