Karine Cliche – “Don’t give up. Things don’t fall into your lap, you have to go and get them!”

July’s Monthly Profile

Canadian Karine Cliche’s energy and enthusiasm are palpable and she’s not about to give up. A mining geologist, she’s leaving the sector for now having battled with the ups and down of the industry’s hard financial times and an inability to get the job she wants. She’s faced a number of rejections but Karine remains passionate about mining and it’s lack of frontiers, human connections and ability to see and learn about new places. Although she is changing careers, she says she will keep looking for jobs and be prepared to jump on board if things happen. A mother of two young children, finding the right job can be tough and she says she’s not taking this latest venture setting up her own business as a failure but as a huge curve. By Camila Reed

How did mining come to you? How did you choose mining as a career?
I had a really easy time with science and learning and so it was obvious that I would go down that route, but I was also a bit of a free spirit and there was no way I was going to be stuck in an office all day.
I had to look around to see how I could marry these two things — science and no office — and that was how I discovered geology. I gave it a try and I really enjoyed it.
Once I did my Bachelors degree, I landed a job and then things started to go a bit funny with the mining cycle and then things started to go badly wrong with the mining cycle, so I decided to go and do a Masters degree as I thought it would give me more credentials and improve my prospects, my geology career. (2010-12)

Why are you leaving mining?
Each time I knock on the door I get a negative answer, so sometimes you have to move forward and do something else and opportunities arise and I decided to take them. I would not say the door is closed to a career in mining. It will probably always be open, but at the moment I have started to work as a homes inspector in Canada. I did my Masters degree in geology because I love geology and I want to work in that field. But for now there seems to be no place for me; I guess that’s how I feel.

What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector?
I finished my Bachelors in 2007 and was hired straight away as an exploration geologist in Canada and then the 2009 crash happened and I lost my job. But because of good contacts I got another job as an exploration geologist in 2009 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
I delayed beginning my Masters and then decided to do it in 2010 and start my family. Having finished my Masters, which I did in the UK, and now having one child I started looking for a job and tidied up my resume. People were willing to give me exploration jobs but that meant I was being offered fly-in, fly-out jobs which I was not prepared to do any more.
I’m sure there must be some Dads out there who have made similar choices to me. But when we think about a woman choosing her family over her job – we often think about it more often than not being a woman, the Mum rather than the Dads.
I did the Masters degree so I could move away from exploration and into mining or other specific roles. But the next three years I spent knocking and knocking on doors. Despite this, I don’t regret doing the Masters.

Have you encountered much discrimination on the job or in the recruitment process?
The industry has been great to me. Mostly people are welcoming and they anchor you and at some point when you have proved your worth, they take care of you and you become one of the guys. Obviously sometimes there are some slightly funny situations when you are the only white woman at a camp but I have not encountered or seen much discrimination.
But as I apply for jobs, because I’m very straight forward, and say I’m a Mum of two and that my family will come with me – it’s a kind of a package deal you are getting — I can see the body language, the step back right away.
It’s like: ‘Thanks for being really honest with me’ but I can see it’s not helping, although at the same time I want to be fair and square. And now I am a home inspector, I do inspections of residential homes before people buy them.

Could you share one or two challenges you’ve experienced in your career and how you overcame them?
I was lucky to have quite a smooth ride and I’m quite a relaxed person but I was the only white woman in a camp of 150 Congolese men and this did raise some issues. They were insistent that they wanted to build toilets and a shower compartment for me and divided up certain areas of the camp because that was how they felt they could respect the female in me. This brought them a lot of work.
It made a clear distinction between me and them, which was tricky, but at the same time it was a way for them to show that they respected me and my privacy and the work I was doing there. I took it the right way and said OK. Acceptance was important to them.
Another thing about acceptance is that you need to recognise that different cultures, backgrounds, genders, have different or alternative ways of looking at and doing things and I noticed this on the project when were tackling challenges and deadlines. The diversity of thought is a great thing.

What are you passionate about in your work?
Travelling and seeing the world from different places. Mining is not an industry that is locked in one place, you mine gold in both Australia and Canada, it’s different but at the same time it’s the same. You could end up in either place.
I think it’s a job that removes frontiers and that is one thing that I really enjoyed. There were no frontiers, no world, and I could find a mining job within the world and that for me was the most appealing thing about mining. And I would add to that, that in the nitty gritty of my work as a geologist I was out all day, only doing a couple of hours of paper work.
You get to places that no one has been to. I can say that I am one of a handful of people that has worked on an acre of land in Canada and the DRC and that is not too shabby I think.
When you get out to the mine site or towns and interact with the people, it gives you a human connection and brings mining back to the human point of view. It’s good to remember that mining is not just about stock options that go up or down.

What is your opinion in the women on boards debate? Are you pro quotas or against them?
I believe in balance and women bring something else to the table, so I do believe it would be beneficial to have more women on boards. I’m not sure it’s a solution to have quotas. Something needs to be done for sure, but I don’t know if this is the best way. We can see there aren’t many female mining CEOs. I just know there should be more women at the top. You need both sexes, you need a balance. I think it would bring more stability to the industry if we had more women on boards.

Any advice to young women starting out in their careers?
Go for it! Go with your plan. It’s an exciting industry. It’s fun. Where else do you get paid to travel and be outside? That‘s what drew me to it. I like it. However, I would say have a plan B, C and D because you don’t know where it’s going to take you, because it is such a volatile industry. If it crashes and you find that you have no options, it’s not a fun place to be, so you need to be realistic and I think I wasn’t.
I knew it was a cyclical industry and it was volatile but I guess I didn’t realise what that implied and that I could lose my job or that I would not be able to get back in. But what put the nail in the coffin for me this year, was that I was offered a job that was appealing but the salary was the lowest offer I had ever had. It was lower than my salary in my first job, when I came out of university. And I thought: ‘Is that what I’m worth? Is this where things are going?’
So, one thing I would stress to young women entering the industry is that the sector’s fortunes can go up and up but they can also really go down and you need to be realistic about that!

Have you had mentors and sponsors that helped you on the way?
I have to say – yes. There were a few gentlemen out there who helped me out. A structural geologist at the company I first worked for, called me up when I lost my job in 2009 and encouraged me to send out my CV and told me that the company had had to cut jobs and the only reason I had been made redundant was because I was the newest in, not because of my skill.
He told me not to give up and to keep going. He also gave me advice and again for my Masters he helped me and gave me contacts. Someone else, who was very supportive, was a stranger I met once, who became a connection and we kept in touch, and he was the one who found me my second job. He knew of a company looking for a French geologist and he told me to go for it and to send off my CV right now. He said you will get something. They did support and root for me.

Have you been involved in women in mining groups?
I never even knew there were women in mining groups when I was studying geology or the first three years of working and it was a friend of mine who told me about IWiM and so I got in touch and started volunteering.

How do you find the work/life balance?
Oh I haven’t! I’ve been a Mum for five years.

Any else that you feel is important that you would like to share?
I’m not giving up. I will keep looking for jobs and if things happen, will be prepared to jump on board. I am very emotional about this. I am not taking this as failure but as a huge learning curve. I don’t know where it will lead but I know I have to keep going!

BIOGRAPHY
Karine Cliche is a geologist with a Bachelor degree in Earth & Planetary Science and a Masters in Mining Geology. Karine has worked as an exploration geologist in Canada and the Democratic Republic of Congo. She loves mining work for its diversity and its opportunity and is hoping to be back in the industry soon. Now, she is the mother of two little boys and she is in the process of opening her own home inspection business.

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