When Elizabeth Swain started at Rio Tinto in 1969 she was the mining company’s first female engineer cadet, and went on to become its longest serving employee of 44 years.
“I have always believed that I have to be one better ... you don’t want to get dragged down to the average standard,” Mrs Swain said.
“A lot of people have said to me ‘I don’t know how you do it with a family’...but you can make anything happen if you want to.”
Mrs Swain has been made a Member of the Order of Australia in recognition of her service to the mining industry and community of Tasmania, and for becoming a role model to female engineers.
After studying several nights a week in addition to full-time work to become an engineer, Mrs Swain became the company’s first female research and plant engineer.
She said she took on various leadership roles in many areas of the male-dominated Rio Tinto, where she was in charge of more than 120 workers at any one time, and also worked through organisational change.
This experience eventually led to her work as a company director on various boards since 2000, including Ben Lomond Water, Heritage Island and Credit Union and Police Bank.
“I have been on a lot of boards where I am the only female and it is a lot of hard work ... it is changing, but there is a long way to go,” she said.
“You can’t afford to be too feminist.
“You have to say ‘diversity is a good thing,’ and then get on with it.”
Mrs Swain has also been involved with the Ben Lomond Ski Patrol since 1987.
She was chair of the Launceston Youth Suicide Action Group, is a Tasmanian Business Woman of the Year, and has worked on diversity issues.