Celebrating Women in Mining: Honouring the trailblazers and nurturing the next generation

Joanne Henry’s journey and advocacy for empowering women in STEM and mining. A story of determination, risk-taking, and just giving it a go.

Each year on 15 June, for the International Day of Women in Mining, the mining industry honours the women who are involved in the sector, whether that be in the past, current or future. On this day, we seek to empower women and encourage them to express their passion for the industry as well as pay tribute to the industry’s achievement on gender inclusion to date.

Joanne Henry is the Project Manager for Technology at WesTrac with almost fifteen years’ experience in the mining industry. Originally from the UK, Jo started her career studying geophysics with geology at university to follow her passion for maths, physics and geography. At 21 she packed her life into a suitcase and moved to work on the back of a coal exploration rig in Queensland as an exploration geologist.

“I had no idea what an exploration geologist did, but figured I’d give it a go,” said Jo.

A few years later, Jo applied for a geophysicist role at a consultancy business. She originally lost this role to another applicant but didn’t accept that as a closed door. Instead, she continued to attend industry events to network and get to know the people who ran businesses she was interested in. Eventually, the person who took the role she originally applied for left the business, which gave Jo another opportunity to try again.

Joanne Henry in front of Cat Dozer

“I got in touch with the owner and asked if they were still recruiting for the role. I put myself out there, and my persistence and not backing down to a challenge got me the job.”

Jo worked in geoscience within the mining industry in Brisbane for nine years before relocating to Newcastle. Here, she joined WesTrac as a Project Manager for Technology.

“I never really chose any path but just followed opportunities that sounded interesting and challenging, and put myself out there to give them a go”, she said.

“Since I figured out what my drivers are and what I love, I’ve been able to take opportunities that align with that”.

Although for some, this journey to find out what makes you passionate isn’t as easy. Recognising this, Jo has been acting as a mentor for the Curious Minds program to help empower young women in high school to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), for the last seven years. This six-month hands-on program connects young women in years 9 and 10 who may have limited opportunities because of where they live or their socio-economic background, to mentors in the industry and other like-minded girls.

Jo was raised in a family where taking STEM subjects was normal and as a result, she had always felt supported in her choice of subjects during school and university, and with her career progression. Although, when she started mentoring it became apparent that not everyone has family support.

“A lot of girls second guess whether they’re smart enough to do science and maths,” she said.

“The program gives them that safe space to be who they are and say what they enjoy within those subjects without being called a nerd, and it opens up their horizons to different career opportunities that there might possibly be in STEM.”

Joanne Henry

In the nearly fifteen years Jo has spent in mining, she notes the brilliant people she has met in the industry as a highlight in her career, and for all the support and education they have provided throughout her various roles. This includes the opportunity to go underground at a coal mine in Queensland to observe seismic survey results and present the findings to the team. And most recently, working with WesTrac, Thiess, and Caterpillar® on an autonomous drilling project. This ground-breaking project accomplished several world firsts in the Cat® autonomous drilling journey. For her work on this project, Jo accepted the Technological Innovation Award at this year’s NSW Women in Mining Awards.

Jo’s advice to those wanting to enter the industry today is to simply give it a go.

“If it’s something that interests you, just go for it – your career is a big part of your life, you might as well do something you like.

“I’ve been in mining for so long now, it feels like home. I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had, and I’ve been able to create a career path that I am genuinely passionate about. I’d just really love to see more people, of any age or gender, have the opportunity to do that as well.”

Joanne Henry

If there is a key takeaway from Jo’s story, it's to keep trying even when a door closes, and that being uncomfortable and out of your comfort zone could lead you down an incredible career path.

For more information on careers at WesTrac, click below.

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