In Melanie McCarthy’s birthplace of Broken Hill, it was once the rule that a woman had to give up her job when she married.
It was the case when her own mother wed in the 1970s.
But it has been a different story for the Goornong resident.
Ms McCarthy has not only maintained a successful career while building a family, she has officially been recognised as a trailblazer in a field in which few women work.
Last week, she was named the 2018 Exceptional Woman in Australian Resources at the Women in Resources National Awards in Canberra.
Ms McCarthy is the executive general manager of Mandalay Resources’ mine at Costerfield near Heathcote, making her the head of the multinational company’s Australian operation.
Her promotion to the position some 18 months ago made her the first-ever female mine site manager in Victoria.
Resources is a field that is overwhelmingly male: in fact, the federal Workplace Gender Equality Agency says mining is the most male-dominated industry in Australia.
The industry’s workforce is made up of just 16 per cent of women.
Only 2.8 per cent of chief executive officers and 14.8 per cent of key management personnel are women.
Ms McCarthy notes there a huge change has taken place in employment for women since her mother was barred from work upon marriage.
But she said she would not have expected, as an engineering student at university 20 years ago, that there would today be awards celebrating women in the sector because of their rarity.
But why are there so few women in the industry?
Ms McCarthy believes it is down to the difficulties in maintaining a career while having a family.
“When people think of mine sites, they think of the ones in the middle of WA, the ones where people have to fly in and out to, and how can you have a family and still work?” Ms McCarthy said.
She said she was somewhat unique in that she managed to live regionally, working at a mine site, while having her family.
A lot of women, she said, would move to the cities to maintain a career and family, somewhere they could access childcare and other supports.
Ms McCarthy said the challenge for companies with more remote sites was in making work more flexible, to allow people to work and still have their families close.
Some companies were bringing in more flexible working arrangements, even for fly-in fly-out work, she said.
She said this issue was also the reason her own company had invested in the Heathcote Children’s Hub, to provide childcare.
Ms McCarthy believes the present is a good time for young women considering entering mining and the resources industry.
A lot of the big companies had set gender equality targets, she said, and there were scholarships and the like available to encourage more women to make a career in the industry, which already invested heavily in its people.
Ms McCarthy said there were also “amazing” things happening in the technology side of the industry, noting that the driverless technology that was entering society had originated in resources.
“The diversity in it is you’ve got the technology, you’ve got the amazing training, you’ve got being connected to communities, making a difference, being able to grow your family, [to] grow your wealth and what’s possible for you and what’s possible for your family,” Ms McCarthy said.
The resources sector is an industry Ms McCarthy is evidently passionate about.
Her father was an engineer and once manager of Sovereign Hill, and she remembers as a child playing there, and how exciting it was.
But she said that while studying chemical engineering at university, she did not know she would go on to do what she did.
It was a few years into her graduate career that she decided she wanted to work underground, so went on to further study to allow her to pursue that.
Over the course of her career she has spent about 10 years as an engineer and 10 years as a manager, working in far-flung places across Australia.
Her move into management came about because, throughout her career, she found herself critiquing her own managers and how she would do things differently or better.
“That sort of propelled me to think ‘I could do that’... the more you step up, the more you see your skills are just as valuable as, say, your boss’ skills, or that you bring something different to the table,” Ms McCarthy said.
Ms McCarthy said she had not experienced any challenges as a manager in a male-dominated industry, noting she had never known differently and describing the sector as one that was welcoming and supportive.
One area in which she believes women particularly excel when in leadership is cultivating more leaders.
She explains that because women like herself often do have family and other interests outside work to take care of, they have to delegate and give others more responsibility.
While there was a lot of negative discourse around how women could do everything, Ms McCarthy said, “I think you just do the best you can, and you actually rely on others to step up, and that’s how you build the capability within businesses as well”.
Ms McCarthy said she would not ordinarily have put herself forward for such an award as the one she just claimed, but with so few women in the resources industry, she wanted to show it was possible to reach the pinnacle of one’s career and still be a mum.
She sees the honour as one for the whole region, a place already home to “amazing” female leaders, including the City of Greater Bendigo mayor, the state and federal Members of Parliament, and women in business.
“I think our region is really great at empowering women to step up, and we do,” Ms McCarthy said.