Engineering change: a chat with Sarah Callil

With experience in the mining, oil and gas industries, engineer Sarah Callil is an “agent of change.” We speak to her about what it means to receive a new scholarship aimed at boosting the number of women on mining and resource industry boards.

A partnership between the Victorian Government and the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM), Sarah is one of three Victorians to have received the Women on Boards Scholarship. Focused on supporting women with science and technology knowledge, recipients are provided access to specialised training and career development opportunities, including membership and coursework with the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) and AusIMM.

“I became an engineer because I enjoy solving problems,” explains Sarah, Global Director of Growth and Innovation for Mining, Minerals and Metals at Worley, an ASX-listed Australian company with almost 60,000 employees operating in more than 50 countries across the energy, chemicals and resources industries. “I’m passionate about innovating to solve complex challenges such as climate change and the transition to a lower carbon world. Importantly, facing these challenges requires a collaborative culture that encourages a diversity of people to bring their ideas, experiences and skills from across industry, government, education and communities.”

Receiving the 2019 Women on Boards Scholarship will, in Sarah’s view, strengthen her capacity to engage industry. “I’ll use this platform to reinforce the importance of a diverse workforce and provide a valuable contribution to Australian organisations and our global industry,” she says.

Currently based in Worley’s Melbourne office, the University of Melbourne engineering and MBA graduate is in an ideal position to contribute, having worked for the company for 18 years, holding global roles for the past 10. These positions have seen her travel widely, including to Chile, Peru, the US, South Africa and Morocco.

“I’m committed to creating an environment that’s collaborative and inclusive. I see this as both a responsibility and necessity to enable the best outcomes for our customers, our organisation and the communities in which we operate. We need to include people of different demographics such as age, gender, skill sets and backgrounds to gain a breadth of ideas: this opens us to new ways of thinking and innovative solutions.”

The currency of this approach, Sarah contends, will only increase. As the mining industry moves to digitisation, it continues to look for opportunities to engage more diverse groups and bring new skills, technologies and perspectives to plan for the future. Disruptive technologies including advanced analytics, intelligent process automation and artificial intelligence are all converging to shape the future industry.

“It’s so important that we get a broad range of perspectives and that we share learnings across sectors,” Sarah says. That’s why, when Worley was examining how disruptive technologies would define the industry, it conducted over 500 interviews with industry leaders across the world. Customers, competitors, adjacent industries, technology influencers, academia, investors, government and policymakers were all interviewed, and this process provided insights that are helping Worley navigate the changing environment.

"A key lesson was that the leaders of tomorrow will have a demonstrated ability to adopt and extract value from emerging technologies, align their workforce and adapt quickly to changing market forces," explains Sarah. “The survey reinforced that digitisation is here to stay but the pathways to success are unclear; we need to effectively navigate this universal uncertainty. Critical will be a culture comfortable with constant change – this will require a mindset that sees change as the norm and encourages experimentation.”

“We need to continue to develop our deep domain knowledge and increasingly, the emphasis will be on attributes such as emotional intelligence, creativity, innovation and complex problem solving. Looking at the workforce of the future, we’ll continue to embed digital into what we do, bring in new skills and perspectives, develop our people and create an environment that promotes innovative thought and collaboration.” A classic case of diversity being fully championed, in other words.

And wrapping up, where does Sarah see herself in a decade? “I’m very optimistic about the future of our industry: I’ll strive to be a leader who has made an important contribution in changing people’s perception of the resource industry," she says.

"In the next 10 years, I expect we'll see our industry helping solve many of the world’s most complex challenges. Take climate change as an example. In mining, we’re devising solutions with renewable energy sources, the efficient use of energy and the opportunity to apply digital and new technologies to lower the environmental impact of the mines and processing operations. With the transition to renewables, we'll see an increase in the global production of metals such as copper, aluminium and zinc, driven by increased investment in wind turbines, batteries, solar panels and electric vehicles. The mining industry has an important role to play in sustainable development and the global energy transition."

More information about the Women on Boards Scholarship, as well as details about Victoria’s mining and resources sector can be found on the Earth Resources website.

The Victorian Connection interviewed all three recipients of the Woman on Boards Scholarship. Read the series: