30/01/2008 - 22:00

Diamonds and family – labours of love

30/01/2008 - 22:00


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Maureen Muggeridge is not really interested in causes or making a big deal about women’s progress up the corporate ladder.

Diamonds and family – labours of love

Maureen Muggeridge is not really interested in causes or making a big deal about women’s progress up the corporate ladder.

As a geologist who has founded her own exploration company, Paramount Mining Corporation Ltd, Ms Muggeridge has made her own way in what has largely been a very masculine world.

She says she’s worked hard all her life and didn’t classify herself as “a woman in business,”

“I am a person in business,” Ms Muggeridge told WA Business News.

“If you don’t think of yourself as ‘that’, you don’t have ‘that’ issue.

“I just get on with the job.”

From the early 1970s, Ms Muggeridge has been taking her own advice.

She worked mainly in the Kimberley, looking for diamonds, initially for Tanganyika Holdings Pty Ltd and subsequently CRA Exploration Pty Ltd.

During that time she planned, managed and lead the field team in the sampling program that resulted in the discovery of the Argyle diamond mine in 1979 (see other story).

Throughout the next three decades she’s worked in diamond exploration, as well as raising a family.

The remote work is hot and hard, and was as male dominated as they come.

“I have obviously had some battles being accepted into some roles, like field work.

“You have to get over it,” Ms Muggeridge said.

When CRA took over the exploration in the Kimberley, prior to the Argyle discovery, it agreed to take on everyone associated with the project, including Ms Muggeridge.

“That posed a problem for CRA because they didn’t have women geos working in remote regions in those days. I obviously passed the test,” she quipped.

But Ms Muggeridge hasn’t given up the labour-intensive work just because she’s heading a listed explorer with a $3.8 million market capitalisation.

She said she found running field teams quite simple these days – often outlasting young men in the baking northern heat – but it was not a given from the start.

“In the early days it was different,” she said.

“It was a tricky situation; the blokes didn’t like working with women in the field.

“I really only had two options – be the bossy bitch or the mother, these are the only two roles that the blokes accepted.”

Even though she was a relative youngster, the mining chief said the option she took was to be the mother figure, which suited working in the outback.

“You have to stimulate a caring attitude, especially in the bush where you have to look out for each other,” Ms Muggeridge said.

As a geological team leader, her approach was rewarded with hard work and loyalty from those around her.

Ms Muggeridge said that, from a team-management point of view, she always sought to have fun out in the field, recognising that without the amenities of town the group had to create its own amusement.

At one camp they even started a volleyball competition – playing sport after a long day in the sun.

“People have to look forward to chatting around the camp fire,” she said.

Another management technique is to ensure everyone knows what they are trying to achieve with the sampling, to develop a sense of interest and excitement around the project, even from those not directly involved.

As much as she enjoys the fieldwork, the Paramount boss admits there is also a need for it, with younger geologists less than keen to go exploring in the field.

“There are not many geos who want to do fieldwork, they want to sit behind their computers,” Ms Muggeridge said.

“The age of people doing fieldwork is getting older. That is something the mining industry has to address.

“We are competition with mining, they have good conditions. With exploration you can’t do that, you can’t do two weeks on, two weeks off.

“So I still have to get out there, though I’m not able to spend as much time in the field as I would like.”

Ms Muggeridge believes the value in fieldwork is being meticulous in what you do, staying focused on the task at hand no matter how tough the work is.

In diamond hunting, that usually means grubbing around at the bottom of creek beds, moving boulders to get a clear sample.

“You’ve got to focus on quality,” she said.

“If it is really hot, I’d rather spend two hours getting it right.”

She points out that the area where Argyle was found had been searched previously and the deposit missed.

Away from the fieldwork, Ms Muggeridge said her management style could be described as “mothering”.

She likes people to be working hard, but doesn’t think of herself at the top of pyramid at her small and lean company.

“Obviously there has to be some sort of structure,” she said.

“I see myself not as a boss but as a cog in the middle of a wheel. I am coordinating.”


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