Ebony McGee – “Women can do everything men can do”

August Profile

After graduate school Ebony McGee worked for a consulting firm as a contract planner.  During her time there, she was offered a promotion – working on mining permits with the County of Riverside.  As a SMARA Planner, she was required to use her vast planning knowledge and make it applicable to natural resource planning.  Being creative and analytical, she quickly gained a passion for solving complex resource development problems.  Most notably, she finds innovative solutions to urban encroachment, land use compatibility and NIMBY issues which often arise from mining projects.  Working with a number of distinguished geologists, mining consultants and technical experts throughout the state, Ebony has been the liaison between mining operators and the various interested parties.

Currently, she serves as the Sr. Planner for the Natural Resource Development Program (SMARA & Oil and Gas) for the County of Ventura.  She is responsible for reviewing all mineral extraction applications for consistence with Federal, State and local regulations; preparing environmental documents, evaluation Financial Assurance Cost Estimates and sureties, conducting inspections, as well as overseeing all compliance efforts.  She has developed a passion for natural resource development with good land stewardship, which drives her dynamism for local permitting and the mining industry at large.  She has been in the “mining world” for almost seven years now and truly enjoys what she does.

Beyond Ebony’s accomplishments as a new mom and avid shopper, she has recently received the “Distinguished County Planning Agency Employee Award” by the California County Planning Directors Association for her work with the SMARA program at the County of Ventura.

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

I went to grad school and received my Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning.  When I started in the Planning field, my first job was with a consulting firm that had a contract with the County of Riverside.  Initially, I was responsible for typical planning projects (subdivisions, commercial developments, industrial complexes, etc.).  Shortly thereafter, the County needed someone to work with the Chief Engineering Geologist with the SMARA (Surface Mining and Reclamation Act) program.  I had become quite bored with typical planning projects, so my manager asked if I would be interested in taking on the position.  Since the position came with a big promotion, I was convinced.  Since I did not have any experience with mining, I spent several days reviewing the laws and regulations.  To my surprise, my research paid off because after one interview, I landed the position.  I became fascinated with the projects and truly fell in love with mining and mineral resource development in general.

What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector? Did you/do you encounter much discrimination?

The mineral development industry is dominated by men.  Typically, older white men.  Being young (at the time I started I was 25, I am now 32) and a women of color, I initially felt nervous before every meeting because I wasn’t sure how I would be perceived.

When I first started I noticed the men would speak over me or ignore all of my suggestions.  Luckily, the CEG I worked with would intervene on my behalf and force everyone in the meeting to listen to my ideas and he would acknowledge my points.  I believe that helped legitimize and validate me in the industry. Now, I think I have proved to be a smart and valuable player so I don’t encounter as much reluctance, although, it does still happen from time to time.

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

Absolutely.  I learned so much from the Geologists I have worked with.  Dave Jones (County of Riverside) introduced me to Women in Mining, CA.  Through WIM I have met some exceptional women who have inspired me and given me impeccable advice.  I currently work with two great geologists at the County of Ventura, Jim O’Tousa and Brian Baca (former Chair of State Mining and Geology Board) who continue to foster my development.

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

I think the biggest challenge is educating the community.  Public perception is very powerful.  When the community does not have the facts on the mineral extraction process, whether it be surface mining or oil and gas, it is very difficult to recommend approval of such projects without intense public opposition.  Understanding that the mining process may be nebulous to the general public, I try to host as many public informational workshops as possible.  This helps make the mining world more transparent and demystifies any mining myths the community may have.

The other challenge, which is the biggest personally challenge by far, is juggling being a mom and being a career woman.  I handle work-related stress very well.  I manage several projects and multi-task extremely efficiently.  But, when I had my son, none of the success I had at work transferred home.  Being a mom is the hardest job I have ever had.  No degrees, certifications or education prepared me.  I think many women face the pressure of performing at work and being accountable, dependable and available to their children.  It was a rough transition but the WIMEF (Women in Mining Education Foundation) directors helped me out by taking over many of my responsibilities for a year!  My boss (Kim Prillhart, Planning Director) was very supportive and flexible.  She also gives me great mommy advice since she has four young children of her own.  Seeing other women have success with their careers and motherhood has inspired me.  Although the first year was tough, I have managed to take on new responsibilities at work, re-claim my title and duties as WIMEF VP and teach my son, Julius, all of his colors!

What are you passionate about in your work?

Research!  The part of my job that I enjoy the most is the historical research I get to do.  Many of the mineral claims go back decades, some as early as the 1800’s, and I enjoy finding all of the historical information pertaining to how the permits got granted.  It is very interesting to see how the permitting process has evolved over the past 100+ years.

What would you love to do next?

I have recently started working with Oil and Gas permits, which has given me the opportunity to become familiar with another type of mineral extraction process beyond surface mining.  Ultimately, I think my next goal would be to write mineral resource development policy for local governments.

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

Well, the one thing I wished I had learned before I got involved with mining is how to read a topo map.  It is a very usual tool that I had to learn along the way.

Can you tell us more about the work you do with WIMEF?
I am the VP for the WIMEF.  My current projects include redesigning the WIMEF website, updating the Policies and Procedures and heading the website committee.  I am also on the media and grants committees.

Do you believe women in mining groups can help to change the image of the industry and make the sector more attractive to women?

Yes.  I get asked to speak to young women’s groups fairly often and I believe that showing young women that science-based careers can be rewarding and fun is critical. Typically, girls that are smart and into science get labelled as nerdy or unpopular by their peers.  I represent women that are highly intelligent, social and fashion forward.  I do not look the way young girls imagine women in mining or other earth science based careers would look.  I wear high heels, I wear make-up and  my office is pink.  I am feminine and smart…and I want girls to know those two things are not mutually exclusive.

Any advice to young women starting out in their careers?

Know what you are talking about, say everything with conviction, and don’t be intimidated by men.  Women can do everything men can do except use a urinal.

Biography
EDUCATION
B.A., Political Science and African/African-American Studies with an emphasis in Urban Politics, University of California—Davis
M.A., Urban and Regional Planning with a specialization in Housing and Community/Economic Development, Cal Poly Pomona
PROFESSIONAL AFFILIATIONS
APA American Planning Association ∙ National Secretary—Planning and the Black Community Division (2008-2010)
Inland Geological Society
Women in Mining ∙ Vice President ∙ CA Chapter (2009-2011)
Women in Mining ∙ VP Executive Board of Directors ∙ Education Foundation (2010-current)

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