The mining CFO that’s leading the way ‘heart first’

August 14, 2023
mining career story

Sandy Sibenaler may have hit the ultimate woman-in-the-workplace hattrick. 

She’s a woman in the mining and resources sector. 

But more than that, she’s a woman in a finance role within the mining and resource sector. 

But even MORE than that, as of April this year, Sandy entered the c-suite leadership ranks as CFO at South32

It’s a level of representative leadership that is heady and exciting in a world where the global gender pay gap still has women earning 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. And this triple threat comes with a strength of character and a focus to her job few can match. 

“I am responsible for Finance, Investor Relations, Treasury, Tax, Insurance, Risk and Assurance for the South32 Group.” 

mining career story

“My role is really diverse and finding space to engage meaningfully on a wide range of topics can at times stretch my personal bandwidth. But I enjoy complex decision making, so a day which involved us working as a team and grappling with a range of options and trade-offs makes for a great day.”

How she got here

Sandy started on the bottom rung over 20 years ago, working in auditing and accounting with multinational accounting and mining companies, but she’s been on a constant upward trajectory. 

“In early 2021 I joined South32 as VP Finance and have really found it an embracing culture from an inclusion perspective with high business complexity which keeps things interesting. 

Sandy credits former CFO, Katie Tovich and current CEO Graham Kerr, both of whom she spoke to before signing on with South32, for not only giving her great advice on the position but for stewarding the company’s sustainable culture so ably. 

“I could tell they were outstanding leaders and that I would learn a huge amount working for them.”

It’s a different style of leadership that Sandy says she hasn’t really experienced elsewhere. 

South32 has shown me how to lead differently, by leading with heart first, rather than head. 

“Ultimately both need to be fully engaged in all decisions we make, but I like the challenge to think about safety, community, environmental and cultural impacts first.”

She tells us the company often promotes internally, as this not only reflects this heart-first commitment to its people, but also allows the bottom-line culture to be strengthened. 

“I am most proud of being able to grow other leaders and support them in maximizing their potential. When I moved into the CFO role, we were able to promote internally a range of roles that opened sequentially. This is one of my favorite career achievements.”

Discover how South32 is building staff career development through diversity

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What’s on the agenda now she’s here

As a company in the mining, resources, and energy sector, South32 is at the forefront of inclusion and diversity in an industry that hasn’t always been keen to put its shoulder to the equality wheel.

Again, Sandy emphasizes the importance of a heart-first a human-scale approach.

“The biggest thing I have learned since joining South32 is how important our role is as leaders to care for our teams genuinely and completely. This is a core value at South32 and it really inspires me.”

An important part of this Sandy says, is tackling the scourge that is workplace sexual harassment head-on.

“I have spent a lot of time investing in inclusion and diversity activities, working outside of my core role in finance, and have put particular focus on our response to sexual harassment in our organization. 

“I feel that the program we have run has shed a light on this deplorable abuse of power, and I am so proud of the way our leaders have leaned into these challenging conversations.”

“Mining is for anyone who loves a challenge”

This ground-breaking leader in mining is adamant that teamwork is where the modern corporation’s future can be won and lost. 

“We are always better together,” she says firmly. 

The emphasis on teamwork is behind Sandy’s belief that a career like hers is now one more women should aspire to. She imagines her high school self would have thought this kind of career was only for men. 

Now, she says “mining is really for anyone who loves a challenge”. 

For young women, she says that trusting yourself is the key to moving ahead in this, or any career. 

“Trust that you can learn and with focus and discipline you will scale fast. 

“If you can get past self-doubt – which has plagued me throughout my career – you are setting yourself up for a great career.”

And teamwork, she is quick to point out, is about inclusion and diversity. 

“I find I learn the most and get to see the biggest benefits come out of an inclusive and diverse team. I am so grateful to my team who help me keep pace with what is important and how we can influence the outcomes in the best way for South32 and our cultural journey.”

It’s this commitment to diversity, she concludes, that makes working with South32 so rewarding. 

“I align deeply with the values the company commits to and lives every day, including Care, Trust, Togetherness, and Excellence; alongside our collective safety guarantee, in which we ask our people to reflect on whether they can guarantee that they, and their colleagues, go home safe and well every day.”

If anything, Sandy’s success demonstrates that anyone, regardless of gender, can excel in challenging careers such as mining, finance, or leadership (or even all three together) provided they trust themselves and believe in the power of people and a heart-first approach. Of course, it also helps to be surrounded by a culture that also values the same things.

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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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