Rodalee Ofiaza took a leap of faith and became a mining engineer having originally considered a career in chemical engineering. She’s never looked back and believes she’s right where she wants to be. Now she campaigns hard to get the industry’s voice heard in the Philippines as she thinks the only way for the mining industry to become successful is to raise awareness about what it has done for the country and what it can do for the country “if we do it right”. Women can play a key role in providing a voice for mining communities and acting as effective intermediaries. She’s trying to encourage more women into mining in her country. She also thinks it’s time to give women more opportunities to be on boards because many deserve to be on them. By Camila Reed
How did mining come to you? How did you choose mining as a career?
I never really thought of taking a course in mining engineering until college. I was originally enrolled in chemical engineering and I wanted to shift to materials engineering. Apparently, mining engineering and materials engineering were both under one department. When I was processing my papers for shifting, it was a mining professor who received my papers. He interviewed me and talked me into shifting to mining engineering instead. During that time, enrolment in the course was really low. He shared with me his thoughts that the industry needed more young and talented minds to further develop it. The course sounded entirely new to me, but out of curiosity, sheer interest, and gut feel, I took the leap. I never regretted it. Ever since I started my majors, I felt like I’m right where I wanted to be.
What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector?
When I enrolled in the mining engineering course, there were only three girls in our class. When I started working in the underground mines, it was very rare for them to see women going underground. Fortunately, the miners I worked with were gentlemen. They were extra careful and courteous towards me because I am a female engineer.
In the corporate setting, most of the officers are men, but there were some women in the higher posts. Starting out, it was more intimidating to participate during meetings because, aside from being young, I was one of the few women present.
Have you/do you encounter much discrimination?
Personally, I don’t think I have. There would be instances when my superiors would ask me to just stay in the office because they thought it would be too risky for me to go on fieldwork. But this is not the case all the time and I really don’t see it as discrimination.
When I was looking for work right after graduation, I would see job posts wherein they would specify that they preferred male engineers. But it was not much of an issue for me because there were only a few of us mining engineering graduates back then and they still considered female applicants.
Have you had mentors and sponsors that helped you on the way?
Yes. I treat all my former professors as mentors. I am still in touch with almost all of them, in fact, I am working with a lot of them now. I still look up to them and I am still learning from them. All of my mentors are men and I never felt that they held back on me just because I am a woman.
It was easy for me to adjust and feel at ease at work because they treated me as “one of the boys.” I also look up to the female officers that I have been working with because all of them are accomplished and respectable women and they are experts at what they do.
Could you share one or two challenges you’ve experienced in your career and how you overcame them?
After finishing my bachelor’s degree, I was chosen to enrol into a transitional master’s degree program in mining engineering at the University of the Philippines. Unfortunately, it did not go ahead due to the lack of professors who can teach the subjects. This was a career challenge. Mining engineering has been taught in the country since early 1930s, but until now, there is no master’s program for mining engineering.
My other options were to study abroad or to pick another master’s degree program. I decided that I wanted to specialize in financial analysis since I do a lot of feasibility studies of mining projects in my line of work. So now I am finishing my Master of Science in Finance at the University of the Philippines Virata School of Business.
What are you passionate about in your work?
When I started working, it was about the same time that a particular TV network launched its campaign against mining. Being in the Chamber of Mines, I was part of the group leading the defence of the industry. It was a huge endeavour; we were going against a giant that had all the means to get the public to side with them. I don’t think the industry was ready for that. The industry lost that battle, only because there was so little appreciation of the industry by the general public.
There were so many misconceptions about mining and unfortunately these were the kinds of information that went around fast. I realized that the only way for the mining industry to become successful is to at least raise the awareness about the industry, what it has done for the country all these years, and what it can do for the country if we do it right.
There has to be something done to raise appreciation of the industry by the general public. And this is what we are trying to address right now through our Mining 101 lecture series. This lecture series was designed for non-mining professionals to make them more knowledgeable about the industry. We cover geology, mining, metallurgy, finance, environment, and legal matters. We do this about twice or thrice a year. The funds raised are then used to support roadshows of the university to different high schools all over the country to promote geology, mining, and metallurgy as choice courses for incoming college students. This way, we are not only increasing general awareness about mining but we are also adding to the manpower needed by the industry.
What would you love to do next?
I plan to gain more experience and finish further studies in the near future. I would like to either serve in the government or teach in the university eventually. Hopefully, I can further specialize in doing feasibility studies and development economics.
What is one thing you wish you’d been told when you were starting out that you know now?
I wish I’d been told about mining engineering before so I would have taken it right away. But maybe that was just how things were supposed to happen.
Do you sit on a board? If not would you like to?
Right now, I am part of the board of trustees of a non-profit organization for women in mining called Diwata. But honestly, I feel I am too young to be part of a board. But given the chance, I make sure I bring to the organization the best I can offer.
What is your opinion in the women on boards debate? Are you pro quotas or against them?
I do think it is time to give women more opportunities to be part of the board because many women deserve to be on them. Although mining has been a male-dominated industry for a long time, today, women have contributed a lot to the development of the mining sector.
It has already been proven that many work requirements in mining can already be done as well, or even better, by women. Nowadays, for any industry, a good balance of men and women professionals is best for business. Quotas may be a good way to implement this.
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 strongly agree with this. First of all, women in mining groups show that there is a significant presence of women in the industry. That in itself makes the industry attractive to women. One of the goals of our organization Diwata is to serve as a platform for information and education campaigns to correct and debunk misconceptions, and to create dialogues regarding any mining issues. We also aim to give a voice to IPs, women, and children in mining communities.
Women are effective communicators. Gone are the days that mining companies are just concerned about engineering and financial affairs. Today, any industry should be concerned about its environmental and social responsibilities. This is where we focus. I have observed that people tend to be more receptive when women or women’s groups serve as intermediaries in any discussions regarding mining.
Any advice to young women starting out in their careers?
Every experience is a learning opportunity. I would often get questions from students about which is the best company to start a career with, or which commodity to get into, but honestly, I don’t have the answers to that. For me, you play the cards that you’ve been dealt with. Make the most of it; the opportunities will reveal themselves afterwards. Deal with people with an open mind; there is so much to learn from dealing with different kinds of people. Be flexible; develop new skills, work on your strengths. Hold on to your values; we are treated the way we treat others.