Evolution Mining and Cooper Energy
Vicky Binns previously worked at BHP for a decade and led the team that moved metallurgical coal pricing away from annual benchmarks to index pricing. She is also co-founder and ex-president of Women in Mining and Resources Singapore.
What made you join the mining industry and why have you stayed?
I was always strong at maths and science at school, but I had no idea what I wanted to do at university. So a family friend recommended me to do mining engineering. I worked in underground and open pit coal mining as a petroleum and reservoir engineer for Esso before I moved into the commercial side of trading and I spent 15 years in the finance industry at Macquarie and Merrill Lynch covering mining companies in commodities globally.
I always had something new and different. It was always a challenge and then in 2009 I moved to Singapore working with BHP and marketing in a variety of roles, culminating in running all the minerals marketing. So, it was the challenge, the people, the opportunity and it was always stimulating.
What has been your best moment in the industry?
I think probably the most challenging and intellectually fulfilling was leading the team that led the price evolution of metallurgical coal away from annual benchmark to index price linked. BHP was the only one that did and everybody else went quarterly pricing and stayed at quarterly pricing and then really didn't move anywhere from that. And our vision was to move to index linked like iron ore.
I was called the most hated women in the coal industry and I used to reply saying, "am I the only woman in the coal industry?” But the fact that we got that done – and I think now the market works very well and it's very transparent and there's completion of contracts – was professionally very fulfilling for me.
You are a co-founder of Women in Mining and Resources Singapore, what led you to help found this organisation?
It was formed in 2013 by three of us ladies, who felt very strongly about the importance of giving women in our industry in Singapore a forum to share experiences, gain training and mentoring and keep up with the industry trends, as well as build networks.
It was also pretty important for us to attract likeminded males. I was very gratified that it's now an organisation of around 700 members, of which more than a third are men in Singapore. This is a great industry and anyone should have the opportunity to pursue their dreams and that wasn't always the case.
How do you feel about progress on diversity in the industry?
I think there has been some real progress over the last three to five years, but it's more about a continuing evolution because you've really got to build pipelines from the bottom up within a company at every level.
One example is what Evolution Mining has been doing in terms of promoting female participation. More than 50% of the graduates that they took in were female, so that's really addressing it at the grassroots level. Nearly 40% of vacation students they had from university were female – keeping in mind, a much smaller percentage of females are at university studying the things that we are recruiting for, so that's really positive. They've also doubled the number of female mentee opportunities through the Women in Mining network in areas where we operate.
I'd emphasize that sustainable change in diversity is not possible without the buy-in of the line leaders. All people managers have to understand the importance of their own role in driving diversity and encouraging everyone to speak up and be heard.
What do you think are the best qualities that diversification brings to the sector?
There's been enormous amounts of research that has conclusively proven that the more diverse and inclusive a workplace is, you get better business outcomes. You generally get higher, more stable production, better safety, and higher employee retention and engagement.
I also think, strategically, diverse groups generate different ideas… so when value-adding ideas are debated and implemented across the business, it really benefits everyone and makes the team stronger.
What's your view on companies setting themselves formal targets or quotas for women's representation?
I've never been a real dedicated advocate of hard quotas for any particular group, but I would say that targets do focus on delivery and I firmly believe, for example, that it was needed in BHP when we put them in place in 2015, because at that rate the gender balance was not going to be reached for more than 250 years.
They had been focusing on it for two or three years, so there really wasn't any momentum. I was one of the first members of BHP's inclusion and diversity council and we came out with that aspiration target to be gender neutral at BHP by 2025. And they're probably going to fall a little bit short of it, but they've really made some very good progress.
In recent years you've been nominated as one of the 100 most influential women by WIM UK and received the Judy Raper prize for outstanding leadership for Women in Engineering from the University of NSW. Do you think these initiatives highlight women's contribution to the sector and also perhaps attracting more women into the industry?
I do. I think identifying women who have had strong careers in male dominated industries, but then who have given back in terms of mentoring and leadership, are a real positive. Building role models is actually key to attract more diversity in any industry. I certainly have been inspired by some women, so I do think it's a nice recognition. I don't take it too seriously, mind you, but it's nice.
What advice would you give a woman entering the industry today?
I'd hopefully give similar advice to both men and women, but the women-specific ones would be own your own career. At the end of the day, you've got to back yourself. Evaluate yourself, have an honest look at you skills, fill the gaps that you need and apply for a job.
It's very well published that women apply for roles when they're 90-100% ready and men apply when they're 50-60% ready, so what I would say is really have a go. At worst, you've got experience interviewing. If you find some gaps of what your skills are and then what you'd like to do, talk to your company about training you to fill those gaps.
Interview by Jacqueline Holman