Goldcorp's Porcupine operation located in Timmins, Ontario, is one of the world's great gold producing camps and North America's longest continually operating gold mine. In 2016, Porcupine marked its 106th year of continuous mine and mill operations, which produced more than 67 million ounces of gold since production began. That same year, the company announced the identification of a gold mineral resource of 5.4 million ounces at what is now called the Dome Century Project.
The Century Project is a potential large-scale open pit mine and related processing facility at the Dome mine. When it was announced, Mayor Steven Black said the prospect of such a large-scale operation ramping up at the Dome is "a game changer for the City of Timmins." He meant this in terms of economic benefit, but the project is a game changer in other ways as well - it has the potential to significantly boost the profile of women in mining and serve as an incentive for increased inclusivity.
The team working on evaluating the development of the expanded open pit mine and related processing facility is not just a group that brings together people with a broad variety of professional expertise - it is evenly split between men and women. The gender balance is unusual in an industry where women are still in the minority. Yet, for the Manager of the Century Project, Sophie Bergeron, inclusivity is the key to building teams and organizations that are capable of innovating.
"Women bring a different approach to mining. A male and a female engineer might have completely different perspectives on the same problem - and that is a good thing," says Bergeron. "Working with the Century Project team makes it obvious that a group of people with diverse individual expertise and ways of thinking is better than a homogeneous group at solving complex, non-routine problems that are part and parcel of developing a mine."
Indeed, decades of research organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that being around people who are different from us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working. That's because, notwithstanding some discomfort and anxiety that comes with exposure to new ideas and approaches, diversity ultimately forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and devote effort to consensus building. The result is better decision making and problem solving, more creativity, and breakthrough innovations. According to Bergeron, "while having a mix of men and women on the team changes the dynamics, at the end of the day having a gender balance is what makes us strong."
This sort of strength can clearly improve the bottom line of companies and add a lot of shareholder value. However, while Bergeron admits that the numbers of women choosing mining careers are gradually improving, given that they only account for about 10% of the workforce, there is still a long way to go.
"Sadly, women are still significantly under-represented in STEM subjects," says Bergeron. "University engineering programs need to do a better job of attracting women and teaching them about potential career prospects in industries like mining."
For their part, mining companies need to do a better job of breaking down stereotypes about the industry, communicating positive business culture changes, and broadening women's aspirations through proactive recruitment and outreach.
"Mining is not what it what it used to be", says Bergeron. She praises her own company, which has a program called Creating Choices, a training, development and mentoring program "created by women at Goldcorp for women at Goldcorp". Bergeron admits to benefiting from the advice of mentors, though it is clearly a willingness to embrace challenges that has shaped her successful career, in which she has progressed through various engineering positions to supervising mine operations, overseeing a continuous improvement program for a nickel mining operation, working as Director, Safety and Health to significantly improve company health and safety performance, returning to mine operations and now, after spending some time as a full-time mom, heading up a major project aimed at expanding and upgrading Goldcorp's reserve and resource base. Bergeron's ability to optimize her skills to suit a range of professional disciplines is matched by the breadth of her field experience, as she has worked throughout Goldcorp's portfolio of projects and mine operations across the Americas.
To grow and progress as an industry, mining needs more women who can raise awareness and lead by example. Ultimately, having women in leadership positions - like Sophie Bergeron at Century Project - is the most powerful signal for both men and women.
"What our team is working on is one of the biggest projects at Goldcorp," explains Bergeron. "By showing what we can achieve, I hope we will inspire other companies to focus on building inclusive teams, and encourage more women to join the industry," concludes Bergeron.