A titan for women in resources: Leighton leads the way in Ecuador
With an interest in science and a love for the outdoors and “red dirt”, Melanie Leighton was always destined for a career in geology, even if that pathway didn’t become clear until after her first year of university studies.
“It was an easy choice to do a Bachelor of Science when I left school, and one of my first-year elective units was geology,” Leighton tells Stockhead.
“The rest is history. Here I am 23 years later, still in the mining industry, although my role has evolved somewhat over the years.”
Leighton will celebrate her first anniversary as chief executive of Ecuador-focused copper and gold explorer Titan Minerals (ASX: TTM) next month, having arrived at the company with a wealth of senior management and geological experience with the likes of Hot Chili (ASX: HCH), Harmony Gold, Hill 50 Gold and Northwest Resources.
Across her first 11 months in the hot seat at TTM, Leighton oversaw the delineation of a maiden JORC resource of 3.1Moz gold and 22Moz silver for the company’s flagship Dynasty project, two separate capital raisings pocketing almost $10 million and multiple concurrent exploration programs in Ecuador.
Exploration in the Andes was certainly not something Leighton would have even remotely contemplated when she began her career as fresh-faced graduate geologist in the tiny West Australian mining town of Mt Magnet, about 570km northeast of Perth.
A stint of vacation work prior to joining the industry full-time ensured a rapid adjustment to life on a mine site. In the back of her mind, she knew it was also an opportunity which could not to be taken for granted.
“At the time of my graduation and entering the mining industry in 2000, the gold price was ~$300/oz – a very different prospect to today – so I considered myself very lucky to have secured a job as a geologist,” Leighton recalled.
“Many of my uni mates were not so lucky.”
While it was also daunting for a young woman stepping into a male-dominated industry at the very start of her career, Leighton was steadfastly determined to be recognised for being the best version of herself while striving to find her feet in the professional world.
And, just as she would go on to prove over the next two decades, Leighton grasped every opportunity afforded to her with both hands.
“Fortunately, more so than challenges, I have been offered many opportunities in this industry and I have been very fortunate to have had the support of my fellow colleagues and managers, with some key mentors that have been significant to shaping my career,” she said.
“There is a macho, boys club component to the mining industry which I think is slowly changing, but my motto has always been ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’. You have to be thick-skinned, but hard work and resilience are the keys to success in this industry.”
Alongside her appointment as a founding non-executive director of Great Boulder Resources (ASX: GBR), Leighton considers one of the defining – and most satisfying – moments of her career to date to be the flexibility she was afforded to work from home following the birth of her first child.
“The support and opportunities given to me to continue working in a flexible capacity at that time in my life really shaped my career and allowed me to continue in the mining industry and to continue growing my career,” she said.
“The flexibility of working from home that came about due to the onset of COVID has seen an improvement in the work-life balance of many women in the mining industry. We as women are fantastic multi-taskers, so the opportunity for women (and men) to work flexi-time from home, I think can only be a positive for reducing stress, improving mental health, and promoting further efficiencies in business.
“There’s no such thing as normal office hours anymore, we are connected to work through our smartphones 24/7, so we can work from anywhere.”
Under Leighton’s leadership, Titan is fostering a strong culture for diversity among its workforce. There is currently a 50/50 gender split in managerial, coordinator and senior professional roles within the company, with females also accounting for 37% of its junior/graduate positions.
Like any proud mother, family time is important for Leighton and she welcomes the plethora of safety improvements and concerted focus on going home safely at the end of the working day which have been fostered with industry circles over the past two decades.
She also applauds the increased spotlight on mental health of FIFO workers and hopes more can be done to support those who she considers “the backbone of the industry”.
“I feel that this is so important, with mining industry FIFO workers spending a significant amount of time away from their friends and family,” she said.
“This is one of the biggest drawbacks of working in the mining industry, which to a large extent can’t be avoided, so more needs to be done to support these frontline workers.”
Leighton’s only wish for the future is for the industry to find a way to successfully navigate the “rollercoaster” experience of unpredictable commodity cycles.
“The highs are very high, often fairly short-lived and only a few win, while the lows are extremely low and represent a mass exodus of mining professionals, in particular from the exploration sector, as these professionals and services are generally the first to go,” Leighton said.
“I’m not sure that I have the answer, but I think longer term planning and investment is required to protect and promote the industry.”
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At Stockhead, we tell it like it is. While Titan Minerals is a Stockhead advertiser, they did not sponsor this article.