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con·ver·sity > noun. A convergence of people and ideas, meeting at the right moment in time to accelerate inclusion and diversity : phrase She used the power of conversity to share her story and make a tangible difference to those who followed.

Written by Sarah Devriese and Kylie Williams

Starting off summer right, this month’s blog post features NINE leading ladies (and men!): Kylie Williams, Anne Thompson, Libby Sharman, Pamela Coles, Trisha Roberson, Donna Kirkwood, Sheryl Staub-French, Andy Randell, and Sarah Gordon! It’s a long post but hope you feel a bit more inspired afterwards.

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the ‘Conversity: Exploring the impacts of gender bias on resource careers’ session at RFG 2018. Kylie Williams (science writer) started off the afternoon by introducing the session and what we could expect. Anne Thompson (exploration geologist) followed up with her notes on how to keep women in the work force. Anne started off by explaining how modern women are more and more part of a dual career couple and referenced Eve Sprunt (who sports a PhD in geophysics from Stanford) and her book on the matter. It’s available from Amazon in several formats and a highly recommended read. Check out this talk on strategies to retain mid-career female scientists and this talk on the dual career challenge!

Donna Kirkwood spoke about the importance of diversity and the Canadian government's efforts.

Anne stated that not only do women need mentors but even more so, they need sponsors and champions: people who will rally for them and help them climb up the industry ladder. It is important for men to recognize this as a need since they are often the ones in more powerful positions.

Anne also called out the professional societies to set the example by having more female and diverse representation on committees, panels, and as chairs. In addition, these societies can make conferences easier to attend by young people by providing daycare options and lactation rooms.

Libby Sharman, an exploration geologist at BHP, was the next speaker and provided some further insights into her company’s goal of reaching gender balance by 2025. Libby asked about this initiative during her interview and shared that BHP is truly committed and vouches it’s not just words.

In July 2017, 20% of the 65,000 employees at BHP were women. A year later, that number has climbed to 23%. Libby admitted there’s room for continued improvement and shared the company’s four priorities on how to reach the goal.

· Flexibility in the way we work Libby shared examples such as the ability to work from home, make up hours some other time if you have a doctor’s appointment, dealing with a sick child at home, and taking consideration for couples both on rotating schedules.

· Enable supply chain partners to support the commitment Libby explained that BHP depends on a whole host of other companies in their business and it is important for these companies to understand BHP’s goals.

· Mitigate potential bias Unconscious bias squeaks in when we least expect it and BHP had their upper management go through training so they can limit these as an influence on their decisions. Libby noted stark differences before and after, such as managers addressing employees as ‘hey folks’ instead of ‘hey guys’, which can make all employees feel more included in the workplace.

· Ensure brand and industry are attractive to diverse range of people This means that people outside of BHP see BHP as an inclusive and balanced company. This can also greatly affect how young people view the exploration and mining industries and encourage them to see themselves with careers in this field.

Libby shared how BHP is not just committed to gender equality but also in fostering a completely inclusive and diverse workspace. This includes people with differences in experience levels, how people think, what kind of lifestyle they live, what sexual orientation they identify with, and more. Basically, all those individual characteristics that makes us people. Libby shared in the past she had been treated differently, but at BHP, she feels she’s welcomed for who she is as a whole. This is about being ‘able to bring your whole self and ideas to work’.

There were 4 questions BHP has posed for people think about. These two in particular stuck with me.

· What could you personally do to make your workplace more inclusive?

· If you could change one thing to make a company more inclusive and diverse, what would it be?

After Libby’s talk, Kylie introduced the first panel: Donna Kirkwood (chief scientist at NRCan), Pamela Coles (geophysicist), and Trisha Roberson (tech project manager).

Trisha shared her story of how she left our industry. She finished an undergrad in physics in 2013 and went to grad school for geophysics. She finished with a master’s degree and then started working with a small consulting company. She said she’s one of the women that the industry lost and shared personal, shocking experiences as to how she eventually left the exploration industry. She’s now in data science with a software company. Trisha’s story resonated with me because we are similar in age and career path and it baffled me that in this day and age, we are still dealing with blatant harassment.

Pam admitted she’s never had anything but good experiences and wished that everyone was lucky enough to have a career like hers, with no issues. She shared how many women geoscientists were at her company and that she’s been on the board for her local Women in Mining chapter in Thunder Bay. Donna shared the government’s vision for gender diversity and why it’s important. With the new mandate, the government of Canada is continuously striving for better diversity.

A couple stories blew me away from the audience after the end of the first panel. The lady next to me shared how she was just back from maternity leave. She said that she never had any issues about being a lady in a male-dominated industry until she got pregnant. She shared how a woman superior told her about her 2-week maternity leave and asked her if she was not serious about her job. She hoped companies would do more than just what the government requires for parental leave and not feel ashamed for having children and taking leave. Another lady on maternity leave said she wished men had the same options and shared how her husband wants to stay home with their child more while she wants to go back to work earlier. She says it’s time to focus on ‘parental leave’ more instead of maternity leave.

More discussion went around the room in a friendly but open and frank manner, between men and women about these issues before the room broke for a social coffee break, sponsored by SNC-Lavalin.

[Other commitments called me away from the remainder of the session but Kylie kindly wrote a summary of the second panel.]

Discussions around the room during the coffee break.

The second panel was composed of: Sheryl Staub-French (Professor of Civil Engineering and Goldcorp Professor for Women in Engineering at UBC), Sarah Gordon (Managing Director at Satarla) and Andy Randell (professional geoscientist, consultant, and mentor at Strata Geo Data Services).

Sheryl holds a unique and vital role at UBC, charged with leading a targeted recruitment strategy for UBC Engineering to increase the number of women enrolled in its programs. She talked about challenging stereotypes in engineering (e.g. google ‘engineer’) and in academia in her professional life, and some of the gendered toys her son was exposed to at home. It turns out LEGO Ninjago isn’t terribly diverse but plays a key role in inspiring girls in STEM!

Sarah was up next. She started her own risk management consultancy and talked about taking opportunities whenever they appear, drawing on your inner strength and giving yourself permission to speak up and speak out. She recalled a story from when she was working as a geologist and was asked to attend a meeting because her boss and his boss couldn’t attend. She was third choice but flew to the board meeting and arrived early, greeting people as they came in, introducing herself as ‘Sarah’. At the beginning of the meeting, the chairperson commented that ‘Dr Gordon’s flight must be delayed because HE wasn’t there yet!’ Sarah was stunned but not surprised that they all assumed Dr Gordon was male, but took it in her stride and used the embarrassment of those men around the table as an ‘in’ to talk to them in the future, opening doors for herself and ‘making lemonade’ from what could have been an awkward situation.

Finally, our ‘token male’ Andy took the microphone. Andy is an experienced field geologist who, during the recent downturn, took the initiative to not only go into business for himself as a consulting geologist, but brought lots of younger people with him. He created HIVE – a crowd consulting business that employs a number of new graduates or ‘under-employed’ geologists and helps them develop their field geology, GIS and project logistics skills fresh when the industry is stale, and jobs are hard to come by.

The question session following this panel revolved around ‘fit’ – how can we create workplaces where everyone feels like the belong?

The discussions during the session were powerful, emotional, and uncomfortable at times, but also empowering, funny, and uplifting. Everyone left the room with a shift in perspective, some slight and some perhaps bigger. We all have things in common and differences we should embrace. There is something we can all do. The key message was to make the industry safe and inclusive for everyone.

[It was, at times, an emotional session, and we've cropped personal stories to protect those that shared. Please consider attending diversity sessions at your next conference!]

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