Leyla Lavenir, M.Sc., P.M.P., P. Geo.


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

From a young age, I really enjoyed being outdoors and playing on the hill side and exploring the plants, animals, and rocks. This may sound like any regular childhood, however I grew up in the 20th floor of a condo, in the concrete jungle of Hong Kong, and it was actually very uncommon for children to have any green space to roam about. I was lucky in that my parents were afforded university housing with their employment and we lived right by a hillside where there was some green space for the neighbourhood kids to explore. I was very interested in nature and took geography as a subject in high school, and found a great interest in the physical geography sections of the course. This lead to the eventual decision to take Geology for my B.Sc. degree.


How did you land your first position? (Through networking, applying to an ad, etc.)

While doing my Masters, I had applied with a number of companies, including De Beers, for summer work to gain experience and to supplement income. Although I had already gained employment with a competitor company, Dr. Jonathan Fowler, Exploration Manager of De Beers at the time, reached out to me because my master’s thesis, although not in diamonds, caught his eye and he saw applicability towards research in the diamond industry. Dr. Fowler encouraged me to apply for summer work with De Beers the following year, to which I did and that is how I started my career with De Beers.


Can you briefly describe your career progression?

I started as a summer assistant in the field on a contract basis while I was completing my Masters Thesis. When my Masters was completed, I continued to work with De Beers on a contract basis in their Eastern Canada Exploration office, assisting in early stage exploration field programs. About a year into working as a contractor at De Beers, a full time field geologist position in the Exploration division became available and I successfully applied for it. Throughout my early career, I truly enjoyed all aspects of exploration work and in particular fieldwork.


From a Field Geologist, I worked my way to becoming a Project Geologist, becoming more involved in the various aspects of planning and organizing of exploration field programs, as well as reviewing and interpreting data. This then followed the natural progression to becoming a Project Manager and then Senior Project Manager, where I was over seeing all aspects of exploration projects that were assigned to me. An opportunity then arose for the Program Manager position, who would oversee all of De Beers Canada’s exploration field program and I was fortunate to be recognized as a good fit for this role.


I was in the Program Manager role for quite a few years, during which not only was I overseeing all the field programs, but I gained the experience of managing and leading people, as well as exposure to company strategy and long term planning. My most recent appointment is Senior Program Manager, to which I was given the added responsibility of overseeing De Beers Group’s global exploration plan and long term strategic plans, translating these plans into operational programs within Canada.

How has career progression been handled in your company/ies? For example, is it outlined or have you specifically applied for positions?

It has been a mix of both. My initial appointment was by application to a job posting. Most of my career promotions have been internal promotions without a specific application towards the position; however I did officially apply for the Program Manager position about a year prior to being appointed with the position. On that initial posting for the Program Manager to which I had applied for, it was clearly stated that a preferred candidate had already been selected. Although I knew I was not the preferred candidate, I applied none-the-less in order to let my interest be known, as well as to gain some experience on the interview process and to understand what qualities the company was looking for in this position. A year later, the position became available again and I was offered the opportunity to take on the role of Program Manager.


If you had to do it again, would you?

Absolutely


If you could change anything in your career, what would it be?

To take more risks and put my hand up to explore more areas of De Beers outside of Exploration.


What are the three best things about your job/career? What are the three worst things?

Best:

1) People I work with. Our exploration team is a very tight knit group of people and it has a family like feel to it. We all watch out for and care for each other.

2) Traveling and seeing places in Canada and in the world that most people would not have the opportunity to see.

3) Meeting diverse people of all walks of life.


Worst:

1) Bugs and poor weather in the field

2) Towards the latter half of my career when I started a family, it required a lot more up front planning in order to be able to go to the field

3) Some very long days


Do you see, in either your work space or the industry in general, the place of women becoming more main stream, about the same as when you started, or worse?

Yes I do. I feel like increasingly more women are pursuing STEM subjects in general, and I am noticing more and more females in industry positions, even those that may have traditionally been male dominated roles such as haul truck drivers. Specifically at De Beers, the senior management recognizes the importance of diversity and leads in equality in the workspace. Within the exploration division alone, I venture to say we are evenly distributed. I don’t think it was a purposely driven goal within our small team, but just organically grown to include many women as they were the best qualified candidates.

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

My advice to any person wanting to select science as a career, is to follow your passion and explore all the various aspects and areas there are in your field. Don’t be afraid to ask questions as there are no stupid questions and if anything, it demonstrates your interest and passion. Take every opportunity as a challenge.


Why/How is diversity important to you? Thoughts on what should be focussed on or how to improve diversity within geoscience?

Diversity is important as it brings in fresh thinking. I think women in general under value or under estimate themselves, their knowledge and their potential, so to the company and to senior management and HR departments, I would say to focus on providing the safe space and the opportunity for the “minorities” of the group to speak up and contribute. This may mean for others to simply be self aware of their impact and creating the space and opportunity for others to step up and shine.


Why should others be talking about diversity and trying to improve things?

I think the more aware the population as a whole becomes on this topic and understands behaviours and ways to be more inclusive, the more opportunity becomes available to all and more innovation and diversity in thought can be harvested.

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