Claudia Monreal – “Mining is not a field that is prepared to allow women to get to the top”

April Profile

Chilean Claudia Monreal has worked across South America, Canada and Australia as a mining engineer/geo-statistician fulfilling her passion to understand geology. Being abroad has also taught her how much mining has in common across countries and cultures. A mother of three, she chose consultancy to better manage time with her family. But she says there are many inequalities against women in the industry. Although she has had some brilliant experiences working with male colleagues her question is: “Should I be grateful? Are they grateful that their peers treat them with respect?” She encourages women to get into mining and believes that women and men are meant to work together, not against each other, not in gender clans. Inequality and social barriers just make it harder for everyone. “This world is changing and we have to go faster in our crusades,” She says. By Camila Reed

How did mining come to you? How did you choose mining as a career?

I’m passionate about nature. Since I was a little girl I liked to think about how things are around us and rocks intrigued me the most… they were everywhere… why?!!

Very early on I’d become an avid reader of geology books. In my country only three universities taught geology when I left school. Two of them were far away from my home and this was not an option for my family. At the third, I had to apply to along with 700 others to the engineering school and I was not selected.

So instead I opted for Mining Engineering. I thought that it would be close enough to geology. I love it… mine planning, mine design, resource estimations, were beyond my expectations. If there were more or less women in the profession was never a question.

What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector?

I love it. It’s been hard but I believe that it’s the same as any other field. It’s tough because your family is far away from you so many times. At the start of my career, my peers at work never showed me any disrespect or deprived me of opportunities. However, since I became a manager, it has been more difficult and I started to realize that this is not a field prepared to allow women to get to the top.

Have you/do you encounter much discrimination?

No, not at first. My first job was just upon leaving university and I became pregnant with my second baby. In Chile that is very unusual.

As time went on, I began to realize that I was holding myself back and being less ambitious than my male counterparts so that they would not make any negative comments about me to our bosses.

At university if I got good grades the guys would say it was because I was a woman and at work if I got a promotion or pay rise they said it was because my boss “liked” me.

You could say that this was a personal thing that I decided to do – be less ambitious – but it wasn’t. The stream of comments that you get eat away at your confidence. And in mining these types of comments and actions, which are not necessarily direct but in a roundabout way, are a sign of the underground machismo which is difficult to tackle head on because it is not direct.

After 20 years in the mining industry I never felt more valued in my job than when I was abroad.

I am the manager of the company I work for now, Core Mining Studies, but it is not uncommon for me to be asked by men who turn up for a meeting with our firm to ask if they can speak to the boss, imagining that I am just the receptionist!! I’m strong enough but many women are not, and they struggle. I can see a lot of talent leaving this industry because of that.

Have you had mentors and sponsors that helped you on the way?

Yes two of my bosses, none of them ever discriminated against me in any way. They didn’t expect any more or less from me because I was a woman. They asked the same of me as of everyone else. Nor were they blind when I did outstanding work. They treated me like anyone else, making me feel more secure and empowered.

Could you share one or two challenges you’ve experienced in your career and how you overcame them?

The most important challenge was moving to Australia. I now understand when people say that they start over in their lives. I did. I started over and it was great. You prove yourself as you are, without environmental blocks.  Your environment is key, but it does not define you.

What are you passionate about in your work?

I love everything about mining, I’m a geostatistician, and I love modelling resources, helping to find, understand and make a business of new resources. I like the impact that our work can have on small communities.

I love the effort that all the people that work with me at Core Mining Studies put into their daily work, times are tough but they keep pushing on and giving the best of themselves.

I’m also passionate about Women in Mining Chile, I have consolidated this group in my country and by getting together we can learn from each other. Women need strong networks at their working environment and this is a big challenge for me to show that the best network we can get is other women, just as we are.

What would you love to do next?

That’s tricky, I’m currently doing and waiting for a few things to consolidate, so my eyes are there, however, I have a restless mind.

I would like to see WIM Chile grow bigger and achieve our goals: to have at least one women on each board, a few general managers, set new goals and become an authority for the industry on equality and family co-responsibility.

After that I would like to just do some yoga or anything that keeps my body healthy, to indulge myself for all these tough years working in mining.

What is one thing you wish you’d been told when you were starting out that you know now?

Don’t worry about upsetting people. Just be yourself.

If you don’t like something say it out loud, nice and loud.

Do you sit on a board? If not would you like to?

I’m not and I’d love to.

I’m the president of a Women In Mining NGO in Chile and that counts for something. However, I have the sense that the perspective that I (and some colleagues that do what I do) have of mining from our professional experience is often not taken in consideration.

Mineral resources are more and more complex. Most have become commodities and the companies make transactional decisions instead of technical decisions. That has led the industry down a very unsafe path. I would like to understand on a board why that is and if having a different perspective can be more efficient.

I’m not saying that they need me (us) but there are so many obvious wrong decisions that you do wonder… If I was there…

What is your opinion in the women on boards’ debate? Are you pro quotas or against them?

I’m not pro quotas at all. I believe in personal merit and having women just to fulfill a requirement is disrespectful and makes those women’s tasks harder. Those women will need to prove themselves with no reason.

I understand that it is a starting point… and people will fill the quotas with the best candidates around them. Women that would never have had a chance without quotas and probably deserve the roles. But why is this? It just should not be this way.

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 hope so! I really want this to be true and that is what we are working hard for. In the future more girls will come into mining. We believe that this is good for the country, for the industry and for the women in that order. Women can do well in any field, we don’t need mining, mining needs us. And I encourage women to get involved, just because it’s good for the industry.

Any advice to young women starting out in their careers?

Yes! Everywhere you can get involved in the decisions!

What challenges have you experienced by virtue of working in an industry that is predominantly male? Do you feel you have had to adapt to ‘fit’ the industry?

As I explained before, yes. I found an environment where women were not treated equally, where if I got better grades it was assumed that this was probably because the teacher was being nice/soft to me. If I ever got a better salary or an unexpected pay raise, which happened to me a number of times, my male colleagues saw it as an attempt by my boss to get sexual favors from me.

I have to say that I have never been sexually harassed in an explicit way, however my peers have not always been good friends and I have had to gain respect every time from scratch.

I’m used to this, I have adapted to it, but it is not fair.

Not all of them are that bad and there’s never explicit machismo. I have had some brilliant experiences working with male colleges that were beyond this sort of culture and my question is, should I be grateful? Are they grateful that their peers treat them with respect?

How do you find the work/life balance?

I have a mining family, they are used to it. I’m very lucky having three beautiful kids that understand that Mom loves what she does. That helps me to be an independent creature, good and caring. The four of us are a team and we can face the world together, and now my partner is my personal support. He has the courage to be with a woman that can do everything by herself, is hard to surprise and has a hard time sharing decisions.

Have you any hobbies or pass-times you would like to tell us about?

No time for the moment! However, two years ago I did start a little venture in the beauty sector, a small spa, which uses up my free time and clears my mind to an even more creative environment.(www.secretgarden.cl)

Any else that you feel is important that you would like to share?

Yes, women and men are meant to work together, not against, not in gender clans. Inequality and social barriers just make it harder for everyone. This world is changing and we have to go faster in our crusades and become more effective in our purposes.

Biography

Claudia Monreal is a mining Engineer with 18 years of professional experience and a Master degree in business specializing in geostatistics.  She has done consultancy work on resources and geological modelling on a large number of deposits in South America: Venezuela, Brazil, Peru and Argentina, and of most of the most important mines in Chile. She has worked in Canada for Vale Potash and Australia for Iron Ore and some copper and gold deposits and in Indonesia on copper projects.

Being abroad has shown her how much mining has in common across countries and cultures and also allowed her to incorporate good practices from everywhere. She worked 4 years as part of the resources team at the Chuquicamata Mine in Chile.

Claudia has three children aged 22, 18 and 12. They have been a vital component in her career. She chose to do consultancy instead of committing to an operational role because allowed this allowed her to manage her time around her children. “We have learned together and mining has given us a lot of life lasting experiences.”

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