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Zoë Yujnovich, the new chair of the Mining Association of Canada, first joined Rio Tinto in 1996.
Zoë Yujnovich, the new chair of the Mining Association of Canada, first joined Rio Tinto in 1996.

Mining

Mining group head sees tough times now, but better prospects ahead Add to ...

Trying to get a read on the mining industry may be like peeking in a crystal ball at this point, but Zoë Yujnovich believes the long-term outlook is still a good one.

“Right now it’s a little bit like reading tea leaves to try to figure out exactly what’s happening,” says the new chair of the Mining Association of Canada.

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“Certainly in the longer term the industry is still poised to be very successful, and when we look at it in a Canadian context I think we’re going to continue to see the extractive industry being a major contributor to Canadian GDP,” she said.

Ms. Yujnovich’s comments come as she takes the helm of the 78-year-old association, building on an impressive résumé.

The first woman to hold the post, she first made waves when put in charge of the Brazilian operations for British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto Inc. at the age of 34.

Ms. Yujnovich, the chief executive officer of Iron Ore Co. of Canada, which is majority owned by Rio Tinto, will chair the association for two years.

Pierre Gratton the current president and CEO of the mining association said he is excited to have her heading up the board and isn’t surprised that Ms. Yujnovich, who he describes as a natural leader, has risen so far so fast in an industry long dominated by men.

“She has a real presence,” said Mr. Gratton in an interview.

“She is one of those people that wouldn’t dominate the conversation but when she weighs in her points are always right on the mark and helps carry the conversation forward.”

Ms. Yujnovich was born in Hong Kong where her father worked as a pilot for the British Royal Air Force, but called Australia home as a child.

In school she excelled at science and math, but becoming an engineer – a discipline that was, and still is, notoriously male-dominated – was seen as somewhat unconventional for a woman at the time.

“Growing up in south East Asia and moving pretty regularly with a pilot in the air force probably has helped shape my open mindedness to things like entering into engineering,” she said in an interview.

Along with an engineering degree from the University of Western Australia, Ms. Yujnovich holds an MBA from the University of Utah.

She joined Rio Tinto in 1996, and her star quickly rose.

“I’d love to say that it was completely well thought through and well-crafted, but I suspect it’s been a combination of a number of things and some great people have helped mentor me and helped direct me at the right opportunity,” she said.

The various jobs she’s held in mining have taken her all over the world.

Ms. Yujnovich, along with her husband and three young children, has lived in five different countries over the years, the most recent being Canada, where she works in Montreal.

Most recently they moved to Montreal when she took the top job at the IOC in 2010.

Her tenure as the chair of the Canadian Mining Association comes at a tumultuous time for the industry.

With commodity prices lagging and skittish investors looking for more stable places to put their money, these have been grim times for the Canadian mining industry of late.

However, Ms. Yujnovich remains optimistic about the industry’s prospects.

“Right now it’s a little bit like reading tea leaves to try and figure out exactly what’s happening,” said Ms. Yujnovich. “Certainly in the longer term the industry is still poised be very successful, and when we look at it in a Canadian context I think we’re going to continue to see the extractive industry being a major contributor to Canadian GDP.”

“The mining association I think does a great job of both improving performance of the industry and then ensuring that that performance then translates into attracting investment into Canada by making sure that it’s on the government’s agenda to make sure that the conditions of attracting capital are indeed in place,” Ms. Yujnovich said.

In addition to fostering an attractive investment climate to investors, Ms. Yujnovich also sees the mining association playing a role in promoting workplace diversity across the industry.

While mining has a reputation as being a bit of a boys club, Ms. Yujnovich said that has never been her experience.

And the industry is becoming more diverse, although maybe not as fast as some people would like, she added.

From 1996 to 2012, the number of woman working in mining grew by 60 per cent according to the 2012 Labour Force Survey. But while that sounds impressive, only 16 per cent of mining jobs are held by woman, far lower than the overall labour force, which has a 48-per-cent rate of female participation.

Fostering a more diverse workplace – including not only women but First Nations as well – is something that the entire industry recognizes as a necessity, Ms. Yujnovich said.

“I’d say most organizations subscribe to the value of diversity, so I don’t think there is any longer a question,” she said. “It’s not just the right thing to do, I think people see that it actually drives performance.”

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