Op-Ed: The upside of being a woman in mining

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Women with years of experience in mining can and have named  reasons why the industry is still not embracing women the way it should and why women leave the industry. So to do the brilliant men in the industry — mostly those on the sustainability side who are trying to bring the desired equilibrium into the corporate boardrooms.

However, there are women who have been with the industry since forever and have made brilliant careers. Those who didn’t quit, despite the pressure, those bright enough to have succeeded in any other realm, but who still chose to stay in mining. So why don’t we for a change, name what is it that’s pleasantly challenging about being a woman in mining.

For International Women’s Day, here is my list:

  • No other industry than a male dominated one gives a better opportunity to a female professional to grow professionally. You are constantly reminded (directly or indirectly) that women don’t that much belong here. From the archive pictures of history of fame hanging on the walls of your company showcasing men who built the company from scratch, to the mostly men dominated c-suite table are a constant reminder that you are not a natural here. So the desire and need to prove yourself is times stronger. You read, learn, doubt yourself, ask questions, analyze and pursue knowledge in a way that most men in the industry are not under pressure to do. And before you know it, your horizon of the knowledge of the industry exceeds far beyond processing plant operation technique that a male peer was so proudly mastering through ought his career, without much need to learn anything else.

  • If you are a newcomer in the company, the subconscious bias prompts most men in the room to subconsciously look down at your ability to bring value to the table. Especially when the fine lines on your face imply less than three decades of experience. And that’s an advantage. Because you will most probably exceed everybody’s expectations and it may even bring a proud glow of surprise to the faces of most male managers every time they are reminded how (unexpectedly) good you are. In most cases they don’t expect you to be great. And when you are – it is well noticed. You become that “woman that is better than some of the guys” (surprised!).

  • Women compete with women. Tons of research prove it over and over again. In here you usually compete with the best. Because in a male dominated industry a mediocre man is much more likely to climb a career ladder than a mediocre woman. Seriously. How many times have you wondered, how did this incompetent piece of constant failure get to where they are? And how many times the person in question was a woman? In my experience, rarely. So you will have a tough and fulfilling competition, not just in proving those tunnel vision boys, that you need to be taken seriously, but also actually trying to be better than those smart, sharp and resilient girls who have made it to the top.

  • If you are on the sustainability/soft side of the industry, (which many female managers in the industry are) you are also most probably enjoying watching the transformation of old school guys’ attitude towards the disciplines you represent. And maybe even having fun watching their silent or sometimes vocal resistance to accept the new reality. Remember some 10 years ago a production manager most probably wouldn’t even consider taking anything but production seriously? Let alone listen to a girl’s presentation about biodiversity or public perception. Only a decade ago EY’s annual survey suggested that miners considered production costs or access to water and energy their biggest risks. Whereas, three out of top four concerns this year are sustainability related.  Isn’t it fulfilling to witness and in most cases also drive the change?

You may still be manterrupted in the boardroom, quite often, actually. You are probably less likely to speak up than a man peer in a corporate boardroom still full of men.

You are certainly less likely to be forgiven a failure than your men peers and you may still wonder how many mediocre and incompetent men manage to make it and stay at the top. But let’s count the blessings too. Because that’s how we will know where to push harder.

Anna Saghabalyan is the deputy director of sustainability with Zangezur Copper Molibdenum Combine in Armenia, the largest mining project in the Caucasus region and one of the top 10 producers of molybdenum in the world. Previously she was the Director of Communications with Lydian International, a formerly TSX listed company with a flagship gold project in Armenia.