Jenna McKenzie - WGC director

Updated: Oct 21, 2019


How did you decide on pursuing a degree(s) in geoscience? Did you know about geoscience before you entered university?

I was not aware of geoscience before entering university. I am from a small city known for farming and manufacturing and I was completely oblivious to mining and mineral exploration. At the time of entering university I was interested in science, particularly physics.


In 3rd year I took a few “practical physics” courses such as biomedical physics, atmospheric physics and geophysics. Up until then I thought I was on a path into the medical physics field, but after the introductory geophysics course with Dr. Jerry Mitrovica I was hooked. After three years of thinking about electrons I was pretty excited to think about physics on a planetary-scale and what was going on beneath our feet.


Describe your career progression since finishing undergrad.

While studying physics with a focus on geophysics at the University of Toronto, in my 4th year De Beers was looking for someone to catalog their vast (50,000+) collection of geophysical maps in their corporate library in Toronto. They wanted to hire a student that knew something about geophysics. I could not have submitted my resume faster. It was a funny way into the organization, but from there, people were very friendly and introduced me to the exploration teams. Within a month I was put on a plane to Yellowknife to collect ground geophysics and they deferred the map cataloging until the field program was over!


After that I worked for a year in Houston as a marine processing geophysicist, followed by full time back at De Beers Canada. Diamond exploration is very exciting and demanding. And although that initial map cataloging may have been thought of as menial work, I became familiar with every exploration property and related geophysical survey that the company had ever undertaken; it was very helpful for me as we sometimes revisited areas that had previously been explored.


After five years of diamond exploration I was ready to learn more about geophysical exploration for other commodities and moved to a consulting firm. In 2014, my geologist colleague Elisabeth Ronacher and I formed Ronacher McKenzie Geoscience. We specialize in integrating geoscience datasets and interpreting from a geological perspective. We have grown our company to 10+ people with over 100 projects in 14 countries and are continuing to grow our team.


If you could go back to your first year in undergrad, would you pick the same degree and career trajectory? Why/why not?

This is a difficult question. It’s funny to me that the things that struck me as interesting when I was 20 years old vary greatly from when I am 40 years old. That being said, I am very happy with my career trajectory. It has been a wild ride and I am grateful for the experience.


What are the three best things about your job/career? What are three things you would change?

*Best*

1. Travel - I have seen so much of northern Canada: Baffin Island, Boothia Peninsula, the Northwest Territories, the northern areas of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec as well as travelling internationally to Angola, South Africa and Australia.


2. Flexibility - early in my career I would bank a lot of in-lieu time and then travel, often for more than a month at a time. Later when I had children and was consulting, and was able to fit in my working time around my new schedule. My children’s piano lessons and school plays factor into my calendar and are as equally important as board meetings.


3. People - I have made so many friends and have met so many different and interesting people from all over the world.


*Change*

1. Gender balance - when I started working, I had only heard of two other, more senior female geophysicists and they both lived out of the country at that time. When I finally met them after 10 and 15 years respectively, I was so excited. The story has changed slowly since then. I see so many female post-grad geophysicists and it makes me really happy to see the numbers start to improve, but I know we can do better.


2. Conflicting messages around having children. When I was working as a field geophysicist, it was communicated subtly to me that my worth was only based on the number of hours I could put into the field, and that having a child would negate this and force me to leave my job. I spent too many sleepless nights worrying about this, because I had no prior examples of women who had been through this. It is ridiculous to feel that your career contribution is somehow diminished when you have children.


3. Mentorship and passing on knowledge. A reality of the mining industry is that where companies make decisions to stake ground or test new technology is a jealously guarded secret, and so practical knowledge does not always flow on why decisions are made or what techniques have been tried do not pass on to the next generation as well as they could.


Why did you become involved with WGC as a director?

I volunteered to be the conference secretary for the decennial Exploration '17. I was young when I attended Exploration ‘07 and knew I wanted to be a part of the conference going forward.


Although the organizers had very good intentions of inviting the best speakers, I do feel that unconscious bias factored into these selections and as a result women were overlooked. I could see this playing out but didn’t have the language or feel I had authority to make a change. Thank goodness for millennials. A young lady stood up during the kick-off panel at Exploration '17 and pointed out that she was not represented by anyone involved. It somehow was the match that lit the fire. Suddenly, colleagues, both men and women, were really talking about the issues and genuine will to change. The WGC formed as a natural consequence to these discussions.


Why is gender balance in geoscience important to you?

This should not be a front of mind issue for anyone. Unfortunately it was front of mind for me for 15+ years. Although we may think things are improving, the reality is that the change needs a push. I know of one study that found that reaching gender parity of board directors by letting things improve as they currently are will still take 70 years!


Why should it be important for everyone?

It has been well documented that diversity improves finding creative solutions and increases profits. I would think everyone would be interested in these items! And gender balance is a part of a larger issue of increasing the diversity in our workforce.


What advice would you give to young women starting a career in geoscience?

I would say go for it. It is so rewarding. And please reach out - join our Slack channel, network, talk to others and don’t be afraid to get moral support when you need it.


Geoscientists are humans first and foremost. What motivates you and keeps you busy outside of geoscience?

I have a husband and two awesome kids ages 10 and 7. I also enjoy running, playing piano and have a slight obsession with jigsaw puzzles. When I’m not trying to soak in what Toronto has to offer, I am usually in my hometown of Chatham ON enjoying the beauty, Great Lakes and time with my family.



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