Ria Sanz is the Chief Legal, Risk and Compliance Officer Newcrest Mining Limited. Ria is a seasoned executive with an extensive career in mining, manufacturing, construction, private healthcare and banking. She has expertise across Africa, the United States, Australia and the UK, and moved from South Africa to Melbourne to join Newcrest.
We spoke with Ria about her career lessons, why mining is the most exciting industry to work in, and her tips for emerging leaders.
Your role is far-reaching and varied, what do you spend your days doing every day?
“It does feel like I have a number of roles, as it has a number of different facets to it, making the channels of communication and challenges quite varied depending which area of accountability I’m focused on.
The most important role I play is a leader and a member of the executive committee. Alongside my peers, we have the privilege and responsibility to lead by example and create an environment where our team members can thrive.
My portfolio includes a number of areas. Firstly, I have risk and assurance which involves the design and governance of the enterprise’s risk management framework, as well as the insurance program for insurable risks. It’s a very exciting area of work. Then there is the legal side which has always been my bread and butter. There are a number of different interesting legal parameters that we need to consider from both an operational and corporate perspective when providing advice and in order to manage commercial and legal risks.
I also look after ethics and compliance. This is where the role moves beyond compliance to thinking about values, culture and psychological safety which are as important as operational safety. There are many expectations from stakeholders in ensuring our leaders are demonstrating the right behaviors and values. This can impact the rest of the organization, as well as on our share price and reputation. An organization’s reputation can take longer to rebuild than business operations, so it’s vital to understand and embed an ethical mindset.
Then I have the internal audit function which is again quite different again although it stands alongside compliance and risk management. People can run for cover when you mention the phrase internal audit, but it is also a strategic service where we create the third line of defense to protect and manage risk. Lastly, there is the important company secretarial function, which is not only engagement with the Board and board processes but also ensuring implementation of good governance practices.”
There is a perception that mining is boring and that legal are just locked away in an office. How would you respond to that with your real-life experiences?
“People should come and have a look! Personally I classify mining as a very exciting industry. I’ve worked in a number of industries from banking to private healthcare to construction – each have their unique challenges.
In comparison, mining has every single issue that I experienced in other industries, but at an exponential level. You then have all the full spectrum of stakeholders – communities, regulators, shareholders, employees, contractors, commercial partners, JV partners. The issues and contexts to consider them in, are complex and multifaceted, particularly in a global organization working in a range of jurisdictions. Furthermore, society’s expectations around mining have changed a great deal in the last few years. Our stakeholders are increasingly concerned about environmental, social, and ethical considerations. With respect to challenges and learning every day, I think it’s the most stimulating industry to be in.
Legal is no longer something that happens behind closed doors, it’s very much part of the fabric of the organization. We are actively involved in how the company operates and the strategic decisions.
Since I landed in mining, I never looked back.”
What are the key learnings, insights and reflections from your career?
“Setting goals for yourself and being determined to achieve them is an important foundation. You need a plan, and you need conviction and belief in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else is going to.
Don’t look at the barriers, look at opportunities on the horizon. There will always be areas where you encounter some challenges – if everything always went smoothly then you wouldn’t learn anything or be as effective in difficult situations.
Having moved organizations, industries and roles, I always saw the change as exciting. I never let the word failure enter my mind when I moved from one role to another.”
You recently completed an Inclusive Leadership Development program with the rest of the leadership team. Can you tell us your key takeaways from that?
“It was the start of a journey and how we want to progress inclusivity in the organization as part of our culture and the way we lead our people. Every day we cast a shadow as individual leaders as well as a collective. We all should be casting a positive shadow together, because individually you can’t really effect the same level of impactful change or achieve superior outcomes or generate the most innovative ideas.
There were confronting observations about how and why people might not always feel psychologically safe in their working environment, and that’s something we need to change. We want people to physically and psychologically be safe at all times, and feel that they can speak up, challenge the status quo, be valued for their unique strengths and truly be themselves at work.
We really need to listen to understand and learn as leaders, and to then demonstrate through our behaviors that inclusivity is what drives better ideas and enables everyone to bring their best self to work every day. If you feel included, you’ll want to contribute more, you’ll feel more part of the decision making, not just the recipient of information and outcomes.
It’s a key driver for job satisfaction. We spend a lot of time at work and you want to be in an environment where you feel safe to grow and be part of a team.”
What are some of the emerging trends in mining?
“Greater focus on mining companies having a clear purpose for being. We need to earn acceptance and maintain good relationships with local communities, not something which is new but key constant to retain our social license to operate . There is an ongoing need to have common goals with all your stakeholders to have win-win outcomes.
There’s an increased commitment and focus placed on environmental impacts and having a sustainable business as well as operating ethically in every aspect of our business. We must operate in a way that contributes to society, play our part in mining responsibly, and treat all our stakeholders and the environment with the utmost respect.
Additionally, we want to have a workforce that is proud to be associated with mining and Newcrest, whose contributions are valued and their talents developed. We need that purpose to attract and retain our workforce, in a workplace which is becoming more and more competitive.”
Mentoring is something that’s really important to you, can you tell us about that?
“As female leaders, we need to continue building networks and connections, sharing knowledge and experience. If you’ve been lucky enough to have a fulfilling career and you’ve learned things along the way, then it’s a real privilege to engage with other women, and men, and help them navigate their way through their careers.
I’m still not sure that every woman out there believes they can achieve what they want to achieve. They can see the barriers more than the opportunities. By sharing our experiences, we can help each other to build on our strengths and move beyond our perceived limitations.
Mentoring others is the most rewarding thing that I’ve experienced, because it’s an opportunity to be part of somebody else’s journey. If the knowledge that I’ve gained can help someone else with how they see their career opportunities, and in opening up possibilities they might not have looked into, then that is the greatest reward for me to have played a part in that.
In those mentoring conversations you also continuously learn about yourself, and you realize that you can really provide support and assistance, and help people be aware of things that could really get them moving quicker.”
Why would you recommend working in the mining industry and specifically for Newcrest?
“Newcrest is a great place to work. It invests in its people, believes people are really at the core of its growth, it’s a values-driven organization that truly cares for its people and supports them to grow and have a great career with exciting and varied opportunities.
It’s also an ethically responsible organization that sees doing the right thing as a business imperative as well as having a safety culture like no other. A safety before production culture.
Newcrest is forging an even stronger Newcrest. Each and every one of us has a role to play in delivering on our strategic objectives and I invite you to come and be part of that journey. There are opportunities available at all levels of the organization and good succession planning which means that we offer rewarding career opportunities. Talent management is at the forefront of how we integrate our people practices, and we will support and develop you to your fullest capability.
We have a number of exciting projects in our growth strategy and we can offer a career in a variety of different areas of mining and a wide number of functional areas. Come and be part of a diverse team that cares for each other and supports you to be successful.”
If you could share three pieces of advice with emerging women leaders, what would they be?
- “Don’t let anybody deter you from where you want to go. Believe in yourself.“
- “Don’t settle for something that doesn’t work for you. It’s better to re-correct then continue on a path that doesn’t fulfill you.”
- “Be true to yourself. I think it’s really important that you remain true to yourself, aim for what you want, and don’t let anybody stop you.”