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Still a long way to go on diversity

November 14, 2016
by Ella Myers
In: News

Panel addresses inclusion of women and Aboriginals in mining industry

Helen Francis, general manager of business effectiveness, Vale

Helen Francis, general manager of business effectiveness, Vale

When Anna Tudela walked into her first mining conference, she was the only woman in a room packed with men. She was sure she had found the wrong place.

In October, the vice-president of diversity, regulatory affairs and corporate secretary at Goldcorp was happy to see other women at the Maintenance, Engineering and Reliability/Mine Operators conference (MeMO) in Sudbury, where she participated in a panel on diversity and inclusion. Tudela was joined by Jennifer Maki, executive director of Vale Base Metals, and Ron Sarazin, special projects co-ordinator at Gezhtoojig Employment and Training.

The panelists addressed gender, indigenous peoples, immigrant labour, and mental health and wellness in mining, focusing primarily on the first two.

A common thread throughout the evening was that things are better than they were, but as Maki said, “it’s early on in our journey and we still have a long way to go.”

Maki shared Tudela’s experience of feeling like part of a small minority in her field.

“I’ve been in this role now for two years next month, and each year you get invited to a dinner with all the CEOs in North America in mining, but when you walk into that room for dinner, there are 120 men and probably less than five women,” said Maki. “No matter where you are in your career, I can share with you, it’s still daunting to walk into that room.”

However, Maki hopes that growing evidence will encourage companies to draw more on women in the workforce.

“Years of research show that companies with more female leadership have better financial results,” said Maki. “The programs that we’ve recently launched [at Vale] are the right thing to do.”

Tudela now runs programming for Goldcorp in South America that trains young women to help fill the need for employees. The programs have graduated more than 1,350 women since 2010, and led to the development of other programs that build on those skills.

As someone who pairs employees with employers, Sarazin said Gezhtoojig does find it more of a challenge to get women into the workforce, but he thinks many traditional First Nations roles in mining communities prepare women well for corporate leadership.

“The women have raised their kids and they’re very traditional where the family comes first. If you walk into a community, the grandmother runs the ship,” said Sarazin. “These females that we’ve got, they come with a lot of good skills, plus their work ethic is there.”

“We just need to engage industry for them to understand we do have females in our training program.”

Sarazin also addressed some of the difficulties faced in relations between the mining industry and First Nations more generally.

Sarazin said he would like to “encourage [companies] to bring people on, but in a good way. Don’t just hire them because you signed an agreement. Hire Aboriginals because they bring something to the table.”

Maki conceded that there was room for improvement in Vale’s early agreements with some First Nations.

“Voisey’s Bay was one of our first experiences…we had to get agreements,” said Maki. “We made mistakes early on, but we learned a lot… we’ve been able to take those experiences and apply them elsewhere in Canada.”

Maki said that Vale has worked on rethinking the way it works with many of the remote First Nation communities.

“We had retention problems in Thompson, Manitoba. We brought people but they wouldn’t stay…. the team in Thompson looked around and said we have a wonderful resource pool here and we’re not tapping it,” said Maki. She said Vale worked with the communities to adapt their policies and develop training programs.

Helen Francis, general manager of business effectiveness at Vale, moderated the panel and applauded the panelists for their candour.

“I was very happy to hear some really frank acknowledgment that when we have worked with indigenous populations in the past, it’s been almost because it’s mandated. However, maybe that was the place we had to start, and now the majority is recognizing it’s the right thing to do,” said Francis. “Now we need to do it more consciously, more proactively and more positively.”

The diversity and inclusion panel was hosted by the Greater Sudbury branch of the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM Sudbury).

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