Dr Raijeli Taga, Chief Environment Officer at Fiji’s Ministry of Lands and Mineral Resource, always knew she didn’t want a normal “women’s” day job in Fiji. She wanted to do something different, no desk job for her but something considered a job for a man. This was challenging 20 years ago when she started out in such a small country. But times are changing and the opportunities for women are growing along with the numbers in mining. Her passion is to change the mind set of people to understand that there is sustainable mining. “Mining is not all bad if it is being carried out in a responsible manner.” She wants to help indigenous people understand their rights, opportunities and responsibilities. For her, the only hindrance to getting ahead has been herself. She says it’s important to have a positive mind and work hard. Go for it! Women, she says, are the instrument of change in any sector. By Camila Reed
How did mining come to you? How did you choose mining as a career?
I believe ever since I was able to think about future employment, I have always wanted to do something different from the normal day jobs for “women” in Fiji. I knew I would not be able to sit behind a desk year in year out and would prefer a job that involved field work, travel and trying out what was considered jobs for men.
I had completed my undergraduate at the University of the South Pacific and the Mineral Resources Department was one of the first places I had applied to. They recruited me and I have been there ever since.
My involvement with mining I could say is just an evolution of the positions I have held in the department, from a Chemist (Geochemistry) to an Environment Officer now. And I have and will never regret working in this industry.
What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector?
For a country as small as Fiji, it is challenging at times to compete with men but times are changing and the opportunities for women are growing with the numbers being recruited in government and private companies continually increasing.
However, with the increasingly demanding cases we encounter, sometimes it takes me away from the family for months. This proves to be challenging at times such as attending to sick children, school interviews and functions which men are not so involved with. Therefore, I have to work double the pace and effort to make up for these differences.
Have you/do you encounter much discrimination?
As far as I know, I have not encountered any discrimination but at times, men just show in their attitude that they do not accept getting instructions and orders from a woman. But as times go by, this has changed. I find that young men who enter the workforce now are much more open-minded than those that were working with me two decades ago. Maybe it is because of the paradigm shift that is happening globally like gender equality.
Have you had mentors and sponsors that helped you on the way?
My source of strength is my faith in God first and foremost. I believe I have been blessed with this opportunity to serve my country in this capacity to build the nation and also to protect the abundance of blessings in the environment.
My other close companion is my husband, who even though he works in a male-dominated field like the military, still has the understanding and tolerance to support me in my career.
Third are my parents who never stopped me or attempted to change my mind when I first took the step into this field.
Could you share one or two challenges you’ve experienced in your career and how you overcame them?
I can say every day is a challenge for me, for each day I learn something new. I learn from the global impacts and practices in sustainable mining and I learn from colleagues. Also I have made it my business to get the highest qualifications possible in my field to give me the leverage to compete with others.
One challenge in particular has been to put in place and document standard operating procedures of our regulatory role in the Fijian mining sector.
To be able to select the right officers to enter this field and motivate them to get higher training and qualifications. With the challenges of limited job opportunities and funds, this at time requires innovative thinking and skills to set up alternative plans.
What are you passionate about in your work?
The need to change the mind set of people that there is sustainable mining.
Mining is not all bad if it is being carried out in a responsible manner.
The drive to educate and inform the people of Fiji, where indigenous people own most of the land. To let them know their rights and potential opportunities which are interwoven with those rights if used responsibly.
Also for them not to forfeit the beauty of their environment with money. For money only lasts for a while but their environment is what they will have to live with all their lives.
I believe if policies are to change, then this needs to come from government and carried out by workers who have the vision to change it for the better.
What would you love to do next?
Improve the standard of the Mineral Resources Department to a level compatible with any related agency in the world. This will include having qualified and skilled people like lawyers, mineral economists, natural resources auditors, and more women in mining. This will involve changing policies, work processes and visions of the department.
With that in mind, it would not hurt if I pursued a law degree…. The sky’s the limit!
What is one thing you wish you’d been told when you were starting out that you know now?
That the only hindrance to progress is myself. If you have a positive mind and work hard then, working in this field is enjoyable, rewarding (not monetarily) and also progressive.
Do you sit on a board? If not would you like to?
No I do not but I am a member of a few national committees such as the Mineral Development Technical Committee of Fiji and the Science Technology and Resources Network (STAR) network of the Pacific.
What is your opinion on the women on board’s debate? Are you pro quotas or against them?
I would say go for it! I believe women are the instrument of change in any sector and would encourage women to become board members. They come with an holistic approach which is technical, social and administrative/management.
Do you believe women in mining groups can help to change the image of the industry and make the sector more attractive to women?
I believe they are. If they are good role models, they can become good leaders in this sector in Fiji and globally. Women have the ability to forge networks and integrate plans that will change the approach taken in the mining sector to be inclusive of all aspects of a society.
Any advice to young women starting out in their careers?
I would advise them to go for it! It is rewarding, challenging but enjoyable and exciting. If anyone will change the mining sector in Fiji I believe it will be women.