“Knowledge is the key to success and confidence: knowing that you are skilled at your job will make you more confident … Expand your personal, social, and professional skills through lifelong learning.”
With more than 20 years of experience in the mining industry, Jale Şakiyan Ateş has significantly contributed to understanding and mitigating environmental impacts of the industry assessment. She has experience in hydrogeology, groundwater modelling, and sustainable management of groundwater resources, and has been involved in numerous national and international environmental impact assessment and baseline studies. Jale joined Eldorado Gold Tüprag in 2007 as a specialist in environmental impact assessment and is now Environmental Manager. She is responsible for managing environmental and cumulative impact assessments, mine waste management plans, closure plans, and implementation of management and monitoring requirements. Jale holds a bachelor’s degree in Geological Engineering and M.Sc. in Hydrogeology from Middle East Technical University, Turkey. She is currently also a PhD candidate in the Environmental Engineering Department of Hacettepe University, Turkey.
By Kathy Sole
Although Turkey is well known for its mining and metallurgical industry, you obtained your degree in Geological Engineering at a time when there were few women entering this field. What attracted you to a career in this industry?I grew up in a small town in western Turkey that sits on a highly seismic area known as the North Anatolian Fault Zone. When we were young, our town and whereabouts suffered from many earthquakes of small magnitude. I have always been fascinated, and also terrified, by the amazing power of earthquakes. Maybe it was the earthquakes that I witnessed or their effects on structures, but I have always been amazed by the field of engineering ever since I discovered what it meant to be an engineer. Fortunately, my university entrance exam scores were high enough to enrol into one of the best universities in Turkey, Middle East Technical University (METU), Geological Engineering Department. I remember very well my first geology lecture in the university. I was immediately smitten with the visualizations of the plate tectonics theory. Geology definitely enriches one’s ability to observe the world around you.
Your career has been very varied and you have contributed significantly to assessing and reducing the environmental impact of mining in the various jobs that you have held. Please describe your career progression and current role.
Upon my internship at the General Directorate of the Turkey State Hydraulic Works (DSI), I realised the importance of groundwater reservoirs as a reliable freshwater source for all means of life. However, as you know, its consumption keeps increasing and sustainable management of groundwater resources is becoming more and more crucial every day. With this in mind, I decided to expand my geological engineering profession in the area of hydrogeology so that I could focus on the mutual relationship between groundwater and society. During my M.Sc. study, I gained enough experience on hydrogeology, water quality, groundwater modelling, and established sustainable development and management policies for the Küçük Menderes River Basin Aquifer System in western Turkey.
Upon completion of my masters’ degree, SRK Consulting was in the process of opening a branch in Turkey. They offered me a job. Given their global knowledge and expertise in mining, environment, and water management, I wanted to be a part of their team. While working at SRK Turkey, I had a chance to contribute as a team member on environmental impact assessments and baseline studies for numerous mining projects. I was given the opportunity to learn about and develop my skills on environmental impact assessment (EIA). To me, EIA goes well beyond acquiring a permit: it is a great decision-making and planning process spanning through an entire life cycle of a mining project. I learned a lot from my consulting experience, as we were a small team where everyone was involved in all tasks. We worked well together and often collaborated with multidisciplinary technical experts.
My current employment is with Eldorado Gold Tüprag since 2007. I am in charge of managing environmental and cumulative impact assessments, mine waste management plans, closure plans, as well as the implementation of management and monitoring requirements. I am fortunate to be working with colleagues with high technical knowledge, skills, and expertise on all aspects of mining. We worked effectively together, share, and learn from each other, that is—as you can imagine—very crucial for successful outcomes. My colleagues’ continued support is the one thing I can always count on to continuously improve.
Complexity of environmental challenges is globally increasing. To be successful in this field in the long run, I felt like the next right step for me was to further increase my knowledge of environmental science. For that matter, I enrolled in the PhD programme at Hacettepe University’s Environmental Engineering department in 2018 and am planning to be done with my studies by next year.
What changes have you seen in the mining industry with respect to issues of sustainability and custody of land for future generations during your career?
It’s a known fact that sustainability has been an increasing issue over the last two decades. There has been a growing awareness about this matter, both in public and among the mining companies. The sustainable development concept can be applied to most aspects of mining, so quite a number of mining companies have integrated sustainability into their business strategies.
Early EIA process emphasis was on both the physical and biological environments, such as air, water, soil, land use, or flora fauna, which could easily be evaluated by scientific and technical methods. Over the years, the notion of sustainability required more commitment and drew attention to health, social, and economic aspects of mining projects. Therefore, the focus has shifted to the inclusion of all stakeholders of the project in the EIA process. Emphasis on the importance of public disclosure and effectiveness of the EIA has led to the emergence of new branches of environmental impact assessment, such as social, cumulative, ecological network, and biodiversity-inclusive impact assessments, and mine waste management and risk assessment, just to mention a few. The EIA process has been adopted as best practice by development banks, and also by mining companies that are willing to comply with best practices to create a favorable net impact from mining development.
In addition to changes in the EIA process, the mining sector is increasingly adopting and implementing global sustainability standards and management systems to address sustainable development issues and to demonstrate their commitment to best safety, environmental, and social practices. The stakeholders have been asking for an assurance that environmental commitments are met. In the past two decades, mining companies have responded to that concern by presenting their performance on health and safety, environmental, and social issues through sustainability reporting standards, such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) that is widely adopted by the industry, as well as the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) which Eldorado is now using. Besides, internet and social media are the fastest and easiest way to get information in today’s society. This allows mining companies to inform a wide range of stakeholders about their sustainability performance.
Considerable advances have been made in mining and environmental technologies over the past decades. In conjunction with best-available techniques, control of mining waste management and emissions have improved significantly. It’s a fact that integration of the environmental management system as an element of operations further decreases the potential environmental impact, and the “design for closure” approach can minimize emissions to the environment as low as possible with modern technology. Besides, the best techniques available for today may not be so in the future. For this reason, there is a need for continuous development to improve existing practices and techniques. The mining industry is willing to cooperate in research together with governments and academia to address issues of common interest.
• How does your passion for the environment align with working in an industry with environmental impacts? How do you view the relationship between mining and the environment?
It’s a known fact that mining is as old as human civilization, and the mining industry is simply producing minerals and metals to satisfy society’s demands. Unfortunately, only few people realise the importance of mining for the social and economic development of many countries around the world. In this context:
“What do we want to sustain?”
I really like this question. Let’s keep in mind that sustainable development goals not only cover environmental preservation and resource use, but also improve the development of human lives and reduce inequality through economic growth. Minerals and metals are vital for modern living. On the other hand, world population constantly increases, living standards are raised, and the technology advances so fast. For these reasons, worldwide mineral and metal demand will increase.
There is a strong link between sustainable development and climate change. Scientists call for urgent actions to fight against climate change. To combat climate change, there are net-zero carbon emission commitments by companies and countries that bring increasing renewable energy demand. Besides, people want to use green vehicles and car companies’ productions will switch to only electric and hybrid vehicles by 2030 to 2050. Additionally, modern technologies like mobile devices are becoming more and more metal-intense. We need to understand and accept that we cannot have wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicles, and mobile devices without minerals and metals. I believe renewable energy and mining industries will be great partners as mining companies will also rely more on renewable energy to become green.
The combined forces of mining and renewable energy industries can create a negative feedback mechanism that can reduce carbon emissions and slow down global warming. So, any sustainable future from climate change and reduced carbon emissions points of view relies highly on the mining industry.
While the mining industry is historically perceived as an anti-environmentalist, we need to be open-minded and accept that mining is essential for a greener future and the well-being of society. Given these facts, we need to sustain mining activities, while preserving our planet through implementing integrated decision-making processes and environmental management systems in our operations. Under these circumstances, taking responsibility for our future and using our knowledge and skills in environmental science to understand, conserve, and protect the environment as a member of the mining industry is highly satisfying.
Please describe your personal and professional attributes that you consider have been most influential in your success.
– Growth mindset
– Social skills
What has been most challenging in your career?
Thirteen years ago I gave a birth to a beautiful girl. I named her Nil, like the legendary River Nile. Being a working mom can be really challenging, as you’re constantly trying to figure out how to balance work with motherhood. To be honest, sometimes it can get really overwhelming as you continue to take on a whole new set of responsibilities. But now I would not trade it for the world, seeing how amazing my daughter has turned out to be. Lessons I have learned from this experience are priceless. You learn to manage your time and prioritize things as you’re running against the clock. You have to be more focused and act efficiently because you don’t have time to waste. Another gift is building resilience, as things often do not go as planned, so you have to adapt. Communicating and asking for help is crucial in relieving stress as a working mom and that teaches you valuable lessons about empathy, helping you become a more compassionate person. Being a working mom is challenging but amazing: those lessons assist you in your working life as well.
What is your experience as a woman working in the mining sector in Turkey, in an industry that is predominantly male? Do you feel that you have had to adapt to ‘fit’ the industry? Have you had mentors or sponsors that helped you on the way?I’m lucky to work for an organization that offers equal opportunities to all. Our company’s culture is not based on competition but on collaboration, praising one another, and collective success. Above all, I would like to express my respect and gratitude to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the visionary founder of Modern Turkish Republic. Turkish women received equal educational, civil, and political rights in the 1920s and 1930s with his reforms. On the other hand, it is a fact that Turkey still has a long way to go towards gender equality, but this is a global issue. The Global Gender Gap Index benchmarks the evolution of gender-based gaps among four key dimensions (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment) and tracks progress towards closing these gaps over time. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap report, there is still a 31.4% average gender gap that remains to be closed globally.
Projecting current trends into the future, the overall global gender gap will close in 99.5 years, but with the slow rate experienced over the period 2006–2020, it will take 257 years to close this gap.
Now we know that countries have political and legal commitments to gender equality: companies are aware of its importance and they are trying to address problems with policies and training, but why is the trend so slow? Neuroscientists explain this as unconscious bias, and the source of this bias comes from the stereotypes rooted in historical roles of men and women in society. Those associations affect how we evaluate men and women in the workplace. I find it interesting to learn that females are biased too. We need to identify these stereotypes, as well as unconscious bias in ourselves: only then we can improve our individual behaviour and decisions. I strongly believe that gender equality is two-sided—what is good for women is also good for men so all can achieve a work–life balance. We can help each other to change biases that old society has created.
I have been fortunate enough to work with very successful and inspiring leaders. In addition to that, I have had support and guidance from so many colleagues in the organization. Currently, I am enrolled in the International Women in Resources Mentoring Programme [spearheaded by International Women in Mining], which is an outstanding opportunity for my personal and professional growth.
It is important to bring new talent into this industry. Do you have any suggestions on how to recommendations for attracting young girls and boys to enter a technical career in a science or engineering field?According to statistics, Generation Z will make up almost 30–35% of the global workforce by the next decade. They have grown up in a digital age, and that is why they are labelled as digital natives. As a parent of a Generation Z child, it is a fact that they are different from the generations before them. Technology and social media have given them the ability to reach a lot of information, broaden their knowledge, and share their opinions, therefore, creating their own values. We need to understand their values in order to be able to attract them to a career in a science or engineering field. Generation Z mostly care about environment, wealth of society, and equality. Surveys suggest that they choose careers that align with their values. Educators and business owners need to send out the message that engineering skills give them ability to develop solutions and take action to address issues they care about. As an environmentally responsible and socially aware generation, they want to work for companies that are dedicated to environmental protection, creating positive impact in society, and support equality. For this reason, businesses also need to be prepared to attract and retain future engineers.
What advice would you like to give to young women? What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out in your career?
Knowledge is the key to success and confidence. Knowing that you are skilled at your job will make you more confident. Confidence and good communication skills will give you the ability to express yourself. Expand your personal, social, and professional skills through lifelong learning. Believe me you will not be disappointed, and you will be in more demand. When I was at the beginning of my career, I wish I had known the importance of emotional intelligence in achieving personal and professional goals. As David Goleman refers to it as a “different way of being smart.”
Have you any hobbies or pastimes that you would like to tell us about?I’m a chorist and soloist in a Turkish Classical Music Choir.