How did you decide on pursuing your degree(s)? Did you know about geology before you entered university?
I knew very little about geology as a career before starting university. Originally, I wanted to study archaeology, however this was an arts major. Being nuts about science, I was determined to study for a Bachelor of Science and needed to find a science major. Geology seemed the only interesting option, however unfortunately geology and archeology clashed on the calendar which would mean taking four years instead of three to complete my degree.
My student advisor recommended starting with geology as it was my science major and then picking up archaeology in my second year. Very good advice as it turned out! By the time I started studying archeology, I was already hooked on geology and studying an undergrad geochemistry course which had me really excited. Added to that, the approach to archeology was just not scientific enough for me, so I ended up only completing only one year of archeology and went on to do an honours in geochemistry in my fourth year.
Describe your career progression since finishing undergrad.
When I graduated, to my horror I discovered that women were not employed as geologists in the field or on the mines in South Africa. This was very disappointing as I’d always wanted to live in remote places and work in the field. I spent the first four years of my career working in a laboratory at the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in their Geochronology Division. During this time, I developed a new method of extracting lead from whole rock samples for radiogenic isotope analysis and completed my master’s degree in isotope geology on the petrogenesis of the Rooiberg Felsite.
Then I had a lucky break! The industry was in a boom cycle and one of the De Beers mines was looking for more geologists but just couldn’t find any. They were desperate enough to “lower their standards” and employ a woman as a mine geologist for the first time. Negotiating that first job in mining was one of the most important negotiations of my career and I was fortunate to work for a Chief Geologist who stood by his word and who supported my career advancement. I spent ten years working in both brownfields exploration and as a mine geologist in alluvial diamond mining on the west coast of South Africa and in later in Namibia where I was the resident geologist at Auchus mine.
In 1995, I was transferred to Kimberly in South Africa where I took up the position of Deputy Manager of the De Beers Exploration Laboratories. In 2000 I moved to Head Office in Johannesburg where I was promoted to senior management developing and leading a team of specialists supporting resource modeling for all the De Beers mines globally.
I fell in love with Canada and particularly Vancouver on my first business trip here in 2001 (what’s not to love). Towards the end of 2007, I left De Beers to accept an opportunity to work for Golder Associates in Canada as a consulting geologist and moved to Vancouver in mid 2008. A few years later, I realized a long held dream and co-founded GeoStrat Consulting, a niche geological consulting company.
If you could go back to your first year in undergrad, would you pick the same degree and career trajectory? Why/why not?
Absolutely! I’ve had a very interesting life working in and seeing places I would never have had the opportunity to see otherwise. The challenges have been epic, from fighting every step of the way to advance my and other women’s careers to being given challenging (read exciting and interesting) projects just to see if a woman really can do this job (which of course we can).
It’s been very rewarding to see other women follow in my footsteps and get to work as geologists in the field and on the mines in South Africa.
What are the three best things about your job/career? What are three things you would change?
Three best things about my career:
Travelling to remote places, working in the field and solving interesting and challenging technical problems has made geology very exciting.
In South Africa we lived in small mining towns and being able to have my children while working in the field and as a mine geologist was idyllic.
Three things I would change:
Learn basic management and business skills early on.
Looking for cross functional mentorship early in my career.
Spend less time winging about the lemons and make more lemon curd! Do you know how much I love homemade lemon curd! Jokes aside, if I could change anything, it would be to have many more women in senior roles within our industry. We keep getting told that women leave mid career to have babies! Not true! Women leave mid career because their advancement gets stymied and it’s an uphill battle (I bear the proverbial scars and own all the t-shirts as proof) to advance into more senior roles.
Why is gender balance in mineral exploration/mining/geoscience important to you?
This is very close to my heart. I despair to see women today still grappling with the same challenges and problems I experienced more than 30 years ago. And women of colour have it even harder. Sometimes, it feels as if very little has really changed despite the claims of diversity equity and inclusion that are so prevalent today. There is so much very good talent that goes to waste because of silent discrimination in our industry.
Why should it be important for everyone?
Having a diverse workforce, just like having teams with diverse talents and skills, is healthy. We all prosper when we work in an inclusive environment – companies as well as people.
What advice would you give to young women starting a career in mineral exploration/mining/geoscience?
You are responsible for your own career, nobody is looking after your career and advancement for you.
One skill that could be a game changer for your career is learning basic management skills early on. You can use these skills well before you become a supervisor or manager.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. All questions are valid.
We’re often afraid of looking stupid if we ask questions or perhaps, we think that we are supposed to know it all. Asking lots of questions is what got me my first job. I thought I was asking so many questions because I was stupid. To someone else, I looked like someone with an inquiring mind who wanted to really understand the subject matter – just the sort of person they needed for a research role! As a manager, I’d much rather someone ask questions than pretend they know what they are doing and then make a complete hash of things.
What motivates you and keeps you busy outside of mineral exploration/mining/geoscience?
Coaching and mentoring women in male dominated industries so that they can build the skills they need to advance their careers.
I also like to hike, kayak, cycle, ski, sail and camp – all outdoor activities! Never happier than when I’m out in nature.