October 14, 2021

Making it to the top in mining at South32

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Anna-May Fauconnier likes to surprise people with the fact that she used to have a golf handicap of 10 – that puts her in the top 4.5% of golfers. So, it’s no surprise that she’s also a high achiever in her role as General Manager Dendrobium Mine for South32.

A self-described eternal optimist, she brings her practical, analytical skills to the job. Anna-May is known for role modelling strong leadership in operations and championing women in the industry. 

A career path of adventures

Anna-May always knew she wanted to work in mining. Entering the industry as a graduate Chemical Engineer in South Africa, she immediately started to grow her career. 

“I followed a fairly traditional career path from the start, working in various operational roles building my experience and credibility until I became one of the first women to be a Plant Manager [at a previous employer] in 2006.”

Completing her MBA, Anna-May wanted to build upon her understanding of the inner workings of a mining company, so she took a finance position looking after investment and value management, at a different company. 

“My passion remained with managing and leading mining operations and after two years in finance I moved back into operations as Production Manager.”

In 2015, Anna-May moved to Perth with the newly formed South32 in the role of Manager Strategy and Performance, working closely with the executive committee. After spending a little over a year in Perth, Anna-May moved back to South Africa to work with South32’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) to support the company’s Africa operations on their safety journey. 

Heading back across the world in 2018, she returned to Australia as the Vice President Operations for the TEMCO manganese alloy smelter in Tasmania. After two and a half years, she was appointed to General Manager of one of South32‘s metallurgical coal mines in New South Wales. Her most recent appointment is General Manager for South32’s Boddington Bauxite Mine in Western Australia, so she will make the move back in September. 

Hearing her career story, it’s no surprise that Anna-May and her husband love to travel. 

“I love experiencing new adventures, cultures and people, not only internationally but in our own backyard. Living in Australia for the past three and a half years, we’ve used every opportunity to get to know our new home and community, and you’ll find us most weekends out and about travelling to a new town or attraction experiencing everything Australia has to offer.” 

Overcoming the challenge of being a woman in mining

Mining remains a non-traditional industry for women, and South32 are working hard to attract and advance more women in the organization. At South32, Anna-May’s career opportunities have been boundless, and they are heavily focused on developing their people – men and women. For Anna-May, that’s been evident since she first joined in 2015.

“The unwavering care and support by the CEO and COO, as well as that provided by the rest of the executive committee [right after she joined the company], was when I knew South32 was the right company for me. And the care and support within South32 continues.” 

Throughout her mining career, Anna-May has faced challenged related to her gender.

“The mining industry remains dominated by men and the biggest challenges I’ve faced in my 20-year career are related to me being an ambitious and capable woman in a male dominated industry, especially in the operational environment. These challenges range from harassment and stereotyping to having to work 10 times harder than my male colleagues to gain the same level of credibility and success they have. That said, every achievement in my career thus far has tasted a whole lot sweeter because of the support from my family, friends and role models, and the hard work, commitment and dedication I put in to overcome these challenges and achieve my goals.”

At South32, things are different. They understand the value of their people and are working hard to create an inclusive environment that allows everyone to thrive. 

“At South32 you aren’t just another number. You are seen and valued as a person, integral to the success of the organization because of the unique set of skills and experiences you bring to the team, no matter who or what you are. By continuously working on creating a safe environment where people have the freedom to bring their authentic selves to work, South32 has taken great steps to remove some of the many challenges and obstacles faced by its people, especially by women, including myself. This is backed up by the solid organizational policies, standards and procedures, implemented to support a more diverse and inclusive culture within the organization.”

Career advice on your way to the top

Anna-May enjoys bringing the best out in everyone, is fiercely loyal, values-based, ambitious, and is always looking for the best ways to achieve her goals and dreams, while supporting others to achieve their own. Her biggest learnings have come from the mistakes she’s made along the way, and her advice to other people finding their feet is:

“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It is not the mistake that defines us. What defines and shows our character is how we handle those mistakes. Own the mistake, learn from the mistake and move forward.”

She defines success for herself as: 

  • A sense of contribution to her company and community;
  • The feeling of accomplishment at achieving a goal she has set for herself and supporting and seeing others achieve their dreams and goals;
  • Career progression and learning; and,
  • Making her family proud.

And her tips for someone on their way up are:

  • Put in the effort. “Hard work and getting your hands dirty plus dreaming big does pay off.”
  • See how you can make an impact. “Mining is more than just digging a hole in the ground. It is about working meaningfully with people, communities, governments and various other stakeholders to make a sustainable difference to the host communities and ultimately the world that depends on those resources that you mine.”
  • Know your value. “You are much more resilient than you think; just trust and believe in yourself and your unique abilities and talent. And don’t underestimate the value of the support from family, friends and role models.”

Now, Anna-May’s sights are set high – she wants to be COO or even CEO of a mining company. On her way to the top, she wants to make it better and easier for the next generation of women coming into the industry. 

Plus, for a bit of balance, she wants to master the art of making sourdough bread and charcuterie, as well as get back to a golf handicap of 10.

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About the Author
Samantha Sutherland is the Chief Storyteller at WORK180. She is a Diversity and Inclusion specialist with an analytical background, making her work evidence-based and data driven. Host of WORK180’s Equality Talks podcast and her own Women at Work, Samantha divides her time between interviewing amazing women for WORK180, mentoring and coaching women in, or aspiring to, leadership roles, and providing high-level advice on diversity practices to Australian corporations. You can learn more about the Samantha Sutherland consultancy at samanthasutherland.com.au.

Looking for a new opportunity?

Our transparent job board only has vacancies from employers we endorse and lets you see what benefits, policies and perks come with the job. Check out the latest job vacancies with South32