• In the lead-up to International Women’s Day on 8 March, we’re celebrating some of the champion women of the resources industry
  • Jeneta Owens is managing director of Godolphin Resources and previously managed the regional exploration division for Rio Tinto at the Northparkes copper-gold mine in NSW
  • A late bloomer to the industry, Owens was a mature-age graduate and single parent to a young daughter when she landed her first job as a geologist


Mineral exploration isn’t for the faint-hearted. Neither is raising a small child as a single parent. Jeneta Owens took on both challenges concurrently.

Owens was a mature-age student when she enrolled in geology at the University of Tasmania. With a young daughter in tow, she then formally entered one of the toughest industries on the planet.

It was arguably the most challenging period of her life, but one that appears to have steeled Owens for the position she now finds herself in, as managing director of rare earths explorer Godolphin Resources (ASX:GRL).

“Getting into mineral exploration is challenging because most of the time it involves being away from home,” Owens tells Stockhead.

“As a single parent, how do you really manage that with a small child? You have to strike a really good balance between being a parent and your own career goals and aspirations and the work you can actually do.”

Owens spent a short period doing fly-in, fly-out work while her daughter was in boarding school, but despite the best efforts of all involved, it never quite worked out as she hoped it would.

Suddenly, the breadth of job prospects looked very thin.

Then came knocking an opportunity to manage Rio Tinto’s (ASX:RIO) regional exploration programs around the established mining town of Parkes in New South Wales, and the rest is history for Owens and her family.

“I was very lucky to be involved with companies that actually valued what I was providing them from a work perspective, they had operations that were residentially based so I could be out there exploring and still be home every night,” Owens says.

“That’s kind of the slant I took to industry. I potentially might have had different experiences if I wasn’t a single parent, but I’m thankful I still had options, even if they were limited.”

Jeneta Owens during her early days as a geologist in Tasmania. Pic: Supplied


A pioneer for women in more ways than one

Owens grew up in rural Tasmania and completed an apprenticeship when she was just 17, alongside another young girl, making them the first two females to do so in the company’s 150-year history.

It meant Owens experienced what it’s like to be the minority in a male-dominated industry from a very earlier age.

Fortunately, she wasn’t subject to the same discrimination and “horrible workplace conditions for a female” when she crossed over to the mining and exploration sector years later.

“I actually had very supportive managers and support generally when I first entered the mining industry,” she says.

“There was the odd driller that was a bit left of centre and the odd person that had a few issues, but because I had the support of my managers and colleagues, I felt comfortable to raise it and just deal with it on the spot.

“It was actually more later on in my career, as I started to move up the ladder so to speak, that I noticed more discrimination against me personally.”


Owens participated in a mines rescue competition as part of Rio Tinto’s Northparkes team. Pic: Supplied


Owens, now part of a blended family, recalled a time when one of her managers scolded her for taking carer’s leave instead of annual leave to look after an unwell child which wasn’t one of her own.

“Because this child didn’t come from my own loins, my manager knew that and made things really difficult for me, which is something I still struggle to get my head around,” she says.

“I’m at an age now where because I’ve experienced discrimination because of my gender in my early years, I’ve become quite a bit desensitised to it. A lot of things just wash off me and it’s not until something’s really blatantly in my face that I’m actually aware of it.

“What really does make me feel happy is the younger generation of females that are coming through; these girls just accept nothing. They actually take people to task and I think it’s just the most amazing thing. It’s a real shifting environment in our industry now; people are very respectful and actually think about this as part of their daily life.”


Leading from the front

Diversity, inclusion and “giving everyone a voice” are central to the culture Owens is looking to foster at Godolphin, which controls one of the largest rare earths deposits on Australia’s East Coast via the 94.9Mt @ 738.95ppm TREO resource at Narraburra, about 340km west of Sydney.

“Everyone has a voice and it needs to be listened to,” she says.

“It’s really important to listen to what people are saying and then work with them to resolve any issues, if there are issues, and just understand where people are coming from, because we all bring our own baggage to the table and sometimes just understanding what that is can really open your eyes up about how a person operates and how they can be happier in the workplace.”


Owens joined Godolphin as managing director in June 2021. Pic: Supplied


Owens admits to being taken aback at times when she receives praise from her peers, whether that be concerning the regular technical commentary she provides online or for simply speaking her mind about other matters relating to the mining and exploration sectors.

If she could make one change to the industry for the better, it would be to further reduce the time people are away from their families on long working rosters.

“I know everyone’s been doing it for a long time, but society is changing and it’s not as accepted anymore,” Owens says.

“As an industry, we need to manage this moving forward, because people are not going to want to be away from their families for extended periods like we have come to know in the days gone by. Families are more connected, everyone’s more involved and I think we need to do something address that.”

Owens says while she would like to see more diversity amongst graduates in mining and exploration-related university courses, she believes the greater challenge is encouraging women to return to the workforce after having families.

“It’s really hard to get mums back once they have children, many end up becoming teachers or going to other professions,” she says.

“We need to get more women returning to the industry after having families and moving up to that next level.”


At Stockhead, we tell it like it is. While Godolphin Resources is a Stockhead advertiser, it did not sponsor this article.