How one woman is making the gas industry safer, fairer, and better for all women

May 10, 2023
women in gas industry

When Michelle Zaunbrecher faced a significant health challenge in 2017, she took the opportunity to reflect on her life. 

At the time, she was already the Vice President of Arrow Energy‘s Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE) department. However, this life-altering experience prompted her to re-evaluate her priorities and she resolved to improve both her personal and professional life. 

As a result, she dedicated much of her time to building a safer, more equitable, and inclusive workplace for everyone in the gas industry, particularly women. 

And that’s exactly what she did. 

In the years since, Michelle has developed and contributed to many ground-breaking initiatives that have made the gas industry safer and healthier for all its workers.

Here are some of the major ways she’s doing it.

1. Increasing industry awareness and learning

Long before she rose to her current role as Vice President of Arrow Energy’s HSE and Transformation department, Michelle already had a deep passion for safety and well-being in the resource industry.

She started her career as a petroleum geologist for BHP, working as a wellsite geologist in the Timor Sea, Northwest Shelf, and Southeast Asia. Years later, she took a secondment opportunity at BHP’s HSE department. This move proved to be pivotal in her life, sparking her passion for industry safety and shaping the rest of her career.

Since then, Michelle has developed initiatives and programs that improved health and safety in the natural gas industry. She has authored many peer-reviewed technical papers that provide better awareness and guidelines regarding safety performance and management. Some of the insights and engagement tools from her work even have plans to be used by the state government to improve safety standards in the mining industry.

Michelle has also attended and contributed to multiple discussions and panels on psycho-social hazards in the resource sector. And she followed this up with scoping and advancing the initial grounding work to improve psycho-social hazard management in the coal seam gas industry.

Now, as a senior leader at Arrow Energy, she continues to be one of the industry’s biggest advocates for improving safety standards and health measures.

And her achievements speak volumes about her overall impact on the industry.

In 2021, Arrow Energy received the prestigious APPEA Company Safety Excellence Award, which named the company the best in the country, with more than one year of zero recordable personal and process safety incidents.

Most recently, Michelle was a finalist for the Exceptional Woman Award in the 2023 Queensland Resources Awards, providing recognition for her outstanding work and contribution to the industry.

2. Championing diversity and inclusion

Having worked in the gas and resource industries for over three decades, Michelle knows what it’s like being a woman in these male-dominated fields.

She has seen her industry change and become more accessible to women over the past several years, but she knows there’s still plenty left to improve. 

That’s why she’s been a vocal champion for diversity, equity, and inclusion not just in the company, but the entire gas industry.

Michelle is co-champion of Arrow Energy’s Diversity and Inclusion Council, advocating for women in the industry and ensuring initiatives are in place for their safety and professional development. 

This council has successfully generated greater awareness for gender equality, unconscious bias, cultural differences, and the inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community.

She also makes sure to lead change by example. 

Her HSE team, for instance, has a 50-50 ratio of men and women. She also works to ensure a balanced representation of women in the company’s working groups, including its project leaders.

Michelle herself is providing the best proof of progress in the industry. She hopes to inspire women in the industry and show them that there’s a place for them here with many paths for career growth and progression.

With its strong focus on diversity and inclusivity, career development, and in-depth mentorship programs, Arrow Energy is spearheading change for women in the gas and resource industries.

Learn more 

3. Being a trusted mentor

There are few things better for career development than having a trusted mentor who can provide the right advice, guidance, and opportunities. That’s why, in addition to helping others from her senior leadership role, Michelle is also committed to providing quality mentorship.

She has been serving in Arrow Energy’s mentorship program for over the past decade, helping younger professionals develop their potential and achieve their goals.

Over the years, Michelle has also been a sounding board for developing colleagues within the organization, helping resolve professional and personal issues as they arise. 

She understands that part of her role as a mentor is to ensure the physical and psychological safety of her mentees as they develop and implement their management skills within their own teams.

Michelle makes a point to be an active mentor, with between one to three mentees at any time. And she provides mentorship to both women and men, helping anyone willing to put in the work and make the right choices in their careers. 

4. Launching “Safer Together” 

Michelle has been instrumental in the development and launch of Safer Together, a not-for-profit that works with organizations in the oil and gas industries to promote a solid and consistent health and safety culture.

Not only has some of her work been used as a reference for its safety standards and protocols, but she was also one of its strongest advocates and a key part of its creation.

Michelle is especially passionate about the initiative’s health working group, which she lobbied for. 

Her guidelines on Fitness to Work Medicals and Application of Heat Stress Management have become key references for Safer Together as it builds standardized approaches to these two critical areas.

Today, Safer Together continues to be a guiding voice for improving health and safety in the resource industries. And what started with 20 member companies working together has now grown to over 250 member organizations across Australia.

5. Promoting personal health and self-care

That challenge we mentioned earlier that prompted Michelle’s new resolutions to improve the gas industry – well it was a breast cancer diagnosis. 

Gratefully, the cancer was detected in the early stages, and she was able to treat it early.

Her experience inspired her to help other women remember to take care of themselves and get checked regularly. She has since run seminars on breast cancer awareness and the benefits of screening and early detection. 

The other good thing that came from her experience was that it prompted her to take stock of her life and reflect on what she was doing with her time. And it’s something Michelle hopes to inspire in others as well.

Michelle is looking to the future to work across the resource industry to develop an improvement strategy for psychological safety in the workplace from on-site to the office. Michelle is a firm believer in collaboration and the amazing outcomes it can achieve.

She wants you to ask yourself: Are you happy with where your life is going? Are you spending your time in a meaningful way?

As Michelle has often shown in her life and career, the biggest changes always start within.

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About the Author

Jacynta Clayton’s career started in recruitment advertising and employer branding, working with global clients to create and deploy strategic and creative content. Now she combines her industry experience with the knowledge from her psychology and professional writing degrees to write unique and resounding stories. As a WORK180 storyteller she relishes the opportunity to elevate the voices and experiences of so many amazing people, while also empowering and educating audiences on how to choose a workplace where they can thrive.

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