Mélanie Roger

Mélanie Roger

Job title (at time of interview) Technical Advisor Cultural Integration

LocationToamasina, Madagascar

“Trust yourself, be self-confident regarding your competence and capabilities, and never underestimate yourself…take any opportunity to promote yourself, what you have done already and can do in the future. Of course, respect yourself and require respect at all times: this is essential from the start.”
May 2022
After graduating in international trade and finance and working for a few years in Banking & Investment in Brussels, Mélanie Roger joined the mining industry in 2008 at the early stage of construction of the Ambatovy project in Madagascar. She held the positions of Head of Regional Communication, then Head of Internal Communications while qualifying as a Public Relations practitioner in Johannesburg. She transitioned to Human Resources as Superintendent of Expatriate Affairs, recruiting and managing expats for six years. She now advises on cultural integration of expats whom she helps to decode the host culture for a more effective collaboration in multi-cultural workplaces. She believes that cultural aspects of situations at work are much more impactful than we think, especially when trying to implement changes or looking to maximize localization of jobs. Her next project is to develop herself in coaching to be able to better guide internal clients on effective communication/leadership and change management in culturally mixed environment. She believes that diversity in the workplace is an asset more than a challenge: we just need to learn how to be inclusive to fully benefit from it.
Mélanie is the mother of two daughters, who are being raised in a mixed Belgian and Madagascar parenting style. She particularly loves making newcomers discover how beautiful their host country and its people are.
By Nathalie Lion-Haddad and Kathy Sole
  • Please tell us how you came to choose mining as a career?

    I ended up in mining by chance. I expatriated from Belgium to Madagascar to be a Finance Director in the food and spice sector and one year later, I joined the biggest mining project ever in Madagascar. That was more than 13 years ago, and there’s never been a dull moment. I cannot say I chose mining, but I really like it because being part of an operating mine in-country puts you at the heart of where it all happens.
  • Please describe your career progression and your current role.

    I started working in mining during the early construction stages of this Nickel and Cobalt project, which exposed me to completely different phases of a life-of-mine cycle. From construction, to transitioning, to stable operations, I experienced completely different challenges and mindsets.
    I started in Community Relations, then moved to Communications. At that time, massive efforts were required to raise awareness, reassure, and engage a broad range of local and national key stakeholders about what a new industry meant for the country and the host communities. Amongst many other activities, we organized road shows for communities living along the 230 km pipeline, built information centers, and initiated site visits for the general public at what was then the largest industrial complex in the country. We later also managed the demobilization of 15,000 workers and contractors on completion of the construction phase.
    I led Internal Communications for a year, which was in fact a stepping stone to move to Human Resources. In that role, I became accountable for the management of Expatriates Affairs, providing services to a population of 200+ expats, as well as 250 contractors from more than 40 different countries.
    In my current role, I facilitate the cultural integration of expatriates in the company and Madagascar as the host country. Understanding the local culture and context is essential for expatriates to be able to effectively lead and engage others.
  • Please tell us more about the economic importance of mining in your country.

    Madagascar is highly reliant on mining revenues, and Ambatovy is the largest employer in the country, providing more than 10,000 direct jobs alone. The Company provides the highest source of foreign currency and is the first contributor to the national GDP (7%).
  • 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?

    I have always enjoyed working in environments with men; therefore, I don’t feel
    that I needed to adapt to fit the industry. Sometimes though, I realize that it is not easy for everyone, so it is important to stay vigilant to how female co-workers are feeling in the workplace because each one of us sets the standards for whatever are to be considered acceptable behaviours towards women.
  • Have you had mentors or sponsors that helped you on the way?

    I have the chance to work with impressive leaders, mainly women, who highly inspired me by how competent they were, their professional attitude, and their ability to make the right decisions for the interest of the business and the people—even though those decisions could be unpopular. They paved the way for many of us and their lessons are invaluable.
    Also, countless people around us at work, i.e., colleagues and team members, are eye-opening partners every time they provide honest feedback or share experiences. Ultimately, we each have our own unique experiences, but by sharing them we can all grow together. These people’s valuable insights have greatly impacted my professional development.
  • What are you most proud of having achieved in your career so far?

    Through the last 15 years of exposure to many aspects of being an actor in the mining business in Madagascar, I have gained expertise on the local host context, its culture, and the multiple implications it has on internal or external stakeholder engagement. I am proud of this as I have come to realize how unique such skills are in this country.
  • What are you passionate about in your work and find most rewarding?

    Working in Human Resources means dealing with sensitive matters that are of the utmost importance for each person you have in front of you. The work is as complex as the human being is, and it is rather difficult to make everyone happy. However, I feel rewarded whenever customers express their gratefulness for the support and service they have received.
  • What personal and professional characteristics have been most important in enabling your career success?

    Speaking out! As scary as it can feel at times to voice one’s ideas or feedback, particularly when something is not right or does not feel fair, I can’t keep quiet. This is about staying true to my own values, and I think that is how I add value to my organization as well. I often observe women speaking out even when it is not in their personal interest; I admire this leadership trait, try to emulate it in the workplace, and encourage other women to do the same.
  • 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 all women in the sector act as role models for younger generations?

    I believe that the industry will attract younger generations by being more flexible in every possible way. This has become truer in the new post-Covid world. The relationship with work has changed, and the way organizations recognize and retain people has to evolve. Of course, women have a role to play in this by showing that flexibility in the workplace can increase engagement and results and, on the contrary, has nothing to do with lowering expectations or work outputs.
  • What do you believe are actions the industry can take to attract and retain more women?

    Being more flexible will not only attract more women, but speak to the young generations in particular. Also, demonstrating an intention to be diversified and inclusive up to the highest level in organizations. Diversity with true inclusion makes businesses more efficient – studies all show this clearly. And if it can be facilitated by quotas, why not?
    Quotas are not lowering the competence for a job, they are just giving access to competent professionals with a different profile who would have been pushed aside because of the biases we, unconsciously, all have.
  • 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?

    Trust yourself, be self-confident regarding your competence and capabilities, and never underestimate yourself. On the contrary, take any opportunity to promote yourself, what you have done already, and can do in the future.
    Finally, of course, respect yourself and require respect at all times: this is essential from the start.
  • Have you any hobbies, pastimes, or secret talents that you would like to tell us about?

    I love road trips. I love meeting new people and chatting. I like to connect people coming from different backgrounds who wouldn’t normally meet. When I hear about a situation, I naturally think of who could be the right person for that and I connect people—like I would connect the dots—in order to help them. I do that in my personal life and at work, and it’s helped me realize how amazingly small the world actually is.