Monthly Profile Feature
Ghanaian mining engineer, Barbara Mantebea Owusu-Konadu, is looking for new opportunities and is keen to explore the world and expand her knowledge and experience of the mining sector. She’s not fazed or offended by those who question why a young woman would chose mining as a career and is keen to let girls and other women know about the sector and its possibilities. She was the first female mining engineer at Kaltire Mining Tire Group in Ghana, which kindled her enjoyment for the industry, its variety and the challenges it offers. She says that doing something that people seem to think ‘I’m not supposed to be doing’, has just added to the excitement of the work. Passionate about volunteering, quality service delivery and offering value at work, Barbara believes in the power of networking and in women in mining groups helping each other and younger women as they start out on their career. By Camila Reed
How did mining come to you? How did you choose mining as a career?
I didn’t choose mining it came to me. I wanted to be a doctor, study medicine, but my mother said let me talk to some people and see what’s best for you. She recommended mining and studying at the University of Mines and Technology Mining University of Ghana. My mother chose well. I had no idea — I didn’t even know there was a university of mines in Ghana. She knew several people who worked in the mines. I’ve never looked back – Mother knows best.
What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector?
I really enjoy it, but you are made aware very often that you are a woman working in a predominantly male industry. There are few female mining engineers and even fewer working on mining sites. It does make you self-conscious.
When it comes to the work sometimes the men want to protect you or let you know that this is not a typical job for women. You need to go the extra mile to do the work you have been hired to do.
By seeking to protect you, they at the same time hinder your growth as an engineer and a woman in the industry. Which means you have to put in double the effort to prove yourself.
And when it comes to interacting with people, I still get surprised looks from people when I mention what I do. I had the opportunity to visit my company’s UK office and it was interesting to experience similar attitudes towards women in mining in seemingly different countries and cultures like Ghana and the UK.
Back home some people say: ‘Wow, you are very brave, why do you want to go into the mines?’ It’s not in a bad way but they are surprised that a woman wants to become a mining engineer.
How does that make you feel?
I find it amusing that people see it that way. I think I would have reacted in the same way if asked the same question earlier when I didn’t know about the industry. I don’t get offended by it, I just answer their questions.
Mining is very different and offers many opportunities; I love the variety of tasks in mining. You are never bored: there are site visits, data analysis and a range of challenges to tackle, be it around production or site issues.
And actually, doing something that is often perceived as an unconventional career choice for a woman adds to the excitement of the work. I really enjoy the work!
Have you/do you encounter much discrimination?
I was the first female mining engineer to work for Kaltire Ghana, and they did a lot to make me comfortable. I had very good managers, they took me under their wing and taught me so much, which I’m really grateful for.
It was a new experience for them, as it was for me, and they did their best to give me a lot of exposure and opportunities. I never at any point felt like I had been passed over for a position or faced any discrimination based on my gender.
Have you had mentors and sponsors that helped you on the way?
Having mentors is really important to me, and I acknowledge the help I got from my managers and directors, who pushed me along and made sure I was involved in all aspects of work and the training opportunities available. Being out of the industry and in school currently, it’s still important to have someone who can guide me back into the industry and the areas I can go into.
Opportunities like the International Women in Resources Mentorship Programme (IWRMP) exist for women engineers like myself and I’ve applied with the hope of getting access to other women who can support my professional growth in the industry.
I’ve also been in touch with some women mining engineers via LinkedIn for advice and that support system has been pretty important to me too.
Could you share one or two challenges you’ve experienced in your career and how you overcame them?
I have encountered challenges dealing with cultural ageism and sexism in Ghana. Being a young female with subordinates, who were older and males, sometimes resulted in conflicts that threatened to impact the quality of work our team produced.
I used a professional coach, made available through a supervisory certificate course I was undertaking, to learn about managing my team more effectively, dealing with cultural challenges and handling difficult interactions. This helped me establish to my team the importance of professionalism, responding to the chain of command and to know that this was not personal.
This was difficult for me and for my team as well because I could empathize with their feelings on a certain level.
Having people from different backgrounds working together as a project team can have significant impacts on a project. Therefore, overcoming this challenge with my team was very important to me. Moving on from it and being able to work more effectively together made the experience worthwhile.
What would you love to do next?
Upon completion of my post-graduate in project management studies at Robert Gordon, Aberdeen in January, 2018, I’d like to go back into the mining industry and explore available opportunities. Even as I look forward to returning to Ghana in February, I’m open to relocating wherever opportunities exist!
I spent a few months in Peru as a volunteer and would love to go back to Peru and continue to learn Spanish and immerse myself in the culture again but this time as a mining/project engineer.
In the long term, I have PhD and lecturing aspirations to influence women getting into STEM. I founded an NGO in Ghana a year ago, SOAR Global Foundation, that is focused on supporting children’s education and I intend to use it to further literacy in Ghana now and in the future.
Do you believe women in mining groups can help to change the image of the industry and make the sector more attractive to women?
I believe the mere existence of these groups is a step in the right direction in changing perceptions and making the industry more attractive to women. These groups are a goldmine of experience and knowledge in the mining industry for all women. I can testify to how being a part of International Women in Mining (IWiM) has benefitted me.
There is the need to create access for young women to experienced women in the industry. To acquire role models, mentors or even simply to obtain more knowledge about the industry. Being able to interact with, and learn from, someone who has gone ahead of you, makes all the difference.
I think there are so many women out there who feel that they’re doing it by themselves and we have the opportunity to help them find out about other women who are doing the same job as them.
What could help young women starting out in their careers?
Finding established women in the industry and having access to them is very important.
When I became a part of IWiM, I started sharing information about the group on my social media platforms and I got great engagement from women at different stages of their career, who wanted to learn more about things to do with women in mining and how to engage with other women in the industry.
There is a need for female industry experts to reach out to the younger women or create an avenue for accessing information on what to expect and how to generally navigate the industry as a woman.
There is a general feeling of being thrown into an industry, without knowing what to expect as a woman, and having to experience things for yourself. Without it being completely negative, the presence of a mature female figure to seek advice and information from, would soften the impact.
Over the years, there has been an increase in women venturing into mining engineering, as is evidenced by University intake records. There is therefore the need for more engagement with women in the industry to help these young women.
Do you feel you have had to adapt to ‘fit’ the industry?
I have felt like I needed to be more like a man and act less ‘female’ in order to fit in because women are naturally perceived to be weak. But I do not want my gender to be used against me, be perceived as weak or obtain any special treatment just for being a woman.
There should be a level playing field and you shouldn’t have to act like a man. But it is a little sacrifice to pay for being in that environment. After all, there are years of perception to break down as mine engineering has been a predominantly male role.
You can only chip away at this slowly. It won’t go away overnight.
Barbara Mantebea Owusu-Konadu is an MSc Project Management student at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, UK. She previously worked for Kaltire Mining Tire Group and has over three years’ experience in Technical Services, Product Support and Earthmover Tyres Management. She possesses a BSc in Mining Engineering from the University of Mines and Technology in Tarkwa, Ghana.
In addition to her schooling and engineering career, Barbara has a passion for volunteering. She is an International volunteer with IVHQ and currently volunteers for the Aberdeen local chapter of the Association for Project Management (APM), the Royal Voluntary Service in Aberdeen and is also the founder and director of SOAR Global Foundation, an NGO in Ghana focused on children’s education and community development. Barbara also volunteers with International Women in Mining as the Head of Membership and seeks to become an advocate to encourage more young women to pursue engineering careers.