Think HBR

Cate Sims


Rio Tinto was incorporated as a company in 1873 and has grown to be one of the largest, most diversified, and sustainable mining companies in the world, they have been operating in the Hunter Valley for over 140 years. Cate Sims is their Specialist Aboriginal Relations and as such is the senior advisor for Aboriginal relations.

Cate was working in Local Government in 2006 when Rio Tinto Coal Australia (RTCA) invited her to apply for the role. After graduating from University, she worked in the not-for-profit sector, community legal centres, and non-government organisations. Although this work was in unrelated areas, Cate says the experience was fantastic training. “I often had very few human or financial resources, this taught me to be resourceful, creative, tenacious, and resilient!” Skills she continues to draw on. Cate also had substantial knowledge of Upper Hunter communities and diverse and strong relationships, expertise that RTCA considered critical for the work they were setting out to do with Aboriginal communities.
It was a challenging career move, in the past Cate had worked in largely female dominated environments, and now found herself in a male dominated workplace where few if anyone had any understanding or experience of the work she was employed to do. “As a woman in mining
I have only overcome challenges through a combination of self-belief, taking the initiative (and some risks) and as much as possible, establishing and working to targets with realistic timeframes and expectations.” Her best advice in this situation is to identify some simple, quick wins to get some runs on the board early. This will give you the space to work on the more complex projects that will need time, resources (and relationships) to deliver. “Quick wins build your confidence; earn the confidence of colleagues and other stakeholders and in turn make it easier to win resources and support for your bigger, more resource intensive work.”
When Cate’s not at work, she can be found with her family, she has two sons, both will soon be at University, and a husband who has worked away for the past three years, so together-time is very precious. Her daily routine involves exercise, walking or running her dog on her favourite cross country track. “It is a haven for nature, especially birds. I had the privilege last week of being within a metre of a wedge tail eagle. Magnificent and humbling.”
Looking to the future Cate hopes the Hunter diversifies. “The current downturn in the coal mining industry is increasingly exposing the dependence on mining and the related vulnerability of many local communities. It is also increasingly contributing to a negative sentiment and outlook for the regional labour market and economy” observes Cate. “So, although I am no expert on economic development, it is clear that for our region to be strong and sustainable, we will need many more and diverse non-mining businesses to compliment the mining sector.”