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Women in Mining: Caitlin Jeffs

Finding the right balance

Caitlin Jeffs co-founded Fladgate Exploration Consulting with husband Michael Thompson.

Attitude is everything for women to succeed in the mining industry. Caitlin Jeffs, vice-president of Thunder Bay’s Fladgate Exploration Consulting, said some women’s experiences, both good and bad, can be shaped by their preconceived approach to their work.

Women’s general perception of the industry is that it’s an all-male club and sometimes they try to overcompensate for that.

“Some women walk in with a chip on their shoulders to show I’m tough, I can handle this,” said Jeffs. “They expect there to be conflict. And when you walk it expecting it, it happens.”

Handling yourself in the field and gaining the respect is not something that can’t be taught at school.

“Like moving a (drill) rig, my personality is I don’t walk in saying I’m the boss. I walk in saying what’s your suggestion? How about we try this? I work with them, same as anywhere.”

Jeffs grew up in a Vancouver household where her father’s philosophy was, anyone can do anything. She was introduced to geology in her early 20s while working summers at a casino in the historic Yukon mining town of Dawson City.

“These geologists would come in and were telling me stories about what they were doing and just I thought this looks like a lost frontier. It’s still very adventurous.”

After graduating with a University of British Columbia geology degree in 2002, she worked for Placer Dome at Musselwhite Mine before starting Fladgate, a 20-employee firm she co-founded in 2007 with her husband Michael Thompson.

On the side, she runs Red Metal Resources, a copper-gold project in Chile, and is director with Kesselrun Resources, a junior outfit in northwestern Ontario.

Jeff said most of her experiences working in all-male environments have been positive.

“We do work in different ways, and we have to approach things differently from men, but there is no reason why women cannot thrive in today’s mining world.”

Out in the field, Jeffs used her female charm to get things done.

“When you’re out in the bush and you need a driller to do something, you kind of capitalize on that. He hasn’t seen a woman in six weeks. Why not? You don’t have to flirt, you don’t have to promise anything, but if you go out and smile and act nice… it’ll go a long way.”

Jeffs takes heed of the advice of a female prospector on the gender issue.

“When you’re out in field, you’re there to work, not socialize or find a boyfriend.”

Compared to her trailblazing older contemporaries, Jeffs finds the biggest challenge is juggling a young family with a job that demands travel.

“It’s hard on women and being away from your kids is pretty tough,” said Jeffs, a mother of two, ages 2 and 4.

Her oldest son was dragged on more than 70 flights for the first two years of his life.

“When I went to New York I just took him. I made sure I timed things so he would fall asleep when I walked into the meeting; I would tuck him into the corner (of the boardroom) and deal with my meeting. Ninety per cent of the time the other person in the room is a human being with kids themselves.”

At Fladgate, Jeffs brought her infant children to work, hanging them in the jolly-jumpers on her office door.

“I didn’t have a choice; they needed me to work.”

If she has any advice to women considering mining careers, it’s that there’s room for everybody. “There’s a wide variety of jobs, and all of them are interesting. You can have an office job, work in the field, at a mine, and as long as you approach it with the right attitude and work hard you can do what you want to do.”

Jeffs finds some companies actually prefer hiring women as haul truck drivers because they’re easier on the equipment. But some physical aspects of the job will never change and there’s no caddy to carry your bags in the field.

“As a project geologist, you still have to pick up rock and it’s still heavy.”

But the reward of the job is that there’s something new every day.

“Every deposit is different so it’s never going to be routine doing the same repetitive thing. And you get to meet interesting people.”

At Fladgate, her company has employees from Chile, Columbia, South Africa and Australia.

“I like the fact that I get to work with drillers who come from a different place and you get to meet people from all over the world because it is an international job even if you stay in Thunder Bay.”

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