From the ground up: Ballarat’s Laura Chibnall takes out top mining award

Laura Chibnall has worked her way to the top of the mining industry, culminating in being named this this year’s Minerals Council of Australia Exceptional Woman in Resources for Victoria.

She has become a leading light in the mining sector, consulting at mines throughout Australia.

And it has not gone unnoticed.

Laura Chibnall – Victoria’s Exceptional Woman in Resources for 2021 – is living her dream career as the principal environmental and social consultant at Ensolve, based in Buninyong just south of Ballarat.

For us non-miner folk, what, though, does an “environmental and social consultant” actually do?

Long story short, Laura helps companies comply with stakeholder expectations, enabling them to retain and earn a social licence among the local communities.

Laura presenting at a meetingIt’s work that impacts all of us, given the resources mined are used in many everyday items, including the technology and electrical products we rely on now more than ever.

“A business within the resources sector who has a ‘social licence’ means they’ve earnt and maintained the support of their stakeholders, particularly the host community within which they operate,” Laura explains. “Measures of success can be the level of interest or attendance at events, direct feedback and proactive support for project proposals, while community complaints and regulatory interventions are warning signs an operation may be losing or may have lost their social licence.”

However, she is quick to add, it’s not quite that simple when you’re dealing with a cross-section of the community “who may not always share common values, experiences or opinions, which is partly why the industry has been working hard on developing social licence metrics over the past decade.”

Putting on a hard hat and going underground is the best part of her job, Laura reckons, with a typical week involving a visit to a quarry or gold, copper, or coal mine for a couple of days.

“I love to get out on to a quarry or mine site and see where companies or individuals are exceeding in their response to stakeholder expectations and matters of environmental compliance,” she says. “There’s a great deal of innovation in our industry, but we’re traditionally not great at publicising our achievements; sharing these innovations is vital to the collective success of our sector.”

Projects range from the smallest underground gold mine to the largest open-cut coal mine planning early phase project approval and development through to closure and rehabilitation, and her all-time favourite site to visit is a super remote Northern Territory vermiculite mine “where there’s no communications coverage… absolute bliss!”.

Diversity in action

The Victorian Women in Resources Awards, according to Laura, help with gender diversity. “The mining industry is tougher than most to achieve gender equity by nature of often-remote operations, and by the industry’s lingering legacy image we’re trying so hard to change globally. The sector is being forced to think more creatively and more innovatively than most industries, but luckily this is what our industry does best.

“Women are so well placed to contribute at all levels of the business, but historically we’ve struggled to attract them,” she concedes. “These awards help to promote the opportunities our industry offers to women of all ages considering their next career move.”

She hopes her work “opens more conversations about how we can attract and retain women to the mining industry and why it makes good business sense!”

For her part, Laura will use the award to work with industry leaders to consider policies and initiatives that supports the sector to attract and retain women.

Everyone benefits from that approach, Laura maintains, as more women in the industry can help promote quality and safety culture, including wellbeing, leadership diversity and generate a more sustainable approach to social licence.

“Women offer a balanced approach to connecting with external stakeholders through strong community connections, exceptional communication skills and strategic thinking. Positive relationships with stakeholders go a long way toward enabling the resources industry to beneficially co-exist with regional communities resulting in shared prosperity.”

Mentoring moments

Laura informally mentors a number of young women and men in the sector. Yet whilst she can help young women navigate the challenges of working in an environment still dominated by men, she believes the greatest change to gender equity can be brought about by men in the industry. “This exists not only through the support men offer women in the workplace, but by supporting men in the workplace to share the domestic load outside of the workplace to alleviate pressure on working women – or indeed to encourage women to return to work if it is her choosing.

“If as a society and industry we can help strong male leaders be comfortable to share domestic responsibilities, and be flexible in their work schedules, this gives permission to others, and changes the workplace culture.

“My advice to women is to believe in themselves personally and professionally, and to stand up for what they believe is right and just. I hope all young women take the opportunities our truly amazing industry offers.”

Where the industry shines, she says, is in not only offering a well-renumerated, secure job but also offering the opportunity to travel, work in multiple science disciplines and giving employees a chance to “make a meaningful contribution to environmental challenges in a sector that’s incredibly agile in response to technological advances and changing expectations.”