Izabel Dickinson is a Central Queensland girl who blazed onto the mining scene after defying the narrow-minded advice of her career counsellor. Too girly for a mining engineer? Challenge accepted!
Now five years into a fulfilling mining career, Izzy sat down with The Grapevine Club to share her honest advice about working away from home, battling self-doubt in the workplace and using your ‘why’ to get through tough times.
So grab a seat and listen up ladies because this ‘keep-it-real’ interview is about to begin!
Madeleine: Izzy, thank you so much for sharing your story! Before we deep dive into your career journey so far, you just HAVE to share this career counsellor story with us!
Izzy: Well, when it came to deciding on what to do after high school I only knew one thing. That I wanted to live at the Women’s College at The University of Queensland. Apart from that, all that was left to do was pick a degree!
My strong suit at school had always been maths and science so I chose to study engineering. Because, sure, why not?
Towards the end of my first year studying engineering I went to see a career counsellor about what stream of engineering to specialise in. Without giving it a second thought, I wore a dress to the meeting. I can’t say I remember much from that first year of uni (thank you college) but what happened next will be burned into my brain forever.
When I mentioned I was considering specialising in mining, the male counsellor looked me up and down, gave me a gentle smile and said, ‘Maybe take a look at something else sweetie’.
Obviously my pure outrage encouraged me to sign up to the School of Mining immediately! But turns out it was a great decision because I really enjoy it.
Madeleine: Sometimes life has a funny way of pointing us in the right direction! So after you made the decision about what to specialise in, how did you get your start in the industry?
Izabel: After working as a vacation student during university I scored a graduate role with a big mining company that has operations right across Australia.
That graduate role gave me a really great grounding in engineering and launched me into the world of mine planning (where you’re responsible for figuring out the best way to mine a resource – whether it be iron ore, coal, gold, you name it – we plan it).
I worked in design roles for a couple of years and then eventually found my way into short term scheduling.
During those first few years I worked across a number of locations, experienced different work rosters and even tried Fly-In-Fly-Out (FIFO) for a while! I moved to new towns, lived in an onsite camp, worked with heaps of different people and learned a hell of a lot about myself and my job.
Madeleine: There’s been a lot of attention on the FIFO lifestyle over the last few years. How did you find it?
Izzy: I worked FIFO for about 9 months on an 8 days on/6 days off roster. I was based out of Brisbane and flying up to Moranbah and like anything in life, it had its pros and cons.
On the pro side your work and home life have a clear definition. Another benefit is that it enabled me to do the work I love (working on a mine site rather than in a corporate office), while being able to live in a place with more variety that’s usually much closer to friends and family.
On the challenges side, being away from friends and family for long periods of time can be really lonely. And I’m sure it only gets tougher as you start to have children.
Madeleine: One of the great things about sharing career interviews on The Grapevine Club is being able to dig down into some of the more challenging parts of our careers. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?
Izzy: Reflecting back on my first few years in the industry, I think the most important challenge I overcame was learning what my boundaries were and what type of work I did and didn’t want to do.
My role as a short term scheduler was a very intense gig. Basically I was responsible for scheduling 17 big pieces of mining equipment for a rolling horizon of zero to three months.
That meant figuring out exactly where each piece of equipment needed to be and what it needed to be doing to keep on track with the big picture plan. Most equipment runs day and night so the job is an important part of keeping a mine running smoothly.
When I landed the job I didn’t feel qualified enough. So to compensate, I literally gave it everything I had and worked non-stop. I felt like I was under a tonne of pressure and I wasn’t exercising or eating well but was losing weight because of the stress! I was also glued to my computer and barely interacting with other people.
Because I was throwing everything I had into my new role I was neglecting other parts of my life. I started to slip away from my friends and ending up feeling really down and extremely worn out.
At the 9 month mark, I realised just how big a toll it was taking on my life. I met with my boss to say I would see out the financial year but that I wouldn’t be able to go on much longer than that.
Five months later I was at my lowest point when a job came up in a completely different department! I couldn’t believe my luck because it was EXACTLY the type of work I wanted to do.
Getting through those 14 months was one of the biggest professional challenges I’ve overcome. I worked my butt off to get through it and in the process discovered what I wanted out of work, and funnily enough, out of life.
Madeleine: That gig does sound super full on! It looks like you’ve come full circle now and have found a job you really enjoy. What exactly does it entail?
Izzy: My current role is all about coaching frontline leaders in the company’s new practices and ways of working. It’s actually so different to any role I’ve had before!
My work is part of a new pilot program. Because the role and the program is so new, it can be challenging and uncertain at times but it’s cool to be part of something that will shape the organisation moving forward.
I get to coach people and help them implement an improvement project for the business that they are really passionate about. It’s focused on giving frontline leaders time back in their day so that they can spend it on things that matter most to their teams. I also coach them in developing their softer ‘people’ skills.
Sometimes I worry that I’ve gone away from being a ‘technical’ engineer too early, but the skills I am learning in this new job are applicable to any job, in any industry. I try to remind myself that there are so many facets to being a mining engineer. And this is just another one!
Madeleine: You said you learned a lot during your time as a short term scheduler and always working under a lot of pressure. What did that experience teach you about work/life balance?
Izzy: What I’m about to explain will sound simple. But it took me years to figure this stuff out! I wish someone had sat me down and explained it to me when I was just starting out.
Reflecting back on that job, what I learned is not to see ‘work/life balance’ as having the perfect split between work and life. There are so many different elements that make me who I am and they all require different amounts of time and energy depending on what I’m focused on.
Those elements are things like my family, job, relationship and friendships, health (both physical and mental) and all my other hobbies that bring me joy – cooking, gardening, my cats, going on holidays, and so much more!
It’s impossible to fit all of those things into a day or even into a week! Instead what I try to do is make sure I’m devoting time and energy to whichever element needs it most. And sometimes that can be work! I try to check in with myself regularly to see where my energy is being distributed and what needs more focus.
Madeleine: How have you built professional connections and networks in your industry?
Izzy: Being myself! 100% and always. I love talking to anyone and everyone but I can really struggle in a ‘professional networking’ situation. I actually find myself avoiding them all together – which isn’t a good solution!
However when I work with someone who I admire or hit it off with I try to maintain a connection. I will usually send them an email or message a day or week after meeting them to thank them for their time. It’s a really simple and nice way to finish off a ‘connection’. And it makes it easier if you’d ever like to get in touch with them again.
Madeleine: We always ask our interviewee what their experience has been like as a young woman in the work force. Mining is very male-dominated industry, how has it been for you?
Izzy: During my career there has been a big push for more females in the mining industry. It’s something that I’m really supportive and proud of because it’s encouraged a lot of smart, talented people to transition into mining.
On the flip side, it means that I’ve sometimes felt a lot of self-doubt around what I’ve achieved and that can be tough to deal with.
The first few years of any young professional’s career can feel really daunting. You’re starting your career while trying to figure out who you are and what you want to achieve. You’ve also got a lot of new people around you and are learning who to trust. That’s a LOT for anyone to take in!
Sometimes I find myself adding in a whole new layer of pressure and self-doubt based on the fact that I’m a young woman. I’ve asked myself a lot of questions about whether I’ve progressed because I deserved it or simply because of my gender.
Questions run around in my head like, did I only get this job because I’m a female or was it because I was the best candidate for the role? Did I deserve this opportunity because of how hard I’ve worked, or did my gender play a part in it?
When I begin feeling like that I try to really hone in on all the sacrifices I’ve made and how hard I’ve worked to get where I am. At the end of the day I’m committed to my job and I deserve to be here.
Madeleine: That’s a great mindset! Is there any advice you have for other young working women?
Izzy: Yes for sure! Work can be tough sometimes but I’ve found the best way to remain sane and get the most out of it is to be unashamedly yourself. Right to the core.
So many people try to suppress their true colours at work and become someone they’re not to impress other people. I think I have done reasonably well for myself because I am me, always.
People can usually see through falseness and dishonestly, they know when you’re hiding things or when you’re telling a lie. So be yourself!
Also, I am a big believer in knowing your why. Ask yourself why you are choosing this job or career. Finding that personal purpose will motivate you during the tough times and push you to succeed.
Figuring out why you’re there means you know what you want. It means you’ll keep showing up and doing your best work no matter what happens or what other people say or do.
Massive shout out to Izzy for getting so raw and real in this interview. You can find her on LinkedIn here. I don’t know about you guys but I will definitely be putting her email tip into practice next time I meet someone new in my industry!
We love hearing career stories from the amazing women in our community so be sure to nominate a kick-arse career girl for later in the series.
For now, make sure you check out our previous interviews Meet Amanda Campeanu, 27, Brand photographer and Instagram strategist and Meet Sarah Johnson, 26, Founder of Corporate Career Girl.
Until next time,