15 May 2017
Running a team of 250 engineers and mechanics, 14 hours drive from Perth, might not be where you would expect to find an accountant from Scotland.
But that’s exactly where you will find Lauren.
She's the Manager of Mining Equipment Maintenance (MEM) at BHP's Jimblebar iron ore mine in the rugged Pilbara region of Western Australia.
“I was definitely looking for a challenge involving more leadership,” Lauren said.
She came to the mine as Finance Manager in 2013 before moving across to Mining Area C for 18 months.
"I really loved being site-based and even though I was in finance I got to learn a lot about operations and spent a fair bit of time in the field," she said.
"In finance, traditionally you lead a small team and I was looking for a bigger challenge.”
So when the opportunity came up for the position of Mining Equipment Manager with more than 200 people, Lauren seized the opportunity.
"I think the company’s commitment to encouraging women into leadership roles is making it less of a taboo,” she said.
But she admits there was some resistance at first.
“I’ve had a few people say, “Oh no! We’re getting a chick for a boss and she’s from finance. What’s she going to know about maintenance?” Lauren said.
She describes herself as a 'strong people person' with a willingness to listen and feels she has won over most of the cynics.
"Even those who were sceptical say they are really surprised at the change to a more open and engaging style and are really enjoying coming to work and seeing the difference.”
Lauren’s leadership style is a simple one.
Having good, genuine relationships with people is very important but I think being humble enough to listen to your team is the key
She believes "our front line team members have the answers to probably 90% of the problems a team faces”.
"Being able to “hear” what we’re getting wrong - and then empowering or helping people to remove the issue - gets you a long way on the journey," Lauren said.
One of the reasons for Lauren’s unique approach could stem from her diverse background, with experience from banking to tourism and now mining.
A key lesson from her journey is that developing what are sometimes pejoratively described as 'soft skills' is really important.
“They give you the ability to self-reflect on your decisions, right or wrong and figure out how to improve," she said.
“No one gets it right all the time. But it’s better to have respect and listen to people than not try at all. That’s how you leverage the skills and ideas of 250 smart, motivated people."
So what has Lauren learned from this new role so far?
“I guess it's that you have to be authentic. Genuine. Not pretending that you know everything," she said.
“That’s probably what had got me furthest with the team.”
Lauren’s manager, Elsabe said, “Lauren’s passion to understand MEM, and her role, in order to add value to both her team and the overall business objective is awesome to watch.”
With a background in financial management, Lauren sees one of her strengths as making decisions for the future.
“There are times when you have to make a judgement call and sometimes not everyone agrees with it," she said.
"I see myself accountable to the team, not just their leader."
"But, I want them to feel they can open up with me because when you’re relaxed and comfortable, that’s when you get the best out of your people.”