Pauline Tahi came to mining by chance some 22 years ago. Since then, she has been involved in the commissioning of every mine in her home country of Ivory Coast. Although she was often a victim of discrimination during her career, she says attitudes are changing and are much better today towards women. She urges them not to be put off. Pauline believes you have to be confident in yourself and your abilities, and for those starting out in mining, she recommends reconciling work and private life so as not to have to choose between your career and family life as she was forced to.
By Camila Reed
I came to mining by chance; I can say that it was fate. I went to Morocco to study tourism and it was obvious that I wouldn’t be able to enter the academy because of my age.
As the first Ivorian student enjoying a scholarship from the international cooperation exchange in Morocco, I had the chance to make another choice. The trigger was a careers brochure I was browsing which mentioned Extractive Metallurgy (transforming a rock into a metal). At that moment I was convinced that this is what I wanted to do as a career.
My parents and other Ivorian students said: “Pauline you have chosen unemployment”; because at that time there was no mine in production in the Ivory Coast. And I can assure you that since I finished my studies until now, I have not experienced any period of unemployment. On the contrary, I was always asked to start mining projects in Ivory Coast.
This work has stolen me living my life as a wife and mother but I love it anyway, it is my only reason for being.
At the start of my career, I had to choose between motherhood and my job. I wanted a career in the mines so I had to put my plans to give birth on hold.
But this profession has forged me physically and morally. Where a man could just work at a normal pace, being a woman meant I had to make double the efforts to earn a position and the confidence of my bosses and colleagues.
Basically I was formed by my work and it has paid off. I can say that today in my country in the mining sector, no one can talk about metallurgists without mentioning Pauline Tahi.
Of course I was the victim of much discrimination during my career.
Sometimes some colleagues will reject your ideas, even if they are good, simply because they come from a woman. You know, in our country men have difficulty accepting orders from a woman. It is cultural! Fortunately, things have changed now yes, attitudes have evolved significantly today and I am delighted.
My husband was a great support early in my career; with his encouragement and advice, it was easier for me. I worked night shifts during the first four years of my career. They would come and wake me from a deep sleep to go and solve a problem at the plant. Without his support I think I would have given it all up.
It’s really nice to get back home to find a shoulder to lean on and relieve myself of all the stress and pressure of the working day.
Every day of my working life is a challenge and that’s what makes it worthwhile and is the allure of this business.
I had the chance to participate in the starting up of plants where I worked for most of the time.
Putting in place procedures and standards to improve production.
And training and developing the young people who we recruited locally to get them up to speed within a few months. It is a real pleasure to leave your mark wherever you go. Sometimes people are surprised to see that it is a woman who has made all this happen and driven the process.
Thanks to my experience, we have managed to minimize production costs and optimize the performance of our plant.
First is the fact of being on the ground, I mean the physical side. And you know, metallurgy is the heart of an ore processing plant.
In my profession there’s no down-time or being off the job because a metallurgist is always looking for perfection so as to produce more and cut costs.
I would like to be a metallurgical consultant. I like to share my experience with others, convey my knowledge to the younger generation. My country is still young in the mining sector.
In any case that is all I know how to do. I love this job anyway.
What I want to do is what I am doing today, being central to the operation of the processing plant. My opinion is asked for in major decisions about production.
However, sometimes I tell myself that if I were bilingual, with a perfect command of English, I would be at the top of my career today.
No I don’t, and yes I would like to — why not.
We must encourage women. I’m for fairness, but maybe for now we cannot be rigid on quotas. We should let things come more naturally. Ultimately the quota will impose itself because where there is a woman leader, there is seriousness and wisdom.
Yes, first by the work they do and because you have to be a model for the younger generation.
Women in mining groups share experiences they have lived in different areas of the sector and countries.
Besides, these networks have really arrived at the right time. Especially in our country where mining is new and unfamiliar to the female population, prejudice against women is greater here than elsewhere; I think we have a large role to play in countering this in these groups.
It may be slow, but be must be patient and we women know how to be patient.
My current work is focused on the production and productivity of mining projects and also the formation and development of new entrants in the sector.
To the younger generations I can say that the job is exciting and that it’s true that it is more physical than intellectual. But with the wisdom and know-how embodied in women, I can say that we have our place in the mining sector. You must love the profession and be sure of your vocation.
You have to be confident in yourself and your abilities if you want to be a good leader in what is predominantly a male-dominated environment.
And finally, reconcile your work and your private life so as not to have to choose one day between your career and family life. Never forget that we work to flourish and not be unhappy at work.
First, to be a woman with a certain level of responsibility among all these men is already a challenge. The daily experience is also a challenge: physically, morally and intellectually.
Anyway, being a woman, I had no choice but to adapt or at least to mould to the industry.
As they say “work pays”. In the end, we end up winning the respect of superiors and colleagues. Today in the mining sector in the Ivory Coast, I have the respect and esteem of those around me.
Pauline Tahi has 22 years of experience in gold ore processing and metallurgical laboratory management. Her first taste of the working world was with SOMIAF, EDEN ROCK & Mineral Corp, where she worked as a Gold Plant Supervisor and Safety & Environment Coordinator. Five years later, she moved to CMA, AREVA, for 5 years as a Laboratory Manager, then transferred to SMI, AREVA Metallurgy section development for another 4 years. She joined CLUFF Mining to start their project, and left after the commissioning a few months later. She also worked at EQUIGOLD-LGL Mining for 2 years before going to TONGON SA, RANDGOLD Resources, then back at BONIKRO MINING, NEWCREST CI, for 3 years. Currently, she’s Senior Metallurgist at AGBAOU GOLD OPERATIONS, ENDEAVOUR Mining – CI. She has taken part in the commissioning of all the mining companies in her country.
In March 2015, she was nominated as President of Women in Mining Cote D’Ivoire (FEMICI).
On the back of a recommendation by the WAEMU that all members states should have a common mining policy, it was also decided that each country should have a women in mining organisation. The first meeting of the 8 member countries + Guinea took place in July 2014. Since they each incorporated a WIM group in their own countries and on the 22nd of July 2015 launched WIMOWA (Women in Mining West Africa), the regional network representing 9 countries; WIMOWA has an executive board composed of 13 members elected for a term of 3 years and is currently chaired by Aida Tamboura from Burkina Faso. Pauline Tahi is the representative of Cote d’Ivoire on the WIMOWA committee.