Sophie Bergeron: No free rides for women in mining

Published: 09/05/2015

Timmins Press, Thursday, May 7, 2015 – By Len Gillis

Sophie Bergeron, a mining engineer and underground manager at Goldcorp's Hoyle Pond mine, spoke on the need to get more women involved in mining at a Timmins Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday. Bergeron spoke at the regular Women in Business event on such topics as navigating your career path and creating choices.

Sophie Bergeron,a mining engineer and  the underground manager at Hoyle Pond for Goldcorp Porcupine Gold Mines, has worked in mining in both Canada and South America. She was the keynote speaker at the Women in Business luncheon hosted by the Timmins Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.

Bergeron’s education as a mining engineer set her off on a journey to Xstrata’s Raglan mine in far Northern Quebec, where she took on a number of jobs because she said she asked for them.

Women are still in a minority in mining and while Bergeron said the numbers are gradually improving, she urged women to seek out the jobs they want and to aggressively ask for those roles. Bergeron said many of the jobs she has worked at came about because she specifically asked to do those jobs.

She explained that in all experience, she was never offered a job in mine production department. “Every time I have been exposed to operations is because I asked for it,” she said. “My message to the women here is never hesitate to ask for what you want. I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t ask for what I wanted.”

Bergeron was a mine rescuer for three years in Quebec and was even on a competition team. She told the audience no one in the mining companies she worked for ever asked her if she wanted to join mine rescue. She said she had to ask. She was refused at first, but in time she took the training and she succeeded. It turns out she was the first mine rescue woman for her company to compete at the elevated provincial level.

She urged the women in the audience to be willing to at least try new things, as she did with the venture into mine rescue training. “If I don’t try, I am not going to know if I can do it or not,” she said.

On the personal level, Bergeron said she considered herself lucky to have had mentors – people to give her advice, guidance and direction in her career. But she admitted she added some of her own beliefs to the mix.

Several years ago, while taking part in a company survey, Bergeron said one of the questions asked her where she expected to be or what she would be doing in five years. She said she had no fixed answer. She knew she had to write something down because in part, “I didn’t want to disappoint my mentor.” Bergeron, in her speech, never revealed what she wrote. “It was kind of a really strange moment for me, because I realized I really didn’t know what I wanted to do,” said Bergeron. “That’s when I started to think about it. I realized that what I wanted was an exciting career and something challenging. I wanted challenges.” She said she also learned that having a new job title five years from now was not as important as growing, both personally and professionally. Bergeron said she has tried to live by that, by “getting out of the comfort zone.”

“My own experience as a mining engineer has been always to seek more challenges. When I feel I have been too much in my comfort zone, I always to seek more challenges,” said Bergeron. “As long as you feel that you’re growing, I believe that’s the most important. I remember thinking there is no real career path. I felt that all the paths were good and to be honest this was really like my path.” Bergeron explained this is because although she works in mining, she has had several different roles, from being an underground shift supervisor to a senior engineer, to working in corporate health and safety, to supervising a continuous improvement program for a nickel mining operation.

This also included working in Northern Quebec for several years at the Xstrata Raglan mine. From there Bergeron moved to Montreal, and then Toronto, still with the mining company, but she said she felt she needed a new challenge. She had a good job, she said, but decided to quit. She took on a new position with Goldcorp, which sent her to a mining engineering role, working in Chile and Argentina, in South America, literally the other side of the world from Northern Quebec.

That, according to Bergeron, helped in her personal growth. “You realize you work in different places and you believe there is just one way to do things. And no, that’s no reality. There are different ways to do things in different countries. That really opens your mind,” she said. “My way of growing, and I believe it is the fast way to grow, is to always get out of your comfort zone, try something else, seek another challenge.”

Bergeron also had praise for her own company, Goldcorp, which has a proactive program called Creating Choices. Bergeron said it is a multi-level program aimed at developing and supporting the full potential of any woman working at Goldcorp. The program began in Latin America but has now spread to company operations everywhere. She mentioned that according to the most recent available figures, women account for only 12% of the Goldcorp workforce. Bergeron said the figure is gradually rising but added, “We do need more women in mining.”

In a brief question-and-answer session following her speech, Bergeron was asked if it is possible that women might not want to work in mining because it is so male-dominated. One woman suggested it might be difficult for men to take orders from, or work alongside women, in that environment.

“That’s a myth,” said Bergeron, who spent years as a front-line underground supervisor giving orders to the miners. “I don’t feel the gender difference. It’s all about respecting each other. I do respect people who are working with me,” said Bergeron, adding that when she gives respect to the miners, it will be returned.

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