Mining – “This is all I know and all I am,” says Canadian, Ruth Ives, who has spent some 20 years in the industry feeding her love of underground mines and engineering. But it didn’t begin that way. A welfare mother from Winnipeg, single with three kids, she went to school at 23, graduated and became a surveyor. She never looked back. She is now Vice-President of Project Development at Dalradian Resources’ Curraghinalt gold deposit, in Northern Ireland. Of her career she says: “There is a big sacrifice but there is a helluva reward.” By Camila Reed
What made you choose a career in mining?
Originally I went into it for the money because it paid better than any other industry.
I got married when I was very young and I had three children and then my husband disappeared and I was 23 with three children and no education. So I went to a career councillor and said I have got a couple of years of going to school and then I need to make enough money to feed these kids.”
She said, “Mining pays”.
It was tough as a single Mum and as a woman and there were no women doing it, particularly at the engineering end.
The choice was absolutely based on necessity, but as soon as I got in at the school in Canada I was fascinated by the technology, it was really stimulating. It was really interesting and there’s a lot of math and science and engineering to it and that really intrigued me.
You’ve had an amazing career, have you had mentors and sponsors that helped you on the way?
I have had a couple of strong mentors, Russell Tremayne, has been my strongest mentor who I still go to now.
Also my department head – Rob Edmunds. He understood that I didn’t have a choice like the 18 year olds that I was going to school with.
So he did his best to support me and made sure I got extra help and that I could get through it and he set me up with my first interview with Kinross. It was a successful interview and I joined Kinross as a surveyor. At that time they were mining a little deposit called QR deposit in British Columbia and I learnt how to survey the open pit, then the ramp and there was no turning back when I went underground.
Once I got underground I became an addict.
What is it about underground mining that you love?
I liked the environment and being in the rock and the fact you have to be smarter. With underground mines it is round by round, you have to know where you are going and you have to be ready to change your plan. I loved the rock mechanics and the hydrogeology and I really enjoyed narrow-vein deposits because it is such a challenge with trying to control the dilution and making it a success. I just found it super challenging and super dynamic.
One thing I really appreciated about this industry is that I didn’t need that much formal education: as long as I had a good hard work ethic and I was willing to put in the hours then I could learn on the job.
Surveying led to planning and that led to being the senior planner for a large group of planners with Placer Dome and that led to life-of-mine strategic mine planning and that in turn led to business planning and management.
What are the challenges you are faced with?
I just came out of a situation managing a gold mine with 1,700 employees, 4 pits, 3 underground and a heap leach facility, so there is no limit in this industry as long as you have a good work ethic.
You get a lot of opportunity from how hard you work and how smart and flexible you are.
I worry about it still being the case now. It’s easier and more affordable for young people to go to university — so I worry about the fact that I run across 30-year old rock mechanic PhD engineers who have never pushed a bolt in.
I certainly bump up against it here and there because I don’t have a title, I find it hard to get out of my current level and miss opportunities to move to COO or onto boards. The industry is getting younger. They pay a lot more credence to education and I think that’s shame because there are certain things you need to learn on the job.
Working in mining before the arrival of WIM groups etc – was it a very different environment than now? Did you encounter much discrimination? What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector?
I didn’t suffer a lot of that. There was some sexual harassment of course, but it always seemed like a bit of a test, if you didn’t just break down and cry then they would eventually go away. I didn’t find that a big challenge.
It was accepting the fact that my whole life was mining. I participated in an underground mine rescue team for 13 years and I was the captain of one team. It is physically, emotionally and psychologically really, really, challenging but I didn’t find that I had any special challenges that were different from the men.
I think any woman who wants to go into a field which is traditionally male has to accept that she is breaking ground and it is going to be harder.
Is it any easier for women these days?
No, not much easier, not in engineering. You see a lot more girls coming out of geology. For the mine engineering, ventilation engineering, rock mechanics there are still not enough women doing it. It is still a novelty, so they will still have the same challenges.
As cruel as it was, there may have been an advantage when I was coming through because there was not so much awareness of sexual discrimination. So when a man had a problem with a woman being underground he said it and it was out there and you knew what you were up against. Now it is so censored. It is not as easy for women to understand what they are up against as people are so politically aware. It might be more challenging because it is hidden.
What is one thing you wish you’d been told when you were starting out that you know now?
One thing that hit me as a nasty truth is that nobody really knows how to do it right and everyone is trying to figure it out. Early in my career I was given the little women treatment “How cute, she wants to survey” and “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it” and because I was so inexperienced and lacked confidence, I believed that they really knew what they were doing and that they had the right to treat me that way. But as I matured, I realised that they had no clue. That was a realisation. Nobody has got it figured out and we are all human.
I wish I had known the personal toll that this industry would take. My children are fine but I moved them back and forth across Canada so many times to keep bread on the table. Eighteen-hour days, never had a weekend — I wish I had known the personal toll it would take.
If you are going to do this job right I believe you have to give yourself to it and there is nothing left. You know I was lucky that I could do the best by my children but there was nothing left for husbands, hobbies or friends. This is all I know and all I am.
Is it the same for the men?
From what I have seen the men have hobbies and the wives keep the food on the table, the kids clean and make sure the car pool is organised.
It’s probably my situation, being single with the kids and being a woman in this and yes it is not a great sales pitch. But think of the rewards.
I was on welfare in Canada, single with three kids. I didn’t have two cents to rub together but I have graduated two of my children through university, fully paid for, and the other one is set up in the mine industry through his own hard work and I own properties across Canada.
There is a big sacrifice but there is a helluva reward. I have international experience I speak several languages. Hey, for a welfare mother from Winnipeg… how else would you do it!
It’s a hard message, a hard industry and the rewards are huge.
Are you pro targets or pro quotas re Women on Boards?
Absolutely, I think it’s really important. In Canada it seems to be that they get token females on the boards in more typically female roles.
I think women should be running mining companies. There are a lot of us now and those of us who have stuck with it in my age group, we’re seasoned and experienced and as sexist as it might be we did work harder than the men. We put in longer hours we fought harder and I think we should be on boards.
What would you love to do next?
I’ve been in Ireland for just over a year, before that I was in Mexico for 3 years and prior to that Albania for 2 years.
I’m definitely not done travelling. I want to mine in Siberia, in South America and I would like to mine in the Stans. I’m drawn by the different rock, different mining methods, cultures and just the adventure. I like the nomadic life and the new experiences.
Any advice to young women starting out in their careers?
Work hard and understand that mining will take over your life.