We check in with award-winning manufacturer, Viva Energy’s Vanessa Kearney.
This week’s Victorian Manufacturing Hall of Fame awards provided the perfect stage to celebrate the outstanding local businesses and individuals that make up the $28 billion industry.
Vanessa Kearney, a process engineer from Viva Energy, was one of the most prominent winners on the night, taking out the inaugural Woman Manufacturer of the Year award along with Jill Walsh from Actco-Pickering.
The chemical engineering graduate, who has been in the oil and energy business for 23 years, has risen to the very top in a traditionally male-dominated industry.
“It can be pretty tough when you’re a young female engineer coming up through the ranks,” she concedes, “but it’s an exciting time, too, as there are lots of options open to women, including those entering manufacturing from other industries.
“There’s plenty of transferable skills and commercially-focused roles within manufacturing that centre around maximising volume, margin and market coverage in the most efficient and cost-effective way. I really encourage women in other industries to be open-minded about where their skills can take them. They can create fantastic careers in this space,” Kearney says.
The manufacturing trailblazer points out out that some employers are also doing their bit to encourage greater diversity and notes that Viva Energy received recognition this year as an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.
Q&A: Vanessa Kearney
How is the Victorian Government supporting women in manufacturing?
Through these awards. They are a fantastic way to highlight the contribution women make to manufacturing – it’s a great initiative as women are still under-represented. And by implementing projects to encourage women into STEM at school and technical colleges – so important.
A decade back, the on-site ‘Geelong Refinery’s Women’s Network’ was established and you have reinvigorated it and are now its leadership team sponsor. What is its goal?
The purpose of the Women’s Network is to support women to develop the skills to continually improve and manage their careers and provide an open forum for discussion. Another goal is to develop a feedback loop to the leadership team to ensure diversity, equality, strength, opportunity, respect and fairness are applied equitably to all women working at Geelong Refinery, from operators to lab techs and engineers. I’m really supportive of our network and in making sure that everyone, and not just women, has good support networks.
Kearney’s advice for women considering a manufacturing career
- Find roles that motivate you and make you happy to come to work.
“I’ve loved working in refineries because everyone’s clear about the goal. They’re complex sites, which means I never get bored. There are always new challenges and opportunities to find better ways to improve commercial returns. That, for me, is a really good place to be.”
- Challenge yourself and embrace a long-term view.
“Don’t forget that a career is long, so seek opportunities, challenges, enjoyment and support along the way.”