With 20 years’ experience in the mining industry in North America as a process engineer and metallurgist, Linda Dufour believes mining needs to do a lot more to encourage women to come into the sector; be promoted and not be tempted to leave by the lack of opportunity. While some parts of the industry have seen a rise in the number of women employed in it, she thinks metallurgy is die-hard male and could do with rethink over values. She wants quotas for getting women on boards. Team work, problem solving and getting things done are her passion. By Camila Reed
How did you choose mining as a career?
I did pure and applied sciences and when I went to university, I looked at what to do, and maybe because my grandfather had been an electrical engineer, I applied to different schools. Electrical was my first choice but then I was accepted by mining — without really knowing what I was going into — and then I switched to metallurgy, which is part of the same department but a different course.
Metallurgical engineering has been your forte, has it been what you expected?
I like the people doing the real work and that was the best part of the job, but not necessarily the way that companies are managed by non-hands on people.
This has got worse over the years, because I think now it is all about making the biggest mines possible and all about the share price and not about the local people. It is more and more about fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) operations and so people have less of an attachment to places. When I worked in mining, people lived in towns and established a community. Now it is more FIFO type of work.
What’s your experience been as a women working in the mining sector and have you encountered much discrimination?
I’m not sure that I’ve seen more women than when I started 20 years ago, I don’t know where there are more women and I’ve worked at nine different places over the years.
Now, not many people are studying metallurgy so that firms are recruiting chemical engineers. Some people senior to me think that is a real shame because they don’t really understand the industry. There are more women chemical engineers but where I have been working in consulting engineering firms in North America, there are not more women. Maybe in other disciplines there are, but not in metallurgy in mining divisions.
You might see more women who are at junior level — at 10 years or under who are chemical engineers.
To become senior if you are not assertive, it’s no good, if you are too assertive, it’s not good. If you try to confront problems like bad language it’s difficult or a lack of career development.
I would like to have a work environment that had more communication and where there was focus on career development. It is a very difficult environment and a very male environment in the mining process engineering sector.
Maybe men need to understand more about a woman’s nature, like understanding that women maybe don’t enjoy boasting. Why does a woman need to become like a man — because that’s the message I keep hearing. We need more collaboration in engineering.
Have you had mentors and sponsors that helped you along the way?
Yes one mentor, who is retired now who was my boss when I worked at a gold mine. He was more than a mentor in that he gave me opportunities that I haven’t had since. He is the only one and this would have been in the ‘90s.
Could you share a challenge that you overcame?
I was the first and only woman who had ever worked at this plant, and I found out afterwards when I was leaving that they thought there’s no way a woman can come and work here, but then after that they were pleasantly surprised that it is possible for a woman to work in this industry.
It was a challenge because I had to prove myself on a daily basis. In the end, at least for some, it was a positive and they said ‘A woman can do this’, and some said I was excellent at my work.
What are you passionate about in your work?
I really like working with project teams and people from other disciplines or the actual operators and working together and problem solving, finding solutions and getting things done.
What would you like to do next?
I’m thinking of leaving the industry.
I find that my values and those of the mining business are not really in line. It is also discouraging not to see women of my age or older in the industry. There are a few around the world but I don’t know who they are. It makes me very sad.
What is your opinion of women on boards debate? Are you pro quotas or against them?
I am pro and they do have a positive impact. If you look at a country like Norway, where they have them, there were many men who were opposed to quotas. But now many men have come back and said it is better having more women on boards.
Any advice to young women starting out on their careers?
Go and work in operations at mine sites so you can learn about the company’s business. Someone with hands on experience is invaluable. If women can get this experience, it will help them in advancing their careers.