Digging into diversity

Published: 02/12/2016

Originally published by Northern Ontario Business – October 2016.

When Anna Tudela walked into her first mining conference, she was the only woman in a room packed with men.

She was sure she had found the wrong place.

On October 18, the vice-president of diversity, regulatory affairs and corporate secretary at Goldcorp was happy to see other women at the Maintenance, Engineering and Reliability/Mine Operations Conference (MeMO) in Sudbury, where she participated in a panel on diversity and inclusion.

She was joined by Jennifer Maki, executive director of Vale Base Metals, and Sudbury’s Ron Sarazin, special projects coordinator at Gezhtoojig Employment and Training.

 The panelists tackled gender, Indigenous peoples, immigrant labour, and mental health and wellness in mining. A common thread throughout the evening was that things are better than they were, but as Maki said: “It’s early on in our journey, and we still have a long way to go.”

Maki shared Tudela’s experience of feeling like part of a small faction in her field.

“When you walk into that room for dinner, there are 120 men and probably less than five women,” said Maki. “No matter where you are in your career – I can share with you – it’s still daunting to walk into that room.”

However, Maki hopes that growing evidence will encourage companies to draw more on women in the workforce.

“Years of research show that companies with more female leadership have better financial results,” she pointed out. “The programs that we’ve recently launched [at Vale], it’s the right thing to do.”

Tudela now runs programming for Goldcorp in South America that trains young women to help fill the need for employees in the field.

The programs have graduated over 1,350 women since 2010, and led to the development of other programs that build on those skills.

As someone who pairs employees with employers, Sarazin said Gezhtoojig does find it more of a challenge to get women into the workforce.

But he thinks many traditional First Nations roles in mining communities prepare women well for corporate leadership.

“The women have raised their kids and they’re very traditional where the family comes first. If you walk into a community, the grandmother runs the ship,” said Sarazin. “These females that we’ve got, they come with a lot of good skills, plus their work ethic is there.”

Sarazin also addressed some of the difficulties faced in relations between the mining industry and First Nations more generally.

Sarazin said he would like to “encourage them to bring people on, but in a good way.

Don’t just hire them because you signed an agreement, hire aboriginals because they bring something to the table.”

Maki conceded that there was room for improvement in Vale’s early agreements with some First Nations.

“Voisey’s Bay was one of our first experiences…we had to get agreements,” said Maki. “We made mistakes early on but we learned a lot. We’ve been able to take those experiences and apply them elsewhere in Canada.”

Helen Francis, the general manager of business effectiveness at Vale, moderated the panel and said she was pleased to see honest conversation at the panel.

“I was very happy to hear some really frank acknowledgment that when we have worked with Indigenous populations in the past, it’s been almost because it’s mandated. However, maybe that was the place we had to start, and now the majority is recognizing it’s the right thing to do.

“Now we need to do it more consciously, more proactively and more positively.”