"We are all responsible for our workplace culture," says Rio Tinto machine operator Florence Drummond, co-founder of Indigenous Women in Mining & Resources Australia (IWIMRA)

Rio Tinto’s Florence, humbled to walk her own journey

Rio Tinto’s Florence, humbled to walk her own journey

Florence Drummond is a Machine Operator with Rio Tinto and Co-Founder of Indigenous Women in Mining & Resources Australia (IWIMRA).

An inspirational Dauareb/Wuthathi woman based in Weipa, a coastal mining town in Cape York Peninsula in Australia’s far north Queensland, Florence is focused on showcasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women working in the mining and resources industry to support each other in their career journeys.

Recognition of her impressive work has seen her awarded Weipa’s Citizen of the Year, cited as a finalist in the Queensland Resources Council (QRC) Resources Awards for Women, and celebrated as a recipient of the Up-and-Coming Recognition Award at the QRC Indigenous Awards in the Indigenous Advocacy category. She has also participated as the only Torres Strait Islander delegate from Australia at the United Nations 63rd Commission on the Status of Women in New York.

Where Women Work caught up with Florence to learn about her work with Rio Tinto and how she is making an impact through IWIMRA.

Florence works as a Machine Operator with Rio Tinto

Florence helps Rio Tinto mine to extract bauxite and gets to interact daily with a wide range of different machines. Her focus is always on safety, a crucial skill, as it is for the company as a whole via their policies and procedures adhering to the fundamentals of safety which are guided by the ‘Mine’s Criticals’, ‘Golden Rules’ and the true meaning of ‘Going Home Safely’.

A strong focus on environment, cultural and spiritual connection is also important in Florence’s work. “It is the most beautiful experience to be at the forefront of nature, and to witness the regeneration of native plants and vegetation in our completed areas of work. It is the side of mining Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are heavily involved in, and is aligned with care for country practices,” explains Florence.

Florence describes one of the most important functions of her role as being able to influence her workplace culture to remain informed of opportunities within the industry on a national and international level, organically creating a thriving environment for next wave of employees into the workplace. “As our industry is entering into a phase of sustainability and innovation, it is important that we create an environment where we nourish our youth to learn from what they experience, on a regular basis, and to be part of innovative solutions.”

Rio Tinto Florence Drummond

A positive work culture is also a high priority for Florence. “We are all responsible for our workplace culture. Key to this is being fit and ready for work, respecting each other, sharing our own life stories and thinking about how we contribute to building a team based on trust and friendship.”

When asked about one of the challenges in her current role, Florence suggests that career progression can be limited. “Mining and Resources is the second largest employer for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Rio Tinto directly employs the highest number of indigenous workforce,” says Florence, “so I enjoy highlighting the stories of current employees to understand the landscape better, but most importantly to highlight the opportunities for quality career progression of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Florence says that she is firmly is committed to celebrating Rio Tinto’s Elevate RAP and a commitment to the Uluru Statement from the Heart and is looking forward to the influences this can steer for Rio Tinto’s internal systems in order to remain an industry leader.

Working in a remote location has benefits and challenges

Rio Tinto remote location working

Florence enjoys the work culture at Rio Tinto and sums it up in one word: “family”. She enjoys living and working in Weipa and describes the town as a stunning location, especially the beautiful sunrises, sunsets and night sky.

However, the remote location can also be a challenge for her role. “I feel that living and working remotely, we forget the reach and abundance of opportunities of the global company we work for,” explains Florence.

“Being in a remote location has many amazing advantages but also presents challenges like sometimes having limited accessibility to certain services you may seek. Also, Florence suggests that she sometimes misses the day-to-day exchange of knowledge that colleagues in more central locations may enjoy, and the ability to have a wide range of role models, mentors and further professions on hand.

Rio Tinto Weipa

Florence explains that recent telecommunication upgrades are supporting pathways that encourage the community better access to practical education opportunities and she believes this in turn will help build greater capacity and skills within the region. “Having the tools accessible to facilitate a learning environment, where people could take greater ownership of where they could steer their future is key,” comments Florence.

Supporting indigenous women into the mining sector

Rio Tinto indigenous women

Florence describes herself professionally as a woman who is ambitious, passionate and curious to learn more - someone who has taken ownership of her own circumstances and strives to better herself. Valuing her own Indigenous background, Florence explains that she is “holding the space for further Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to celebrate their own story within the industry” and sees herself as “a woman who has built the courage to follow her heart and her dreams.”

This has led to Florence founding IWIMRA in cooperation with her sister, where she rallies further women to share their stories, connect and encourage Indigenous women to utilise their career in the mining and resources sector as a lever to build capacity in communities.

IWIMRA was founded to create a stronger connection with indigenous women in the traditionally male, non- indigenous mining sector. IWIMRA’s mission states “Our history and our present experience with the Mining and Resource sector, as indigenous people, has always been and is troubled. Our history since settlement will always remain as a scar on our generations to come, however, our strive to survive, as the present generation to be stronger and overcome entrenched trauma, begins with daily conversations. IWIMRA is focused on creating a national framework that will support indigenous women who are currently participating and aspiring to grow within this sector. To reach our end goal, which is to establish positive role models within our industry, at decision making levels, we must start with positive daily conversations. Our thoughts become our words and our words become our actions. This is our guiding principle.”

Rio Tinto maintains strong support for Indigenous people and communities

Florence describes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander progression as “the reality of my life story”, and values the fact that Rio Tinto supports her ambition to work on areas that matter to her. Florence has a core aim. “I want to help break biases and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our industry,” she says. “I am determined to utilize all that I know, all that I acquire and all that I am to shift the paradigms. Being part of a large family, a community, and being a minority - a First Nation woman - I am humbled to be walking this journey I call my own,” explains Florence.

Rio Tinto award winning Indigenous support

Rio Tinto’s Weipa operations have three Aboriginal Agreements with 12 Traditional Owner groups. These agreements ensure local Indigenous people have a say in how the benefits of mining are used to support current and future generations – from financial benefits, through to education, training, cultural heritage protection and employment.

Rio Tinto works with Traditional Owners to make sure culture is shared and respected, and important heritage sites are looked after properly. The company holding cultural camps with Traditional Owners to record important sites and help Elders pass on knowledge to younger generations - and Rio Tinto has even scooped the Best Company Indigenous Procurement Initiative Award at the QRC Indigenous Awards.

Sharing sound career advice with other women

Rio Tinto Florence career advice

With a great deal of career experience, Florence is keen to provide career advice and support for further women interested in working with Rio Tinto and she has a clear understanding of the attributes most valued by the company.

“Firstly, I remind women not to undervalue their life experience and current skills that could be transferable across the different sections of the business,” explains Florence. “Secondly, with the phase of innovation and automation being our future, I strongly encourage women to seek opportunities in the STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, mining) space. Soft skills are also important and are required to navigate the new era of our industry.”

Florence says the best piece of advice she has ever been given is that “no question is a silly question”. Additionally, through her own career experiences, Florence has learned to celebrate her colleagues daily and to be unapologetically herself - salient tips from an award-winning woman who is making a real difference in the mining industry.

Join inspirational women like Florence at Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto Florence join company

Are you feeling inspired by Florence’s career story? Could you see yourself thriving within a work culture best described as “family”? Rio Tinto offers exceptional mining and resources careers in environments where you are challenged and supported to drive positive change.

Research Rio Tinto's current job vacancies and kick-start an amazing career today.


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Disclosure: Where Women Work researches and publishes insightful evidence about how its paid member organizations support women's equality.

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