Women in Mining comes to B.C.’s East Kootenay

The new Women in Mining Kootenays branch is creating a network for women in mining in southeastern B.C.

by Karen Kornelsen
A female mining engineer.

The careers women are finding in the mining industry are diverse; this woman is working as a mining engineer. — Photo courtesy Teck Resources

There's a new group in the Elk Valley of British Columbia that is unlike any other in the area. The new Women in Mining Kootenays branch has already held a few monthly meetings in Sparwood and members are excited about the journey ahead.

The idea to start a Women in Mining (WIM) branch in the Elk Valley first came from Alison Seward, a senior geologist who felt that there was a lack of available mentors for her in her career and wished to pass along the knowledge that she has gained in her work experience.

Mafalda Arias, the WIM Vancouver chair, visited the Elk Valley to speak about the history of WIM and the activities and events put on by WIM Vancouver. From there, various women have taken turns hosting meetings and Women in Mining Kootenays is now setting up a core committee of volunteers.

According to the report Women: An Unmined Resource, published in November 2011, female participation in B.C.’s exploration and mining industry is estimated to be 16 per cent—and in the fastest growing occupations (heavy-equipment operators, tradespeople and labourers), female participation is estimated to be around five per cent or less.

Mining & Exploration sat down with Anne Keery, a cost analyst; Jo-Anna Singleton, a geologist; Adrienne Patterson, a mining engineer; and Amy MacCon, an employee relations superintendent, to learn more about this new group and the importance of women in the mining industry.

Who is welcome to attend the meetings in Sparwood?

Keery: This group is for any women who are involved in mining in any way. Maybe they already work in mining, (or they) want to work in mining, live in a mining community or have family members who work in mining. In the future, we plan to hold events open to both men and women.

The establishment of this group provides a forum for networking and building relationships with other women in the same industry and geographic location and also has the objective of providing professional development opportunities for its members. The group is also interested in community involvement through charitable initiatives.

How often do meetings occur?

Keery: Meetings are held monthly and we are planning some extra social events and workshops.

Where are the meetings conducted?

Keery: Sparwood has been a central location that is accessible to our participants from throughout the valley. Thus far, events have been at the Causeway Bay Hotel or in Teck meeting rooms, but we are rapidly outgrowing the meeting rooms available, so future meetings may need to be in new locations.

What is the importance of having a group like this in the Kootenays?

Keery: This group aims to include and represent women who work in all facets of mining, from entry-level (jobs) to professional management. Currently, it's rare for women to have a forum to interact across so many levels and to discuss issues that affect them. There is growing participation of women in the industry and there is a desire to deal with some of the challenges as well as to shape the changing culture in the workforce.

An example of a challenge is difficulty securing child care, especially for those that work night shift. Our branch is working to compile a list of child-care options in the Elk Valley and Crowsnest Pass (Alberta) to assist local parents who need child care in order to return to work.

There are also limited other opportunities for networking, due to the existence of five separate mines and the myriad of support companies in the Elk Valley. The Elk Valley is still a very male-dominated workforce, though there are more and more women in a growing list of roles. One of our members was the first female to work on a site and it is astounding to hear some of her stories and to acknowledge the changes that have occurred in the past two decades. 

Who are some of your past speakers and who can we expect at meetings in the future?

Keery: At our first meeting, we were visited by Mafalda Arias, the Women in Mining Vancouver chair, who spoke about the history of WIM and the activities and events put on by WIM Vancouver.

Since then we have had a presentation on insurance and a workshop on body language and communication. Future (topics) are as wide-ranging as wine tastings and nutrition to stress management and conflict resolution. We are also planning a snowshoe and hot chocolate social.

What is the importance of having a group dedicated solely to women in the mining industry?

Keery: Unfortunately, in many networking settings, women first have to address the question "Why are you here?" That’s because the traditional social microcosm of mining identifies females as not quite belonging. Our goal is creating a networking opportunity where that first judgment is removed, which hopefully leads to productive conversations and actions as a result.

Singleton: Only women can truly understand certain challenges that other women face when entering or advancing within the mining industry. The opportunity to share and learn from personal and professional experiences in an environment that is both welcoming and encouraging is vital and allows local women in mining to develop a sense of community. When specific issues are identified that are important to the group members, this group will be able to organize and act to ensure that our interests are represented.

Patterson: Since many industry networking opportunities carry with them the masculinity of the workplace, women feel the need for additional opportunities to network with other women where we feel comfortable discussing important issues such as child care. It’s difficult to fit such issues into conversation at a beer tasting or golf tournament.

We do recognize as a group, though, that many of the same issues that affect women who work in mining also affect men, such as the availability of child care and maintaining a good work-life balance. Hopefully our group can act as a catalyst to get the rest of the community talking about these important topics too.

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