When The Globe and Mail released their annual Women Lead Here report in March, it showed that only 6.6 per cent of Canada’s largest publicly traded companies had a woman CEO. Perhaps surprisingly, several of the companies helmed by women were in the mining sector, a traditionally male-dominated industry.
Two of those CEOs spoke with the Globe Women’s Collective about leading in a mostly male industry, and how they are working to improve the ratio for the future.
Jody Kuzenko, CEO, Torex Gold Resources Inc.
In 2020, Jody Kuzenko was appointed president and CEO of Torex Gold Resources Inc., a Canadian intermediate gold producer operating in the Guerrero Gold Belt region of Mexico. She joined the company as COO in 2018. Ms. Kuzenko, who started her career as a lawyer, has more than 20 years of experience in the mining industry, mainly acquired at Vale (formerly nickel miner Inco Ltd.).
What are the biggest challenges you face as a female CEO in mining?
I think the clearest way I can describe it is jet stream. Described simply, it’s a rapidly moving air current in the atmosphere that allows planes to get to their destinations faster, easier, with less wear and tear on the aircraft, and using less fuel – overall, just an easier flight.
My male colleagues get to fly in the jet stream. I don’t. It doesn’t mean I won’t get to destination – I can, and I will. It just means that I will have to work harder, be a very skilled pilot, hire and retain a best-in-the-business crew, work my crew harder and longer, have a better aircraft and use more fuel.
As I get older and gain more perspective, I also see driving through the challenges and barriers as a personal responsibility to the women coming after me in the industry. I proudly stand on the shoulders of women who came before me and had it much tougher than I did. I’m bracing for the generation coming after me to climb up on my shoulders with the hope, some day, of all of them breaking into that jet stream.
What kinds of sacrifices or concessions have you had to make as a woman in a male-dominated industry?
I had to work harder and continue to have to. I’ve taken on many new roles throughout my career, as do most of my male colleagues who ultimately make their way ‘up’ in a mining organization. The difference is that when my male colleagues arrive, they are presumed competent. When I arrive as a lawyer, not a mining engineer, and a female, I don’t enjoy that presumption of competence. I have to earn it. Every. Single. Time. I used to rage against that under the auspices of, ‘It’s not fair,” – but over time I’ve come to see it as a gift.
The other concession is obvious – any working woman, in a male-dominated industry or otherwise, juggles work responsibility with family and household duties, and sacrifices get made by all involved. When women do it, it’s expected. When men do it, they receive accolades beyond all rational proportion to what they have contributed.
I call this the ‘You’re so lucky’ phenomenon – a commentary about all the people who have told me that over my entire life because my husband does his share. Truly doubt my male CEO colleagues get the same commentary.
What steps does the mining industry need to take to attract and retain more women in the sector?
Space needs to be created for people in the industry who are not white, male or engineers. The industry has been, and in many cases, still is what some would describe as ‘clubby’ – and in many cases, club membership determines who sits on boards of directors, which in turn determines who are the top leaders of a company, which in turn sets hiring/promotion practices throughout the organization. This has to stop in order to create the space to open up roles for qualified candidates who don’t enjoy club access.
Attracting and retaining women is about giving them a sense of belonging in the workplace. This can only be the product of a long-term, multifaceted strategy that all the leaders at every level of the organization believe in. It’s not just the work of the HR department, or just the women who already work there.
What initiatives has Torex taken to create a more inclusive atmosphere for women?
We’re building an initiative we call Daughters – it’s born out of the clear need I saw in Guerrero to create conditions for young women to rise. These include focused efforts on providing education, early career job placement and training, tailored mentorship, sponsorship and career development, equitable pay and visible female leadership.
When I first arrived at Torex, there were very few female truck drivers. When I asked why, the story I was told was that after women had been recruited and trained, when it came time to place them in a role, their husbands wouldn’t let them. Their husbands didn’t want them working with all men.
My assessment is that it was far more likely their husbands were threatened by them working. When women gain economic independence and access to their own money, it upsets the balance of economic power in the household. So, we reached into the community to find a champion, someone who would stay in the job and be successful at it, and then go back into the community and individually recruit more women. We now have 16 haul truck drivers who are women in Mexico.
What advice would you give to women who are interested in pursuing a career in mining?
Inform yourself about the mining industry before making a career decision. The options within the industry are endless. The future for women in mining today is limitless.
In terms of advice I would give to women who are struggling to balance their careers and personal lives, no one, and I mean no one, will set boundaries for you. If you haven’t thought about and set your own boundaries, then stop what you are doing immediately and write them down if you need to. Once you set them, respect them always.
Aurora Davidson, CEO, Amerigo Resources Ltd.
Aurora Davidson is the president and CEO of Amerigo Resources Ltd., the only company in the world that produces copper exclusively from waste material from the mining process. Ms. Davidson joined Amerigo in 2003 as CFO and became CEO in December 2019. Based in Vancouver, she leads a multidisciplinary team at Amerigo’s operation in Chile, Minera Valle Central.
What do you like about the mining industry?
Mining is a very challenging industry and not for the faint of heart. Every stage in the industry – exploring, financing, permitting, building and operating – is long term and requires professional depth and maturity. It’s also an industry with innumerable economic, political, social and environmental interconnections. I find those aspects extremely interesting, even 20 years later.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a female CEO in mining?
The biggest challenge a CEO in any industry faces is the loneliness of the position. You no longer have peers in the organization when you’re the CEO; you face tough decisions daily alone. For male CEOs, it’s easier to find other CEOs as friends because it’s still a boy’s club. Women CEOs don’t have that option.
What steps must the mining industry take to attract and retain more women, whether in leadership or roles such as operations or engineering?
I have spoken in other forums of the Rooney Rule because it is a simple strategy of proven value. The Rooney Rule was implemented by the National Football League and required football teams to interview at least one ethnic minority candidate for head coaching and senior operation jobs. As a result of opening up the pool of candidates at the entry point, the face of the NFL changed. With the Rooney Rule, there is no hiring quota and no hiring preference; there is only an interview quota. If you do this right, diverse hirable candidates will join your organization.
Mining companies should commit to having at least one female candidate interviewed for each job opening. Focusing on this single step could significantly change the industry’s demographics in a few years.
What role do mentoring and sponsorship play in supporting the advancement of women in the mining industry?
This year we launched our first annual sponsorship program. Our four managers in Chile, our CFO Carmen Amezquita and I have each sponsored a woman employee at our operation in Chile. We meet with them regularly to provide mentoring and leadership guidance and to hear from them [about] what else we need to do to help our workers in Chile advance to leadership positions.
Our sponsorship program targets women, recognizing that only 10 per cent of our Chilean work force is women, which needs to change. I am confident this program will boost the advancement to leadership positions of our women colleagues in the near term.
What advice would you give to women struggling to balance their careers and personal lives?
My advice to women regarding work-life balance comes from my own experience. Embrace that jobs don’t start at 9 a.m. and finish at 5 p.m. Find a job that fits your personality, or tailor it to the extent you can so that it can be an integral part of your life. Balance does not equate to a clean differentiation between your working persona and your ‘real’ persona; both must be coherent and flow.
Take time each day to recharge and to be actively involved in activities that have nothing to do with work. The visual of putting your air mask on first, if you want to be able to help anyone else, is brutally accurate.
Interviews have been edited and condensed.
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