Mining for diversity: Meet Loretta Fallaw

A new mining scholarship aims to help more women, such as Loretta, gain a seat in boardrooms. 

'Be the change you want to see' neatly sums up the work approach of Loretta Fallaw, a Development and Approvals Manager at Donald Mineral Sands, a mining company in Victoria’s Murray Basin.  

The University of Melbourne engineering graduate has made it to the top in her 20-year career in mining and project management and is now encouraging diversity in the mining support sector, which accounts for 120,000 jobs state-wide.  

Helping Loretta with that diversity task is the fact that she was recently awarded one of three inaugural annual Women on Boards Scholarships. A joint partnership between the Victorian Government and the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM), the scholarship aims to boost the number of women with science and technology knowledge on mining and resource company boards. 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.  

That can only be a boon for the sector in Loretta’s eyes. "Seeing strong, technically astute women working in our boardrooms and holding senior positions in the mining industry will not only provide better results, but will provide an example to the next generation that women are genuinely valued and required in these roles. Diversity’s essential to ensuring proper representation in the decision-making processes of our boardrooms. Setting examples and challenging the 'norm' is important in making genuine, long term, ongoing change." 

Research backs up Loretta’s point that diverse boards result in better industry outcomes and greater sector innovation, and it’s why the Victorian Government is aiming for at least 50 per cent of government-appointed board members to be female. 

What surprises some people is that Loretta doesn’t view the mining industry as a rigid, man’s world. Instead, the mother of three says it has welcomed her and given her a flexible, stimulating career with great maternity leave. "I predominantly work from a home office with regular meetings either on site with contractors and stakeholders or in Melbourne with government, industry bodies and consultants."

Another fact that surprises people is that her mining role often involves researching new renewable energy options and prioritising sustainable development. "There are a lot of misconceptions in regards to mining," she says. "It provides components that we need for everyday living and is essential to our way of life. We therefore need mining, but mining that’s respectful to its surrounding environments. I hope this scholarship will open doors for me to challenge the misconceptions and promote a cleaner, innovative and efficient industry."

To that end, much room exists for mining and agriculture to work better together, she acknowledges, and she’s eager – via the scholarship – to engage with the agriculture community to explore the mutual benefits of opening a mineral sands mine in the region. 

Loretta understands that in areas that have predominantly only known and relied on agriculture for economic prosperity, mining can "create some uncertainty and angst".  

"However," she points out, referring to the Donald Mineral Sands planned mine in the Murray Basin, "we’re working closely with our community around Minyip and the wider Wimmera to explain that our aim is to contribute to a strong, resilient community. As we get closer to mining commencement, we’ll formalise the community engagement, but currently we speak to local farmers and community members on a regular basis as well as having stakeholder engagement with councils and other local providers and regional bodies." 

The mining project will provide benefits for the surrounding community through increased population and the improvement of local services, she adds. "There’ll be opportunities for locals to diversify skills, upskill or even forge a career in the mining industry with well-paid, transferable skills. We’ll be able to provide opportunities for families who rely solely on farming to access an off-farm income and believe the economic development will improve local services and overall socio-economic outcomes. We have a chance to potentially demonstrate a cohesive relationship between mining and agriculture in the way we consider the use of the site post mining back to agriculture."

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 mining and agriculture connection: Loretta on land rehabilitation

"When you mine for mineral sands, you’re doing shallow mining that you progressively rehabilitate. A mine life might be 20 years, but you only have a couple of areas open at a time and the rest of the mine is being returned to farming. Whilst we absolutely have to rehabilitate land back to its previous state (that’s a given), we’re looking at ways to approach the rehabilitation phase with the aim to improve the soils from their original state and gain an understanding how this could assist future farming practices."

Indeed, her company’s already on the case. "We have an opportunity to trial different techniques and soil improvements that could enhance crop yields for broadacre and potentially other crop types, and we hope to form a partnership with a research body to formalise this research."