International Women's Day 2020 Spotlight: Melissa Glendenning

13 March 2020

Melissa started as Deputy Director of Operations (DDO) at Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI) in January 2016, following a six year stint as Operations Manager at the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation. As DDO, Melissa works closely with a range of teams – including finance, human resources, workplace health and safety, and marketing and communications – to support their continuing efficiency and success.

Ahead of International Women's Day 2020, we sat down with Melissa to ask her a few questions about her career.

Could you walk us through your career prior to joining SMI?

“I completed a Bachelor of Science (Agriculture) at the University of Sydney, graduating in 1988. After graduating I joined the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation (now Meat & Livestock Australia) in an applied science role as part of a team investigating new technologies and innovations for livestock and the meat industries.

“Following that role I moved to Armidale to manage a 3 year applied project in the lamb meat industry as a lead project officer for CSIRO/Department of Agriculture. It was a real paddock-to-plate project and quite challenging for a young applied scientist.

“I then came to UQ and worked in the Department of Agriculture in a externally funded position supporting agriculture research projects, mainly in developing countries. I was appointed School Manager in the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, and then 18 months later was offered the role of establishing all operations for the newest UQ research institute – Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI). I spent 5 years in QAAFI before joining SMI as Deputy Director (Operations) in 2016 when the Institute was going through a significant restructure.”

What have been the highlights of your career?

“At UQ, being asked to take on challenging roles, possibly at times which weren’t the easiest for me personally, and making them a success (at least I think so!).

“Being School Manager of a large, two-campus School undergoing a Faculty restructure, while meeting the wants and needs of my three sons who were all under 10 at the time.

“Being the first employee in QAAFI and setting the operations team up, one employee at a time, function by function, and being recognised in 2013 with a UQ Individual Award for Excellence.

“Transitioning to SMI – a totally different discipline area from where I had worked my whole career, and joining a much larger leadership team.

“Working as a senior leader at UQ.”

Have any values or principles been particularly important to you through your career?

“Do my best. Do an excellent job. Be a considerate leader. Look after your loved ones. Encourage people at all levels to do the best job possible and give new opportunities to those who want them. Just be nice!”

Have you seen changes in the way women are treated or viewed in the workplace across your career?

“Yes and no. Having graduated from University and largely working in teams with women and men in an industry (agriculture) that isn’t particularly dominated by one gender, inequality hasn’t been a standout issue for me personally. What is great though, has been the marked shift in organisations talking about women and how they can pursue different career paths, and perhaps achieve their goals more rapidly.

“There have been huge generational shifts in how women are treated at work, because many more women are working, and often caring for their families, and they are positively shaping women’s experiences in the workplace.

“Of course, I also see women being blatantly ignored in meetings, often due to their age (younger and older), and women not being selected for committees, speaker or representative opportunities because they don’t necessarily put themselves ‘out there’. Unfortunately, I also see women not treating other women well too.”

Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give to young women about to start their career?

“Take opportunities when you are ready for them professionally and personally, but don’t expect people to necessarily champion you. You have to be your own champion.

“Learn from your leaders. I mean really learn by opening your eyes and ears, and you will experience the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly.

“Try not to constantly compare yourself with others. You have your own unique set of knowledge, skills and experience and that is why you were selected for the job. And when you make it to a leadership role, a word of advice - some people are unwinnable, but mostly everyone has a story, we are all unique, and shaped by very different experiences and backgrounds.

“But finally, you are going to meet some amazing people during your career (you might even get to marry him/her), and you will have some really fun and rewarding times, so just go for it!”

If you would like to learn more about the Sustainable Minerals Institute, its people and its research, visit