IMAGINE being laughed at for expressing your career goals, or winked at in the boardroom – Leanne Heywood says entering the mining industry back in 1990 was not for the faint-hearted.
The business leader, who lives on a sheep farm in Peak Hill, has just been announced as one of finalists in the NSW Business Woman of the Year awards.
Born in Murwillumbah and growing up in Narromine, Ms Heywood always thought big and wanted more.
Her first job was working in the delicatessen at the Kierath Nelson (now Coles) in Naromine, but since then she has scaled the corporate ladder to heights she never thought possible while cutting up cold meats.
Leanne is a non-executive director and senior executive, and she has broad general management experience gained through an international career in the mining, rural, government and not-for-profit sectors.
She currently works with Orocobre, a lithium miner with operations in Argentina, as well as the Australian Meat Processor Corporation and is a member of the NSW Council for Women’s Economic Opportunity.
I told them I wanted to run a mine and they laughed at me … it was because I was a girl.
“I tell people I’m a director of a mining company,” she said when trying to sum up her long list of achievements.
Following initial roles in the public service, she commenced her accounting degree and it was during her studies that she discovered the mining industry.
At first she worked as an accountant in the industry and then sought higher ambitions.
“I told them I wanted to run a mine and they laughed at me … it was because I was a girl,” Ms Heywood said.
“I just ignored them ... I never ever thought that I couldn’t do it.”
Once when in Japan to sell copper concentrate she was told the Japanese would refuse to deal with her because she was a woman. They were wrong.
In Korea, locals told her they were “surprised at having to having to deal with a woman”.
I take great pride in what I’ve achieved and what I’ve managed to achieve, but it’s not without a lot of great support.
Even still, in the past few months, she said there had been instances of inappropriate comments and behaviour towards her.
“They walk in the door and wink at me,” she said.
“These days it just makes me really angry.
“The positive thing is new generations coming through in their early to mid 30s, they are appalled by the behaviour and they’ll call it out.”
These days, Ms Heywood said thankfully the mining had changed significantly.
“Back then I was only one of two women at the mine site among 300 men,” she said.
“They wouldn’t take me underground because it was considered bad luck.
“There’s 15 per cent women in mining now.”
They wouldn’t take me underground [in the mine] because it was considered bad luck.
Weekdays, she travels from her farm in Peak Hill to work and she admits all the time away would not be possible without the strong support of her husband and three adult children.
“My board roles are in Melbourne or Sydney and they [her work colleagues] can’t comprehend working with people who don’t live in Sydney. It is an issue,” she said.
“I take great pride in what I’ve achieved and what I’ve managed to achieve, but it’s not without a lot of great support.”
Online voting for the 2019 NSW Women of the Year Awards remains open until 11.59pm on Friday, February 15. Vote online here.