Maria O’Connor

Maria O’Connor

Job title (at time of interview)Former Director, Mineral Resources: Golden Star Resources (currently on maternity leave)

LocationLondon, UK

“By increasing gender diversity, women will end up with the great privilege of not having to be seen to
blaze a trail for future generations, because it will be a given that men and women are more equally
represented across the board. This is true for all kinds of diversity and inclusion, not just gender.”
March 2022
Maria O’Connor hails from Ireland, but started her career as an exploration geologist in Australia,
working for Murchison Metals and then Monarch Gold. She then spent twelve years providing mining
and geology technical consulting services to clients around the globe, and eventually rose to the
position of Partner at CSA Global. More recently, she held the directorship with responsibility for
mineral resources at Golden Star Resources, a Canadian company operating the Wassa gold mine in
By Nathalie Lion Haddad and Kathy Sole
  • Mining is not usually selected as a career choice for women. Why did you choose mining as a career?

    It was never actually a plan. When I studied Environmental Geochemistry, which is the study of chemistry and geology, at University in Dublin, beyond a life in academia, I didn’t really know how to use my degree. After spending all my life in formal education up to that point, I hopped off that conveyor, got a flight to Australia, my eyes were opened to a whole world of opportunities that excited me, working with some great people and I never looked back.
  • Please describe your career progression and your most current role.

    I started working as an exploration geologist in Western Australia, in iron ore and then gold, with some exposure to open pit production. I came to the UK in 2008 when CSA Global (an ERM company) opened their UK office. Under the mentorship of the leaders there, I developed my skills in the resource geology area, and that’s become my area of expertise over the years. I spent twelve years as a consultant, collaborating with clients on many projects (gold, silver, copper, iron, uranium, nickel, platinum-group elements, and more), and working my way up to Partner level at CSA. My most recent role at Golden Star Resources (GSR) was working as part of the Corporate Technical Services team as Director, Mineral Resources. In that role, I was Qualified Person for GSR’s mineral resources and supported the operation in maintaining and improving standards and excellence.
  • What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector? What challenges have you experienced working in an industry that is predominantly male? Do you feel you have had to adapt to ‘fit’ the industry?

    A lot has changed since I was working on greenfield exploration sites back in 2005. At that time, even at graduate level, for a long time, I was the only female on site, laughing off crude jokes and pretending not to notice the – how should I put this – ‘adult’ magazines left around. Looking back, I think I was too willing to try to fit in, trying not to draw attention to gender. For women, or any minority, working in organisations where there is no visible path for women is tricky. While it’s now unusual to be the only female on sites, it is still often the case that women are a substantial minority in technical teams. However, the idea of gender diversity has become more central and is considered positive and something to be aspired to by serious people in the industry. And having said all of that, having some great champions and sponsors in every place I’ve worked has allowed me to seize opportunities. These people—mainly men—and others like them have used their positions to be real drivers of change in the industry and are to be commended.
  • Have you had mentors or sponsors that helped you on the way?

    I have never been part of a formal mentorship program, but I have been fortunate that there have been people in every organisation that I have worked who have championed me and helped me see my own potential. This has taken on a number of forms – investment of their time to help me develop my technical skills, providing a sound board to allow me to make my own judgement calls, questioning me to help me crystallise what it is that I want and need from my career and providing their good advice, their sponsorship and opening up their network to me to help me pursue my goals. Paying this forward to others in the industry is important to me.
  • What are you most proud of having achieved in your career so far?

    Becoming a Partner at CSA was a proud moment, recognising years of work and value I brought to the company and their clients.
  • What are you passionate about in your work and find most rewarding?

    Seeing people that I have trained or spent time mentoring making advances in their own careers is one of the most rewarding things I do, and does not stop being rewarding. From a technical point of view, being able to collaborate with teams who really care about the projects they work on, and being able to contribute value is very fulfilling. Seeing problems, and working towards continual improvement is central to what drives my technical work.
  • What personal and professional characteristics have been most important in enabling your career success?

    An ability to place myself in the shoes of others I think helps me consider where people are coming from and helps me become a better collaborator. I am by nature a calm, patient person, and that can help diffuse stressful situations. I have tried to keep my eyes open for opportunities down through the years, and try to push myself outside my comfort zone to keep myself challenged. I’ve been flexible and adaptable while remaining true to myself and my values
  • Do you believe women in mining groups can help to change the image of the industry and make the sector more attractive to women and youngsters – both boys and girls? Do you believe that women in the sector act as role models for younger generations?

    I think as an industry, if you can come across as well-balanced, it becomes more attractive to a wider range of people and generally a healthier workplace. I don’t think all women in the sector act as role models for younger generations, just like not all men act as role models for younger generations. And ideally, nor should they have to. However, there is probably more expectation on women that they do. By increasing gender diversity, women will end up with the great privilege of not having to be seen to blaze a trail for future generations, because it will be a given that men and women are more equally represented across the board. This is true for all kinds of diversity and inclusion, not just gender. I don’t think we should underestimate the value of when you see women in leadership, more women are able to realise that for themselves.
  • What do you believe are actions the industry can take to attract and retain more women?

    The industry has changed a lot since I started out 17 years ago, and has really improved for the better for women. Visibility is important. Seeing decent representation of women on boards, on top-executive teams and at all levels is important for women to see that there is a path for them. Helping women balance their work life with childcare and family life is as essential in mining as it is in any industry.
  • Do you have any advice to young women starting out in their careers? What do you wish you’d known when you first entered the workplace?

    Try to get as much exposure to different things as possible in those early years and try to work in multi-disciplinary teams so that your experience does not get too siloed and that you can see other points of view from people who may have different priorities to you. Your voice is valuable, so make it heard. Diversity of opinions is the positive outcome when you increase diversity in teams and results are often better when more sides of an issue are explored.
  • Have you any hobbies, pastimes, or secret talents that you would like to tell us about?

    I have a five-month baby so hobbies are being shelved right now, but when I have time, I love swimming. Growing up by the sea in Dublin means there is a special place in my heart for swimming in the sea whenever I can.