Changing Minesets: Florence Drummond

17th May 2021

Florence Drummond is the co-founder of Indigenous Women In Mining and Resources Australia (IWIMRA), a grassroots initiative connecting Indigenous women working in the extractive industries in Australia. She is a Dauareb/Wuthathi woman, born and raised on Thursday Island.

Florence is focusing on sustainable solutions for the quality progression of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce, aligning with the innovative nature of the mining and resources industry.

During the recent years of working in the industry, she has grown a network that comprises national, but also international Women In Mining organizations. Her efforts help people to engage in conversations around indigenous equality and to understand the global conversations that uphold the values of host communities.

Q: How did you choose to become a mine operator? 

A: I started my career in mining about eight years ago. When I was living in Melbourne, I didn’t really know much about the mining industry at first. My background was in hospitality at that time. I first learned about mining when I went home for the holidays on year in the Torres Strait. I started to feel homesick, being away for my studies and work. During that time off, I’ve found in the local paper an advertisement for a local mining traineeship in Weipa, which is close to my hometown. I thought it was a great opportunity, even though I didn’t know anyone in the industry. That was my introduction to mining. I was there for seven years as an operator. Being unskilled at first, I didn’t know what to do since I didn’t have the academic background of an engineer. And so it was a good career start in such a new industry for me. 

Q: What made you afterwards want to start the Indigenous Women In Mining and Resources Australia (IWIMRA) organization?

A:  After about 5 years in mining I really started to be more familiar with the roles in the industry, operational and managerial. Living in a remote location, you do feel quite disconnected, even professionally. So I started to do some research, and I realized there were a lot of indigenous people at senior levels and in decision level positions. That is what drove my interest to create a space where we can have a conversation and get equal participation. I saw that there is a deficiency in this space, and I wanted to start a conversation.

Q: What was your perspective of the mining industry when

you started? How did it change since then?

A: When I started, I didn’t know much or understood how the mining operations worked, even in terms of the legal framework, or how mining operations obtain their license to operate and so on. What I did know was how lucrative is the industry, and that there were plenty of opportunities to start working in this sector. That was my initial perception. But, working for a little while, I started to see why you are getting paid so well, in some cases: be it that you’re working away from your home for extended periods of time, or you’re working long hours, or even potentially compromising your health working onsite for long shifts; there is always a risk factor that comes with the job. So, I started to understand what your remuneration involves as a mine operator.

But right now, as a crowdfund founder, I do believe there is a lot of opportunity for more in-business participation, and there is an appetite for knowledge of best practices not only nationally, but internationally as well. 

Q: Why do you like working in the industry?

A: When you start to realize how much of a leaver mining is for so many social hurdles, it really becomes a solution that you would want to work on. There are so many aspects and practices of mining that are traditionally not the safest, the most environmental-friendly or inclusive in terms of indigenous participation. But, I think the way moving forward is to understand that there are frameworks in place that complement each other. Frameworks such as the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the ESG and the SDG goals were designed to help to create a better society and economy. 

For me right now, what I love about being in this industry is utilizing these leavers to start working together. We can ensure that there is an indigenous voice in the conversation. There is an opportunity to bring society to a more transparent state and thinking about the environment and sustainability realistically. I do think we can find common ground on our way forward, where all stakeholders are going to be willing to be engaged in conversations.

Q: How did the transition from fieldwork towards social

activism make you adapt your skillset?

A: It was such a steep learning curve for me when I started the IMWIR. Back then, there had started to be more interest in what I was bringing to the table. Mainly, I was being pulled into many conversations around things I wasn’t even confident enough to talk about. At the very start, I didn’t value my own story. And I think this applies to a lot of women, who don’t see value in what they bring to the table. And for me, being under the microscope because it was such a public growth, was very challenging. 

But what I did every day was just show up. Every day, I networked, met more people that were part of the same conversation or wanted to contribute to indigenous engagement. Creating a safe space where indigenous people could have a conversation within the industry was where I have found I can add value. There were very few people at the time, but I’ve found that my job was is about challenging boundaries and start to grow, regardless of numbers. 

Q: At the moment, what is your favourite project that you’ve been working on, or recently finished?

A: So many interesting people have expressed an interest to start projects together since IWIMRA started. It is a very exciting and engaging space, for sure. Currently, we’ve been working on a project in Peru, which is building on the relationship that we’ve started to create with Latin American countries. We had the privilege to travel recently to Chile, Peru and Colombia, and meet women working in the mining industry and the extractive industry. We needed to understand that we have similar hurdles to overcome and that we’re having a similar history. Ultimately, it was very rewarding to build on something that we have in common and that we’re passionate about.

Q: What do you think is still holding back the mining industry, in terms of sustainability, equality, accessibility, etc.?

A: I think, as an industry, we don’t excel in promoting the good things that we do. And that ultimately comes down to education. There are so many things that I see happening in the background, which is not promoted, especially when it comes to ESG. We just don’t do a good job at sharing that! I think once the industry starts to share more consistently, it would reduce the gap between the people’s perceptions, and what mining does and strives for. So, for me, communication and education should be the main points in the future to enhance, making the sector more transparent. 

It is really about creating “brand ambassadors”. Withing the IWIMRA space, I’ve had the privilege to bring light to the topic of mining positively, and to acknowledge that there are opportunities for improvement. 

Q: How do you think the industry changed since you have started, in terms of equality and inclusion of minorities?

A: I’m so excited about the phase that our industry is in right now. People are much more confident to talk about equality, equity, inclusiveness and diversity. I see that we have the tools and we got much more confident in facilitating a conversation that would end up being productive. I think, as an industry we have now found an understanding of how beneficial it is to have equality and equity on mining site. 

Q: How do you think technology impacts social aspects of mining, nowadays?

A: There is so much more online engagement nowadays, as well as online education. For me, it’s about the diversity of thought and conversation that stands out. I am so excited that there are so many forums that we can attend and so many thought leaders sharing their knowledge openly online. So, technology for me enables an amazing elevation of transparency that helps other people to be part - or watch - the conversations surrounding our industry, even if they are not directly involved in mining. 

Q: What do you think are the topics that are going to see an increase in interest in the next couple of years, especially post-COVID-19?

A: I think what the pandemic did was help us recognize where we could improve. For example, in Australia, and particularly in my community, we really saw how deficient we are in terms of infrastructure in rural communities and of course, around mining towns. Post-COVID, I really think that innovation at a local level will take off. Localized projects, localized funding, and utilizing these initiatives to shift into more sustainable working and living conditions, would make mean that we won’t have to rely on massive and complex supply chains to survive. Investing more locally would mean taking our ownership back and rebuild our community. To me, during a post-COVID time, this should be the focus: localizing the economy.

Q: Lastly, what would be your advice for someone just starting in the mining industry?

A: Probably the best advice I could give you is to believe in yourself and ask questions! No question is silly questions, especially when you start out. And ultimately, connect with people that value you.