How sharing my unique experience and passion for gender equality in mining led me to the TEDx stage

The seed is planted

It was one of my first days in my MBA program. I was surrounded by unfamiliar faces, in an unfamiliar city, and feeling self-conscious about whether I deserved to be sitting in that lecture theatre with these bright and enthusiastic classmates. Had the admissions department made a mistake by letting me in? Would I be able to not only survive, but thrive in this program?

My imposter syndrome was already present in these early days, but it became ever more front of mind, when Katharine D’Amico, lecturer for our Leadership Program asked the class “And who here wants to do a TED talk one day?”. I had never thought about this and was expecting the same from my classmates. I was shocked when most of the class raised their hands. It was a surprise to me, that so many people had even considered it. Where on earth did they get the confidence from? Did they really have an interest they were so passionate about that they could engage an audience for twenty minutes?

So, it certainly came as a shock to myself when a mere 3 months later, I was submitting my pitch to be in the running to do a TEDx talk.

The opportunity presents itself

ESADE hosts an annual TEDx event, however the pandemic meant this was the first time in two years it was going ahead. Most of the talks were to be given by a variety of professionals, but this year there was a sole position to be filled by a student. Students were invited to submit a 5-minute pitch of their chosen topic, and the top 5 pitches chosen to deliver a preliminary informal talk to the cohort. Voting by the audience took place, and in the end two students got through, and were invited to deliver a TEDx talk.

How sharing my unique experience and passion for gender equality in mining led me to the TEDx stage

The theme was “Creating the Future Today – by taking small steps today, we can create a better tomorrow”. This theme resonated with me. I’d spent my career advocating for gender equality, diversity, and inclusion in the resources industry. It was and is my life’s passion, shaped through my experiences of being a woman in a largely male dominated industry. I’ve worked my whole career on a mine site in remote northwest Australia, as a geologist, operations supervisor, and project manager. Suffice to say, not always have my experiences been positive, and some of those negative experiences I believe to be a direct result of my gender. Rather than shying away from these pervasive and embedded problems, I’ve decided to stay in the industry, and focus my efforts on making it a more inclusive workplace for the women who come after me.

I took my time deciding whether this was an opportunity I wanted to pursue. A lot of work, preparation and time is involved in a TEDx talk, so it’s not a decision to take lightly. Plus, I always had at the back of mind this niggling feeling of, what gives me the right to speak on this topic? I’m not a world-renowned expert on the topic, and I have so much privilege. It felt like perhaps I wasn’t the right person to speak about this.

However, I was able to resolve all these issues. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but the whole point of doing an MBA is to devote yourself fully and make the most of every opportunity that comes your way. In terms of being an expert on this topic, I realized (with the encouragement of Katharine D’Amico, who became my TEDx coach), I am an expert on this topic. I am an expert by nature of having lived experience of inequality and discrimination. And finally, yes, I have a lot of privilege, so the least I can do is to use my platform to share an incredibly important message.

So, decision made, I dove in headfirst, and was fortunate enough to be chosen. My topic was “Women in Leadership: why we need more at the top”, and I used this talk to demonstrate how increased participation of women at the leadership level in resources and broader business can bring improvements and opportunities to citizens, employees, and shareholders. Increased diversity isn’t just about doing what’s right, it also makes good financial sense. I used my personal experiences from mining as examples, so I could highlight that I do know what I’m talking about. I firmly believe that increased representation of women in mining leads to safer and more productive workplaces, and better culture.

And so I set out to prepare: Days of practice, hours of encouragement from friends and family, one or two bouts of crying, and endless support from my partner, meant that I was finally ready. Or as ready as I’d ever be. I hadn’t actually yet managed to pull off a flawless practice run, but I had come very close and at that stage, there was no time left.

The day was finally here.

Guest contributor and ESADE MBA Melinda Keys delivers a TEDx talk on gender equality in mining

Honestly, the day was a blur. I only have fairly vague and disjointed memories. I was running on adrenaline and nerves. But, I got through it. And not only did I get through it, but it was fun. It can’t be overstated how truly enjoyable it is to share your passion with an audience, who are there purely to listen to you for twenty minutes. It was surreal, showing photos of me in my high visibility work uniform in the outback of Australia surrounded by dust and bulldozers, to a city audience in Barcelona. I was able to share lessons, and encouragement of why we need to keep pushing. We can’t get complacent, and we certainly can’t rest until all industries are diverse and inclusive workplaces.

The experience, and would I do it again?

I’ve reflected a lot on whether I would do a TED talk again. It’s hard to come to an answer on a hypothetical, but I think I would. I loved the challenge, and I loved having the opportunity to advocate for things I’m passionate about, and a TED talk is a great platform to share your message. I also developed and grew a lot, particularly in areas like communication, influence, and public speaking. All great life skills to have, and I’m excited to continue building on these, and developing my leadership skillset.

My parting words of advice for those on the tipping point of a big decision – whether that’s to do a TEDx, enroll in an MBA, or any other life experience that involves a lot of time, energy, and thought. It’s a cliché, but I would hate to lead a life of regret, and look back later on this opportunity with disappointment if I hadn’t done the talk. It takes nerves and sometimes a little push, but it always is so worth it. I would also encourage you to speak up about your experiences, and be open and honest. You don’t know how many people are feeling what you’re going through until you voice those experiences. As I’ve found out during my MBA, just about everyone is living with imposter syndrome; how could you not when surrounded by such smart, funny, and brilliant class mates? If you particularly come from an industry or background where there’s not many people that look like you, share your story and make an impact. It’ll make it that little bit easier for those who follow.

Melinda Keys delivers a TEDx on gender equality in mining
Guest contributor and ESADE MBA Melinda Keys delivers a TEDx talk on gender equality in mining

Photos from TEDxESADE, Melinda Keys

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