A Delta Hotel conference room filled with girls and young women Wednesday listened as five women in mining shared their career stories. The journeys varied, but there was a common thread: none of them expected to be working in the traditionally male-dominated industry.
For Dawn Hamilton, a safety advisor for Iron Ore Co. of Canada (IOC) and panellist at the Women in Mining forum, part of the problem was the lack of opportunity in Labrador City when she was deciding on a career path.
“There was probably a 10-year time period there, 10, 14 years there before anybody was hired,” she said.
“And predominantly you’d believe it was a male industry. It wasn’t really a thought I would have to work in a mine, because it wasn’t something that was discussed and it wasn’t an option in my community at the time.”
But the College of the North Atlantic’s mining and mineral processing program caught her eye — the chance to stay in the community, near her family, appealed to her — and after 3 1/2 years of training, she was hired by IOC. She said the Women in Mining forum — which aims to inspire girls to pursue mining careers — would have been valuable to her as a high school student.
“It would have been something I would have kept in mind in terms of career choice, if I had known what opportunities were out there, so this is phenomenal to have,” she said.
Julie Labonté, a geologist with Cornerstone Capital Resources, agreed that forums like this are necessary, and wished there’d been one for her as a high school student.
“It would have been great,” said Labonté, who grew up in St. John’s.
“I remember in high school there was a man that came in and spoke to us about trilobites, and that stuck into my mind. And when I went to pursue earth sciences in university, I was really intimidated by all the chemistry and physics. I wasn’t a great student at that high school, and now, after some hard work and determination, you get through it.”
Labonté also said that although a large majority of the mining industry is still men, she was surprised at how welcoming the sector is to women.
“The men that you think that you’re going to need to prove yourself against are really there to work with you, and they want to see you succeed,” she said.
“Everybody wants you to succeed, and that makes it a much more supportive environment to grow your skills and become involved in the mining industry.”
Diana Dalton, Newfoundland and Labrador’s deputy minister of natural resources, used her remarks to urge the young women present to pursue higher education to take advantage of opportunities open to them.
“It opens so many doors, and when you have it, you can adapt. And when you don’t have it, you’re stuck,” she said.
With the impending need to fill thousands of jobs in the province, opportunities for women abound, she added.
“I’m just hoping that they realize that there’s more out there than just a few things. There’s more out there than being a cashier,” she said.
“There’s money. There’s mobility. There’s challenges. There’s all kinds of career possibilities, but they have to get that education.”
The forum may have planted a seed in the minds of some of the girls present, but others — unlike the panellists — are already considering mining jobs in grade school.
Toni Lampe, 13, a Grade 9 student at Jens Haven Memorial School in Nain, said she came to the forum hoping to learn more about mining careers, especially in geology.
“I found out about geology, and I want to be just like them,” she said.
“It’s all about being outside instead of just being inside.”