Beginning her career in 1993 as a Secretary, Tasmanian-born Cindy Dunham moved into accounting and then contract management at Newmont Mining Corporation in Kalgoorlie, W.A. Fast forward to 2013 and Cindy is the General Manager Operations at Rio Tinto Procurement, managing the procurement requirements for the iron ore, diamonds and salt businesses. Read more about her career journey and the people that influenced her most along the way…

The backstory

How it all began

“When I left school I moved to Kalgoorlie from Tasmania with my partner who was in mining. I took a secretarial role while studying for an accounting degree, and then moved into an accounting role at Newmont Mining Corporation. After a couple of years my boss approached me to help in the contracts area. I hesitantly agreed, on the proviso that my job would be waiting for me if I wanted to come back!”

A love of procurement

“After a couple of weeks I realised I liked the dynamic environment that the supply chain and procurement group created. I loved the opportunity to be able to influence the entire mining value proposition. I gained exposure to purchasing, inventory management, warehousing and commercial agreements before taking on a permanent role. Within a few years I progressed to a senior contracts function, then manager, and then director, overseeing mines in Indonesia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Australia.”

More than just gold

“That role became pretty big, and I soon realised that all my experience in mining was only in gold. I realised that if I was ever going to make the move into another part of the resources industry, I had to broaden my experience. I resigned and was soon offered this role at Rio Tinto in Perth, managing procurement for the iron ore, diamond and salt businesses.”

The industry

Procurement gets a seat at the table

“For me, volatility in the market has really opened customer’s eyes to the value that procurement has to bring to the organisation. My role has changed significantly in that now the business recognises how important it is to have procurement at the front end of the planning process and all along the cycle, rather than it being visualised as a back office piece of work that doesn’t get involved until you need something or something’s gone wrong. Procurement really does have a seat at the table now.”

A woman in mining

“I worked very hard in my early days to make sure people didn’t treat me any differently because I was a woman. I studied mining equipment, what their sizes were, what their nicknames were, what different types looked like and how much ore they could move. It took me years to realise that no one actually expected me to know all that. I felt like I personally needed to be better informed than anyone because I felt like being a woman would give me a disadvantage and I might need to prove my knowledge, but in the end it was never tested. I realised that being a woman in the mining industry was not a barrier.”

The gift of the female mind

“I think women actually bring something different to the table. It has nothing to do with intelligence; it’s just a different DNA make up that helps them think a little differently about business decisions. I’ve really only realised this in the last 18 months when I joined some Boards such as the Subiaco Football Club. Again it’s a traditionally male environment where I recognised there was something unique that I could bring – a different way of approaching a problem. I found that when the decisions are being made, the things that go around in my head are totally different questions than those of my peers. I think it’s largely recognised now in the industry that it helps to have a woman’s perspective and influence in a senior role to help bring about balance. It also helps other women see what they can accomplish themselves.”

Leadership lessons

What success boils down to

“Staying true to my values. Regardless of the environment I’m in, I only ever work for companies that have shared or aligned values. They’re the most important thing and I just wouldn’t compromise them.”
“Learning from others. I’m never too scared to say I don’t understand that, it’s not my area of expertise, I need your help, and I’ve never come across someone who’s thought that was a stupid thing to do. Not being scared to learn lessons is very important.”
“Hard work. When I’ve needed to I’ve put in more than was expected to deliver an outcome. I just focus on the end goal and I work hard.”

The compassionate role model

“Everyone has a lesson for you, and helps you to reflect on the kind of leader you do or don’t want to be yourself. One former CEO stands out as a great role model in my career. I was on annual leave some years ago and received a message on my phone about the death of one of my employee’s family members. My team was in shock and obviously my staff member was devastated. My CEO took the situation in hand, personally offering support to my team member and ensuring she recognised how valuable her contribution was to the business. He reassured me that the issue was being managed well and that I should not stress on my holiday. I’ve always used his actions as inspiration to never put up my own barriers to help people, no matter where they are in the organisation.”
I’m never too scared to say I don’t understand, I need your help, and I’ve never come across someone who’s thought that was a stupid thing to do. Not being scared to learn lessons is very important.

Learning the importance of ‘thank you’

“One lesson I always share with my team is an experience I had back in my first management role in Kalgoorlie. One of my staff members said to me, “You know you never say thank you?” I don’t look for praise or need to hear someone say thank you, I feel like my success comes from my output rather than people’s acknowledgement. But he helped me to realise that other people need different things than I do. I’m far more in tune to that now, and I recognise that it’s a very important learning for me. I still keep in touch with this person who worked for me but made me realise what I needed to do to be a better manager. I share that story with my leaders all the time – partly so they are aware that if I forget to say thank you it’s not because I don’t appreciate them, it’s just something that I really have to consciously think about.”

Final words for future female leaders

“Don’t create any barriers that aren’t there. Find out what you want and work hard to achieve that goal. With a goal in sight you can accomplish anything you want. I don’t know any successful women who see barriers; and the women that do see barriers tend not to be successful. Don’t see things that aren’t there. Don’t sabotage yourself.”

Summary

Broadening your experience can help to progress your career – take it from Cindy Dunham, who worked her way up the corporate ladder. She has advice for other women leaders:
- Never be scared to ask for more information to help support your decisions; a compassionate manager leads to better team morale and support
- Some may see barriers in the way to progression, but if you can acknowledge those barriers and find ways to overcome them, you’ll succeed in your career
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