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How To Be A Successful Woman In The Mining Industry

Jessica Barber moved from Canada to BHP Billiton’s Western Australian operations almost seven years ago. A natural leader, she wanted to become a mine manager before the age of 30. She ticked that box and is now a transformation lead at BHP Billiton Iron Ore in the Pilbara.

Barber is also WA Manager of the Year and a finalist in AIM’s 2015 Excellence Awards.


Our Mining Area C mine site employs 1000 people and I’m responsible for their continuous improvement mentoring and training. I work with the lead team to encourage a business-as-usual mindset about continuous improvement and to look for opportunities to improve safety, culture, volume and costs.


My background is mining engineering. I got a job with one of Rio Tinto’s Canadian operations straight out of university. It was a sink-or-swim environment and I paddled really hard to learn and take on as much as I could, and discovered I enjoyed the leadership side of things. I took on a consulting job in Calgary and later had an opportunity through a former colleague to work for BHP Billiton in Australia.


For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I always had visions of living on a boat. In my final year of high school, my career counsellor told me it was the number-one profession for people entering university at the time and there wouldn’t be a job for me when I finished. He looked at my subject transcript and told me I should be an engineer. I’m very happy with the decision I made.


Passion is probably the most important leadership trait. Humility is also important. Being a leader is about recognising that your entire job is to support the people who you work with. As a leader, my job is to get rid of the roadblocks for my people.


We’re rolling out a new training program that is redefining what we’re looking for in leaders. While most people are enjoying being trained in what we want in a leader, there are going to be people who will not fit into what we’re now looking for. The biggest challenge is respecting those people and what they’ve brought to the business, and finding the right role for them going forward. They’ve done nothing wrong; we’ve changed the goalposts.

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