2 minutes with a Mentor: meet Olga Sudnitsin

It’s no secret that the lack of representation of women in engineering roles has been a challenging one to date.

So what does it feel like, being the only female graduate of a Masters in Engineering, swimming in a class of over eighty men?

Here’s a clue – it doesn’t end there.

From humble beginnings in remote Russia to living out her dream as Technology Practice Lead at BHP Technology in Brisbane – Olga tells us what it was like then, and now.

Growing up in the Soviet Union, Olga lived in a remote town of just five thousand people. She dreamed of making a difference that extended so much further than her small town – she wanted to impact and create change across the world.  

Shortly after her graduation, and the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1991, the wind of freedom and adventure called Olga to Australia. She attended English classes for migrant professionals and very quickly was offered the opportunity to join a prestigious hypersonic engineering post-graduate team. Here she earned a master of engineering science (by research) degree before joining the mining industry.

From rocks to rail, oil and gas, Olga has done it all when it comes to engineering.

With a broad range of experiences and capabilities across a variety of industries and companies, she has seemingly made an impact everywhere for; small, large, non-profit, government-owned, community services, regional and international corporations.

Today, as the Technology Practice Lead at BHP, Olga resides in Brisbane living her dream – creating change on a daily basis by leading business partnerships in maintenance, geoscience and resource engineering centres of excellence and planning and technical communities.

We asked Olga about the people in her life that have helped her to reach this point in her career and those she has called upon.

I have had a few trusted mentors (although never formalised mentoring relationships) that I just naturally gravitated towards, being people whom I respected and had opinions I valued greatly. During my first graduate job (which was very important and very scary for a recent migrant, uni graduate and non-English speaking as well) I was lucky to have a very trusted and experienced Lead Engineer in a top consulting firm to take care of me and show me the ropes in a safe environment.

If it was not for him leading me, sharing his approaches and experiences freely, and telling me his story, it might have been a very different experience for me in my first role.

Nurturing and encouragement play a very significant role in mentoring – way too often it is easier to do it yourself rather than explain how to do it – especially important if the graduate/mentee is prepared to listen.

Olga is part of the Industry Mentoring Network in STEM (IMNIS) Mentoring Program.  IMNIS breaks down barriers, fosters a culture of mentoring and collaboration between industry and academia, extends professional networks,  and helps students strengthen their ‘soft skills’ and become more informed about the opportunities beyond academia.

We asked for Olga’s thoughts on how the program impacts those in STEM industries. In particular, drawing on her experience of entering the workforce and why she felt it is important to mentor women.

Mentoring contributes greatly to supporting women in engineering. Especially in heavy industrial environments, mine operations both above and below ground, it can be remote and challenging. Mentoring can assist by establishing a support network, leaning-in circles and ensuring that we look out for each other – it is especially important.

I often travelled extensively across various environments and plans, so I am glad I can share that unique experience because it only comes with time. My mentees have the opportunity to leverage my experience and can look out for things when they encounter those similar situations.

Although I think Australia has gone a long way to empower women in the last 30 decades, we still have some pockets of non-parity – found in the way women are remunerated, promoted and singled-out at times. 

I want to ensure that we break ceilings and barriers, that we come out strong and ensure that women support each other. That we introduce extra diversity, not just gender but most importantly ‘thought diversity’ as we all see the world differently.  

The more tips and shortcuts I can share with my mentees, the faster they can grow. By sharing our legacy with those that we mentor, we leave our corporate experiences with them and our memories as well.  

We dove into Olga’s experience of mentoring others, and how she began her journey with IMNIS.

I have informally been mentoring a few of my team members over the past few workplaces I have been at, naturally via one-to-one and nothing formal. However this time, with a structured process and involvement via Mentorloop, I am loving the journey over the last 6 months.

I have two mentees – one from Perth and one from Brisbane. Others in my organisation have heard that I am a mentor, and they’ve approached me semi-formally – now I have two more wonderful ladies inside my company that I catch up with and extend their networks and experience as well.

As part of my personal development plan I devised, I identified that mentoring was something I wanted to get deeply involved in at this stage of my career. A fellow lady working at the Centre of Excellence shared some information on IMNIS and I attended a Women in Resources Breakfast held on International Women’s Day.

I was very excited to have a way to leave a legacy to share my experiences with willing STEAM candidates and ensure I can enrich somebody’s professional experience with my networking opportunities.

Olga shared her thoughts on how the IMNIS program differs to others and what makes it unique…

I think what I like about the IMNIS mentoring program is the individualised approach, matched by your capabilities and experiences. I also believe it creates many opportunities to connect –  social opportunities to connect exist in each hub and I even attempted to catch up with the Brisbane-based crew just before the Christmas break with Mentors – although only Ben and I made it due to a busy pre-Christmas. We will try again soon!

My network is vast and of course, I intend to continue to maintain a relationship with my mentees as we are becoming connected, more and more. As I introduce them to my professional network – we will cross paths in the future in the industry, I am certain!

We wanted to know more about Olga’s hopes for her mentees and how she’s seen them change so far.

I am already seeing a great change in one of my mentees – she is more confident, follows-up ALL the leads I create for her, she has even learnt I am very busy and she follows-up with our times as well! We have discussions about how those leads went and where we can start looking further for new leads. As time goes on, I would expect that my mentees will become more resourceful given the opportunities we create together and more confident.

The opportunity to grow is also extended to mentors, too. Olga shared with us some of the things she has learnt and the skills that she has strengthened over her mentoring relationship.

I have learnt that I am becoming a people person – which is a very important and desirable trait. Before, I was very much an individual contributor – very technical, professional and knowledgable – but in order to succeed in corporate life, one has to develop a coaching and storytelling style relating to real situations and an ability to describe the ‘why’ behind those stories.  

I have learnt that mentoring is highly rewarding – I have two girls as well and I also practice my mentoring skills with them (with various success I must say!).

At the moment I am practising the valuable skill of listening and connecting experiences and stories. It is very important that in our busy professional lives we are telling a lot (rather than listening for meaning) as we are often brought in for our expertise and knowledge and expected to perform – so others can be lead in the right direction.

It is often tempting to lead authoritatively, using only one-way communication – but the relationship with my mentees is teaching me a valuable lesson of being humble and appreciating the fact that you have been there, in their shoes. To listen and guide and lead them by example, adapting to their needs and watching them grow sustainably.    

As for her advice for others? Well…

Be humble, be honest and be open – this has helped me to accept many things.
Talk about both positive and negative experiences – this helps to create the whole image of a person, not just conveying a flawless mentor. Mistakes and learnings are positive and powerful share any day.

We couldn’t agree more. At Mentorloop we believe everyone has experience and a story to share to help guide one another and influence

To start a culture of human connection and mentoring at your organisation, get in touch with our team today to find out how.

International Women’s Day

With International Women’s Day fast approaching, now is the perfect time to think about how you could deploy a bespoke mentor program to better support your people. Get in touch with heidi@mentorloop.com if you’re interested in hearing more about our special IWD package.

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Em is our Marketing Manager at Mentorloop. That's a lot of 'm's! | She is passionate about crafting messages, crafternoons and craft beer.

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