Teamwork, discipline and focus drive this young project manager, skills she’s learnt from dancing ballet since she was six years old. Juliana Andrade says that mining has welcomed her with open arms. “So I have no words of warning. All I can say is: Welcome you are part of the team. Help us improve.” She believes that many people don’t have a real view of what mining is and what it can do and she would love to show how important and beneficial it can be for communities. She’s not afraid to challenge ideas and says don’t be afraid to ask the wrong questions. By Camila Reed
Why did you choose mining as a career?
I was chosen by mining.
When I was a student I was an intern at Vale. I was not thinking specifically about mining but I fell in love with it. In the beginning I was a bit prejudiced because of all the environmental reports you hear. But once I started working there, I realised that the good things weren’t being shown to the outside world.
When I graduated I knew I didn’t want to work in any other business and I was lucky enough to be taken on by Vale as a permanent employee a year later.
What do you like about mining?
It is the chance to make a difference to most of the communities that we work with. Most people only see the exploration or the environmental destruction, but I have been working with projects since the beginning of my career and I have had the opportunity to see one of my projects being implemented and now it is in operation.
In the old days mining was just exploring but nowadays we have a commitment to not only explore but to be part of the community and improve it. I had the chance to see this in the project I worked on in Peru. It was a very poor region with no expectation of improvement. It’s great to go back 5 years later and see how the region has grown and benefited.
Are there many other female chemical engineers or women on your team?
When I joined Vale I had the opportunity to work with Vanessa Torres and she promoted a lot of female engineers and women so that we had the opportunity to grow in the company. Now I have the opportunity to have three women working with me directly in my team.
Working on projects it is easier for people to prove themselves. I had this great beginning with Vanessa who taught us not to feel contained about being a woman in this business. Nowadays I feel more insecure about being young, than being a woman in mining.
Have you encountered much discrimination?
No, I have been very lucky. I am well aware of the opportunities I have had and I have worked with great leaders, who are women, and I see that we can make a difference.
We have an overview of everything and we care about people.
Have you had any mentors along the way?
I have three female mentors who I call my ‘mothers’. Every time something happens and I’m proud of myself I tell them. And we’ve become very good friends. My ‘three mothers’ are Vanessa Torres, now at BHP Billiton, Valeria Lage, who works at Anglogold Ashanti in Brazil and Edriene Orzil, who is a general manager on the iron ore business at Vale.
These women and so many other professionals have become great examples of making things happen and valuing the team. I believe I have become a better leader because of them.
What is it that makes you passionate about your work?
I believe it’s about making a difference. We have some qualities as professionals that make us see things a little bit differently.
The best thing is when I get some work done and think this is a good result, we managed to do this. I am not fond of having a routine or doing the same thing each day. Working with projects we always bring new technologies and ideas that can make a difference to the company, the market or the business and that moves me.
How can we make things better for everyone — that is what I’m guided by.
Also I get the chance to have contact with multicultural teams and I always learn with them. Last year I travelled a lot so everywhere I went I learnt something new.
What would you like to do next?
I love working with projects. I’m very fond of having these challenges but I think that I could try something else now that I have some experience on projects. I do feel that I need to become more technical and if I have some experience on other areas such as operations, business etc., then I could become a better professional.
I love learning with experienced people and I want to keep on learning. I never know enough.
What is one thing you wish you’d been told when you were starting out that you know now?
Yes – you can do it! You don’t need to know everything right away.
When you become a professional you expect yourself to be able to give all the answers straight away. One thing I’ve learnt is that there is not always a right answer, you can discuss and look at different ways. You can challenge people to think differently.
And I was a bit afraid to ask the wrong questions. So don’t be afraid of asking and don’t worry about asking the wrong questions.
Would you like a seat on a board?
When I became a manager I realised that is the place I wanted to be. Since I’ve never had much technical expertise, I believe this is how I can help make things happen.
What is your opinion in the women on board debate? Are you pro quotas or against them?
I’m not very fond of quotas because I think that people should have their benefits recognised because of being a good professional. What I know from my experience is that I’ve learnt much more with leaders who are women.
There are mining companies with female leaders on their boards but I don’t know if quotas are the way to put us there.
We have a differential as women and being multitaskers but we have to have our reputations based on delivering things. We should prove to the world we can make a difference in and in small steps we are doing that.
When I started working, Vanessa was my first manager and she was a pioneer. In 5 years she became a director and this is an example.
We have to be recognised.
One thing we should fight for – and be prepared to go through the courts – is to eliminate the prejudice of women in the mining business, more than having quotas so people say she is just there because of the quotas.
What have been the biggest changes or challenges in your career?
There were two key moments:
The first was going abroad for six months to Peru. This was a unique experience. Peru is a very male dominated society and we had these challenges there. When we women talked they would not listen to us. We had to have a guy talking with us. To overcome this and gain their respect was great. It gave me a lot of experience to grow in my career.
Another big change was when I became a manager. When I became I a manager it was in recognition of my work. I was the youngest person in the team back then and now in my team I have people who were my employees when I was an intern at Vale.
When I became a manager of the project in Peru we were dealing with some in-fighting and sometimes it was difficult for people to get to a common view. I got there and the tradition was changed. We got the job done and at the end the relationship was so strong and everyone was working for the project, not against each other. We can deliver great results without having to fight for our space.
I am very focused, so I can help on the project’s objectives without worrying about what’s mine and yours.
What skills do you have that have helped you?
Teamwork and discipline. And this I learnt from dancing, from ballet. Everyone has to have the right arm in the right position together.
I could never work by myself I need people to discuss ideas with. Now as a manager, but not being the technical girl, I get to discuss things I don’t know and I can also ask the wrong questions and make my team think outside the box.
Also when I have a challenge I can’t rest until it’s done.
How do you balance being a mother and working? Has it changed people’s perceptions about you?
Yes. My kids come first.
Being a mother is one of the best things but maybe not the best thing I do! For sure it is the greatest challenge!
I had great support from the company when I was pregnant and from my bosses. Things are different now to when I was pregnant with my first child and most of the women didn’t have kids.
I still have support. Vale saw me growing with the kids so they are part of the team. It’s something that has amazed me how this was not something difficult. I have had leaders to support me as a mother of a young baby and children.
It is easier as the company and my husband support me — if I hadn’t then my life would have been much harder.
How would you feel about your daughter going into mining?
I would love that. I would support her 100% I would be very proud! … or her becoming a ballerina.
My youngest sister became an engineer as well and is working with materials and I keep saying to her: “Come to mining”. I think that people don’t have the real view of what mining is and what it can do and I would love to show how important the work is.
Any advice for young women starting out?
You can do it, you can make a difference.
It’s hard for me as I have been made so welcome. Mining has welcomed me with open arms, so I have no words of warning. All I can say is, “Welcome you are part of the team. Help us improve.”
Being a mother, an engineer, a ballerina is not easy but I’m very comfortable with all three and they make me happy. I would never want to choose one of these things. I wouldn’t want to quit any of these professions because they complement each other. They each help me have a different view-point.