Monthly Profile Feature
The founder of International Women in Mining (IWiM) and before that of WIM UK, Barbara Dischinger, is truly international herself. She’s a mix of nationalities, speaks numerous languages and has lived around the world. Modest and often understated of her achievements, she’s driven and passionate about getting a good deal for women in mining, building networks and creating opportunities for women around the globe to fulfil their potential and get ahead. A mother of two, she also juggles a job promoting women in science in technology as well as powering the growing IWiM initiatives like women on boards programmes, mentoring, conference speaking opportunities and the membership ahead to 10,000 members in 100 countries. By Camila Reed
Why did you get involved in the mining industry?
I had worked in executive search for five years covering construction, industrial, manufacturing and real estate sectors when I changed employer in 2005 and started covering the mining sector.
I was told by my boss at the time that I would love mining as it would suit my international background and I would be able to speak several languages which the current job wasn’t offering. And it’s true, I found mining fascinating.
When did you create International Women in Mining (IWiM) and why?
I set up IWiM in December 2007 after founding Women in Mining UK (WIM UK), a physical women in mining network in April 2006. I realised while developing WIM UK, that the few other groups that existed communicated mainly nationally and regionally within a country but not internationally. All were different but shared a common vision.
So, I set up IWiM up as an international platform to be a bridge between WIM chapters and represent women in jurisdictions where there wasn’t a WIM group. Now, you find many WIM chapters in many countries, over 50 actually, but back in 2007 there were very few in a small group of countries, so many women and voices weren’t represented anywhere.
It seemed important to me for it not only to be a home for those who had no access to a WIM group but to foster dialogue and relationships with the existing groups.
We are individually powerful but if we are united my belief has always been that we are stronger. This has sometimes been difficult to convey but it is why IWiM exists; to link everyone together and work on initiatives that benefit everyone.
We do not compete with WIM groups, we complement each other.
How have things evolved?
Initially it was an information hub but it has developed into an organisation with several strands. Let me name some of the main ones:
Firstly, liaison with local WIM chapters all over the world and support & assistance to those wishing to set up a new group;
Third, projects that help women’s careers or aim to make the mining sector more inclusive like our SpeakUp project and launching the first international mentoring project in March;
Fourth, collaboration with international bodies and consultancies around research and international events (we have our own research team);
And fifth, developing capacity as experts for example in mining policy and women and publishing thought leadership on the topic.
Do you believe women in mining groups can help to change the image of the industry and make the sector more attractive to women? If so, how?
The fact that many more women in mining groups have sprung up everywhere seems to indicate a need for women to unite and support each other. This network can help with business opportunities and job searches like male networks do.
They have the power collaboratively to act as role models reaching out to schools and universities to show that careers in mining are attractive and that the sector offers many opportunities.
They encourage research reports about the status of women in the sector be that as artisanal and small-scale mining or women on boards. They get involved in national government plans shaping the strategy for women working in the sector in their country.
Some push for better laws, better equipment & training and/or for equal rights.
Each in their own way works and contributes towards a more diverse and inclusive sector so YES I believe they do play a very positive role and are here to stay.
What have been the major challenges for IWiM over the past 10 years and how have you overcome them?
The “easier” challenges have been to get volunteers to come on board to help with all the tasks and activities that make IWiM and/or to deal with a team that is based from Vancouver to Sydney, navigating complex time zone differences and working together with people from very different cultural backgrounds virtually.
Motivating an international cohort isn’t always easy. We have improved it constantly and rely on phone, regular online meetings, apps and software to keep us all connected and efficient at the same time.
The biggest challenge has been funding to allow us to make our initiatives a reality; we keep doing interesting things with very little. More WIM groups are great but it does also mean that we are competing for money from sponsors who find the myriad of groups very confusing.
One way we have been overcoming this is by collaborating with WIM groups on projects, like the International Women in Resources Mentoring programme where we have joined forces with WIM Canada.
All of us have busy lives and volunteer on top of an additional job, families, households to run, other volunteering responsibilities and for some of us all boxes are ticked. The challenge is not to burn out which happened for me at the end of 2015.
Due to personal circumstances, I had to take on a job rather than be a freelance headhunter where it didn’t matter as much when in the day I worked. We increased the size of IWiM and introduced projects which are fascinating but more time-consuming.
This meant doing my IWiM role in the evenings and weekends. I added 40-60 hours per week working every evening and weekend. I was not prepared to give up working on what made me get up in the morning. But working 100 hours practically every week wasn’t sustainable, I wasn’t the best mum at home or the best leader of the organisation.
My wish is to work for International Women in Mining full-time and only for IWiM, paid, develop the existing projects and more that are in the pipeline, as well as to be able to pay most of the big contributors in the team for their work and dedication. It would be a dream come true and allow me a much better work/life balance.
I have had to accept that I am a volunteer too. Sometimes this means I have to work less and to reserve quiet times for myself to recharge my battery, like not working at the weekend.
We as a team have achieved an enormous amount nonetheless. It has also been good to let other talented team members take charge of numerous areas.
What are the milestones for IWiM?
Having started nano small we have grown into an organisation with 20-40 volunteers at any given time working on exciting global projects. We are being approached by international institutions and consultancies as well as by WIM groups to work together and collaborate on a number of different assignments and that feels like an amazing privileged opportunity.
We have reached 10,000 members in over 100 countries which is an amazing milestone.
We have developed pro-active initiatives that are global and inclusive of women and WIM groups anywhere. It is too early to measure the impact but launching them successfully with few resources was each time an achievement in itself.
What projects are planned for the year ahead?
We are launching the first international mentoring programme for women in Toronto at PDAC in early March; very excited to work on another first.
Generally mentoring programmes are in-house or local/regional or even national but international hasn’t been done yet in mining. Our mentors and mentees are truly international and diverse in ethnicity, race, religion, function, experience, gender and come from many countries.
We will start with a cohort of 50 pairs. We are looking for more sponsorship money to be able to provide more scholarships for those women who can’t afford the programme. This adventure will allow women from all job levels and economic means to be matched with amazingly successful individuals who will mentor, coach, push them and hopefully sponsor them.
We have been a small team of mostly 3 (now 4) individuals working on this since inception; much smaller team than most programmes have, but our determination to see this through is getting us there.
We have new blood in our conferences team so we hope to increase relationships with mining conference organisers to get more women to speak as experts on mining conference line-ups. We still get mostly approached about women in mining panels. This isn’t enough and won’t drive the change we want to see so we will continue to push and prod.
We want to start a crowdfunding project to raise money for women to attend conferences and 2018 might finally be the year we put this idea into action.
We are working on our women on boards database and are looking for funding to finalise the project and launch it in 2018 so that we can help companies draw up lists for executive positions that include women.
How does and can IWiM help other WIM groups?
- By introducing them to members, contacts and other WIM groups
- By collaborating on projects
- By sharing knowledge and resources
- By sharing their work and activities and promoting their events and initiatives
- By bringing them opportunities that come our way
What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector?
Personally, I have only worked on the services side and not in mining directly so I haven’t encountered much bias, sexism and other difficulties many women encounter in mining.
However, as an active member of a women in mining group I have encountered all sorts of reactions from men and women, not all positive.
I have a strong sense of values and I believe my work for a better community is right, so although some days can be discouraging I will plough on. I hope IWiM can prove people wrong by what it produces and our joint actions as a team.
What changes need to happen in the industry. Why do you think it is so slow to change?
Mining is essential to produce many goods everyone uses or needs. Everything that isn’t farmed is mined and you are mining potash to be used in agriculture as well. But unless you are from a country where the mining industry is big you will hardly know about it. You will use the end products daily but be unfamiliar about its origins and have no clue about mining and it isn’t taught in school books in those countries.
This in my view produces a sector that is global but insular: many people in mining know each other and it is steeped in tradition and is still male-dominated.
Now there are many more people from varied backgrounds working in it than ever before, and more technology changing some of the traditions as well as the laws and the standards of diversity, inclusion, gender pay gap, women on boards, safety, environment, etc. making changes to the industry.
Still, change is slower than in other sectors…
The industry as a whole has an outdated image and the sector needs to take charge and make efforts to change that so that it becomes more attractive to women in general, young men and anyone interested in pursuing a career in it. It is a sector offering many opportunities, variation, travel, good salaries, etc. but comes across as behind with times, dirty, “destroys the planet” to name a few.
Large companies are paving the way in terms of standards and initiatives to be diversified employers, however, there are thousands of small companies that don’t have to. They are too small to have to adhere to most standards, so can run their companies as they wish.
For them it is easier to run companies the way they know and always have. This does not always give mining the best reputation.
What are you passionate about in your role?
Being able to bring ideas to life, working with people from so many countries and backgrounds, sharing a wonderful adventure and journey together; working on amazing projects to name a few and hopefully making a difference.
What is one thing you wish you’d been told when you were starting out that you know now?
Definitely pace yourself. Then get buy-in first and surround yourself with people you can learn from and who have different skills to yourself.
Even an international person like me has a lot to learn about working with people from different cultures and I am still learning.
What would you like members to do?
- Tell us your stories
- Participate in discussions
- Ask questions/comment to get more dialogue going; especially once a thread has started
- Register as members of IWiM
- Register as speakers for conferences
- Volunteer on our projects and other tasks that need doing
- Ask your employers to help us with services in kind or funds
- Ask your employers to post their job openings with us
- Tell us what initiatives you’d like to see us working on
- Follow us on social media
What is your opinion in the women on boards debate? Are you pro quotas or against them?
I am pro quotas, as positive action is needed to get change implemented much faster. Once everyone is used to it and everyone has seen the benefits or digested the “change” then quotas can be removed.
It is not about women’s confidence which really irritates me. It is about the barriers that men don’t face, like having to prove you have a Directors training certificate, which I have never heard a man being asked about, or specifically in mining insisting that you need to have a mining operations track record to sit on a board. A very large proportion of men on mining boards don’t have it either. And don’t forget most men were once also asking to be given their first board role.
Regardless of the slow pace, there have been advances on the women on boards issue by hiring women from other sectors or from support functions and also “mining women”. However, there’s been almost no progress on advancing women along the pipeline into executive management which is alarming. Female CEOs are too rare.
Any advice to young women starting out in their careers?
Don’t give up!
Join IWiM and a local WIM chapter near you or in the country you are in – a problem shared is a problem halved – use the group to ask questions or help you with hurdles at work, or even to choose which direction to take your studies in and/or job search.
Mining is global: if your job takes you out of your country or you work or deal with people from abroad, make sure you learn about working with people from different cultures, work ethics, etc. I can recommend “Culture Map” by Erin Meyer; one of my aims will be to implement this myself.
Not only men have biases: we also have them; each individual does. It is natural but learn to acknowledge them and train yourself to rewire where necessary.