From Mining Resource to Mining Networks: The New Challenges for Women in Mining

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Colleen Roche, a 30-year-old with a graduate degree in mining, entered the profession since she likes hands-on-work and getting out into the field. But she noticed while working at one of her earlier employers that she was spending more and more time at the office.
"My male boss decreased my field work opportunities as soon as he hired other junior male engineers. I considered that my potential was being limited and asked why that was happening. I was told that it was because I was ‘good at writing reports’," Roche says. Roche quit since the reason was plain
to her: she is a woman.
In the last 30 years the involvement of women in mining has experienced a significant shift. From being considered pioneers or plain "crazy," they have found their place in a sector traditionally male dominated, and it is not uncommon to see them today in the daily operations of a mine.

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The road, as Roche's case shows, hasn't been a simple one. In the seventies, the Canadian company Inco challenged the gender division of labour by hiring more women for the company’s surface mining operations in Sudbury, Ontario. The experiences of these women became extraordinary because, whether they intended to or not, taking these jobs meant confronting other people's expectations.

The situation, says Susan P. Craig, Director and VP Corporate Affairs at Northern Freegold Resources Ltd., has changed a lot since then. According to Craig, people don't question a woman's ability to do a job in the field beforehand anymore.
"I've seen the attitude towards women in mining changed a lot since I started working. In the eighties it was more difficult to get a field related job, mainly because some people were not used to see women doing certain positions," she says.
Craig, who has gained extensive knowledge of mineral development issues in B.C. and the Yukon through involvement in projects ranging from exploration through to production and final closure, says the situation varies from company to company. "It depends on who you are working with and for. It also depends on where you are geographically. For example, I started working in B.C. and the Yukon where there were a lot of women; therefore, my presence wasn't a big deal," says Craig.
Craig was part of the team which explored, permitted and developed the Brewery Creek heap leach gold mine near Dawson City. She also worked at the mine during construction and operations and was involved in the reclamation and closure of the mine.
Nicole Adshead-Bell, Australian, PhD in Geology, also has experience in the field and in the mining corporate world. After working in several countries she quickly learned that women get treated differently, not only as a geologist, but in areas such as corporate relations and development.

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It can affect you in a positive or a negative way. From a business point of view, for example, being a woman can be an advantage. People tend to remember you so networking is easier," she says.

On the negative side, Adshead-Bell says that many women struggle to be treated seriously.
"You are commonly treated differently, but this can have a positive or negative outcome and depends entirely on the individual and situation,” says Adshead-Bell.
Adshead-Bell, who is an investment banker at Haywood Securities Inc., adds that women may need to work harder to show they are able to do a job, but once they've done it, career opportunities are equal for both genders.
"In fact, most of the opportunities and jobs that have come my way have been brought by my male contacts and friends," she says.
Roche, however, says she hasn't experienced the equality others talk about.
"When I was working as a junior consultant the company hired new people, all men… I was never sent to do fieldagain. When I asked my boss what the reason was, he just said that I was good at writing. For me, that was discrimination," she says.

Roche also remembers that when she was working at an underground operation the old miners complained constantly about her presence because they believe that women bring bad luck. "It took me weeks to gain the trust. I had to prove them I could do the job."

Stereotypes, Family and Good Jobs

Most of the professionals interviewed agreed that there are almost no jobs in mining they can't do today.

Human Resources

"Most mines are technically quite advanced so they don't require intensive labor in areas where they used to need it," says Craig.

For her, the major challenge to overcome was the stereotyping. "It happened to me many times that I would go to a meeting and people would assume I was support staff instead of the main geologist, only because I was a woman."

Roche agrees: "The hardest battle has been to be granted access to field work instead of being labeled as 'office material'.”

For Silvana Costa — Brazilian, married and currently completing a PhD in Mining at UBC — one of the main challenges has been balancing family life and work. "In a position like mine (at the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources) I travel a lot and that's something hard on your family."

To some extent Costa feels that there are some jobs which seem harder for women than for men. "For example, to take a job with a FIFO [fly-in-fly-out] schedule may be particularly challenging for women with young kids at home. For young and single women, FIFO might be more attractive than living in a remote community by a mine site."

The next challenge, according to the interviewees, is to set instances where women in mining can communicate with each other and build relationships regardless of where they are based.

"Given that there are not very many women in the mining industry, they need to be more supportive of each other. Too often it seems to be the case that women treat each other as competition rather than colleagues,” says Adshead-Bell. It's time for women to help women

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Susan P. Craig, M.Sc., P. Geo.

VP Corporate Affairs, Director

Northern Freegold Resources Ltd

When Susan Craig finished a bachelor’s degree in Science at the University of Calgary and enrolled in the Master of Geology program, she wasn’t sure how far she could go. Now the VP Corporate Affairs Director of Northern Freegold Resources Ltd, Susan started by getting involved in projects ranging from exploration through to production and final closure in BC and the Yukon.

Susan’s expertise includes liaising on technical, environmental, and socio-economic issues regarding industry developments (mining and petroleum) with First Nations, federal and territorial governments, special interest groups and associations in B.C and the Yukon.

She was part of the team which explored, permitted and developed the Brewery Creek heap leach gold mine near Dawson City. Susan also worked at the mine during construction and operations, and was involved in the reclamation and closure of the mine. Susan also worked as community liaison for Foothills Pipelines, and had the opportunity to work with the majority of First Nations and NGOs in the Yukon. Prior to her work with Northern Freegold Susan held the position of Land & Environmental Manager for NovaGold Resources Inc., which is developing the Galore Creek Project in northern B.C. She was overseeing the permitting of this $1.2 billion project, which is scheduled to begin construction in 2007. Susan has also worked directly for the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources in the Yukon.

Silvana Costa

Senior Project Manager

Policy and Sustainability Branch, Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.

Brazilian Silvana Costa left her home country 10 years ago after completing a bachelor of architecture. Once in Canada she completed a Master in Planning in Calgary, which left her frustrated because of the lack of job opportunities. While pondering what to do next she got in contact with Marcello Veiga, a UBC professor who invited her to join a research team on sustainability and the implications of mining developments in communities at the Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering.

The majority of the members of the research group were women: “I felt part of a minority group in two ways. First, because we were not studying mining engineering and second because we were mostly women,” she says.

Silvana thinks the biggest challenge for her and her research team was articulating to both professor and students the value of the research they were doing. They also had to fight to prove that the mining department was the place for them.

Not only she won the battle but she also started working as a consultant while she was in her early years at UBC. Recently, she joined the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, where she works full time and tries finishing her PhD.

Silvana knows what she wants: “I consider that I’m just starting my career [but] in five to 10 years I’d like to be making decisions. I want to know I’m making a change in my field.”

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