During March, we annually celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) and Women’s History Month. The School of Minerals and Energy Resource Engineering would like to highlight two of our female staff members who have contributed immensely to the learning and development of our students- Dr Yu Jing and Associate Professor Seher Ata.

IWD is a day to celebrate the achievements of women worldwide and to improve quality for women worldwide. The theme for this year’s IWD is #BreakTheBias with the goal to create a more gender-equal world free of biases, stereotypes and discrimination towards women. While women can be increasingly found in the mining and petroleum industry, a huge gender disparity exists. As women only represent 8-17% of the mining industry and 15-30% of the petroleum industry, it is vital to increase these numbers to boost diversity and meet the challenges facing engineering industries.

Dr. Yu Jing 

‘As a woman, I personally think working and leading in a male-dominated workplace is pretty cool. It gives women more confidence and a sense of fulfilment than those working in female-dominated industries.’

Dr. Yu Jing is a Scientia Lecturer at the School of Minerals and Energy Resources Engineering.  She works on understanding subsurface formation rocks and underground fluids flow behaviours, to extract energy resources from the earth.

She has always been passionate about developing interdisciplinary and transformative technologies to power the society in a greener and more sustainable way. This is due to the challenges in the oil and gas sector with the rising demand of energy transition. ‘My dream job as a kid was something that could make a difference and be full of innovation and creativity, which is exactly what I am working on and aiming for,’ she says.

For Dr. Jing, International women’s day is a day to celebrate women’s success, recognise women’s achievements, emphasise women’s rights, and also bring attention to gender equality and related issues. Engineering is mostly dominated by men with petroleum engineering having one of the lowest gender balance ratios. To improve this, ‘As a female early career academic, I feel like more opportunities rather than challenges, including essential roles in the Faculty and School, visibility opportunities, and internal collaboration opportunities.’ This would increase awareness of roles with the industry and encourage more female participation. 

For her, breaking gender biases starts with women being knowledgeable and acquiring skill sets, then to speak up whenever stereotypes and discrimination happen. ‘Everyone is biased to different extents as unconscious biases are everywhere. So, raising awareness is an effective way of reducing unconscious gender biases.’

To encourage more women to fill the gap, she believes that ‘role models are important as the sharing of career experiences, stories and the achievements of female engineers/academics in this field will give other women a clearer vision of their future career in this industry’. This would enable women to see their equal potential and talent in this discipline.

However, there is a glimmer of hope for the future as industry leaders are pushing for gender equality. Australia currently has a few female CEOS in the mining and petroleum industry such as in Woodside and Arrow Energy showing that it is possible for women to take up significant roles in the industry. 

‘On social media, I can see there is an increasing number of great news from female academics than ever before.’ Dr. Jing adds that ‘the committee boards are more gender-balanced than before, which means women are more equally engaged in the decision-making and leadership roles.’

Seher Ata

‘It is pleasing to see there is a wider acknowledgment of the talent and skills that women bring to the discipline and the realisation that women can make a significant impact in the minerals industry’.

Seher Ata is an Associate Professor here at the School of Minerals and Energy Resources Engineering. Her primary duties include teaching, academic advising and counselling of students, research and scholarly activity, and services that are vital to supporting and sustaining the quality and effectiveness of programs in the university.

She also actively promotes diversity and equity within the engineering faculty as a member of the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee. For Assoc. Prof. Ata, IWD is about ‘raising awareness against bias and taking action for equality while also honouring women around the world for their contributions to society at large.’

Assoc. Prof. Ata is proud to be part of the minerals and energy resources industry as it is a major contributor to the Australian economy due to its employment openings and creation of wealth within the community. 

In order to break the biases in that women face in the minerals and energy resources industry, as well as the engineering industry as a whole. ‘We should make engineering careers more attractive to women, create conditions for retaining them in the workforce and help them reach their career potential’. She says. 

As a means to encourage more women to fill in the gender gap, Assoc. Prof. Ata proclaims that ‘actions must be taken to ensure women are given equal opportunities in both diversity and inclusion’. As the industry has a low percentage of women, ‘concrete steps should be taken to accelerate the closing of the gender pay gap and the achievement of pay equity’.

UNSW is exceptionally supportive of diversity, promoting women in engineering as well as the university as a whole but Assoc. Prof. Ata still faces stereotypes from the outside community. ‘As a female academic in a predominantly male sector (the mining industry), I find there is a lot of presumption from outsiders regarding my ability as an academic.’

Mining is a very diverse industry with one of the highest salaries and there are plentiful job opportunities. The industry is always evolving, and it includes initiatives to empower women and policies on equal employment opportunity and greater women's involvement in the mining sector. 

For further information and details on their research:

Dr Yu Jing

Associate Professor Seher Ata