Clare O'Dowd is the senior geoscientist - technical integration at Cameco and was so kind to answer our questions about her career path and views on gender in exploration.
How did you decide on pursuing degree in geoscience? Did you know about geoscience before you entered university?
Not exactly, while my grandfather was an accountant at a tin mine in Africa, I would have to admit that I didn’t fully understand what geoscience was until I entered university. I started off in environmental science, and took geology as an elective. Geology turned into my favorite subject, it was tangible, and I found it interesting that every rock had a story to tell – you just had to ‘listen’ (figure it out using all kinds of cool science). I changed majors the following year.
How did you land your first position? (Through networking, applying to an ad, etc.)
It was a tough market when I graduated, many of my classmates did not find work in their chosen field immediately after graduation. The full impact of the Bre-X scandal was being felt. A friend of mine had a brother who was a mechanic for an airborne survey company, she gave me the name of the manager of the geophysical group and he agreed to see me. We ended up talking hockey…. (Of which I have to admit I know little about, other than my high school band played at an Oshawa General’s game once.) When leaving the informal interview, my soon-to-be manager said something in between ‘nice to meet you’ and ‘there wasn’t an available position’. He said ‘if I did have a position – you’d be the type of person I’d hire’. I then proceeded to call him every other week until he hired me. I spent my first 6 months trimming maps and collating reports.
Can you briefly describe your career progression?
I worked for three years at the airborne survey company, at this point I had a geology degree but little field experience and was working as a geophysicist without much in the way of a degree. I learned on the job, progressing from map trimmer through data processor to Jr. Geophysicist. It was at this point I returned to school to complete my MSc in geophysics.
Post MSc I was hired as an exploration geophysicist – just above entry level, and have remained at the same company progressing through the years with increasing levels of responsibility, most recently I have been given the title Sr. Geoscientist – technical integration. A significant amount of my career has been spent trying to break new ground, working with unfamiliar or new methods, and collaborating on geotechnical and exploration based programs.
How has career progression been handled in your company/ies? For example, is it outlined or have you specifically applied for positions?
Career progression is a funny thing – it hasn’t always felt like there is a planned progression I think most of it has happened rather organically. Most of my promotions have happened after I was already doing the required tasks.
Unfortunately, ability to move internally in this climate is extremely limited. I do feel that there is something to be said for the extinction of the corporate ladder – it’s a jungle gym – there is more than one way up and sometimes that means taking a step back or sideways in order to go around and up.
If you had to do it again, would you?
Yes, most of it.
If you could change anything in your career, what would be the top three things?
Be braver in calling a spade a spade. So many times I have witnessed behaviour that I felt went against my or corporate values and have handled it by saying "that's just the way they are". It doesn't make it OK.
Take more risks.
Don’t just listen to the loudest voice. As a female subject matter expert I have found that it is sometimes hard to find a voice when the general consensus, being all male, is contrary to what I believe. I wish I had found the courage earlier in my career to speak up with confidence.
What are the three best things about your job/career?
Travelling the world.
Working at the forefront of exploration - being there when the drill hits mineralization, and knowing that I was an integral part of that success.
Having the freedom to push the envelope of geophysical and geological integration.
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?
I think the 'industry' sees the place of women becoming more main stream. Yet it is difficult to pull from a very small pool, and so the progress has been slow. However, I have noticed an increase in the number of women attending meetings over the past 15 years (yes, I always do a head count), so I have hope for our future.
What advice would you give young women starting a career in geoscience?
Don't wait until you feel you have 110% of the qualifications before applying for a job. Enthusiasm and a will to learn are just as important.
Don't back down and wait for something to happen. You want something make it happen. No one will do it for you.
You don’t have to become ‘one of the boys’ to be successful.
Are you aware of any STEM programs for high school age girls in your community? If so, do you think these are effective? Have you ever been involved in such?
One has just started locally that is called "Girls in the classroom", it is a 2 year pilot where the focus is to provide female role models for STEM (mostly mining) related jobs. The program in inclusive, targeting both boys and girls within the classroom. (http://www.girlsintheclassroom.org/)
Do you think the attitude of the men in your work space has changed over the time you have been employed? Worse or better (or 'about the same' is an acceptable answer as well).
I would like to say better, but it really isn't. It is very much the same. The one thing that I have noticed change in recent years, at least at a corporate level, is the awareness and the ability to address the issues at hand; yet, there remains a reluctance to "look in the mirror”. Awareness of the unconscious biases or outright discrimination that is present in the workforce is clearly a hot topic at the moment, with just cause.
I feel like we have reached a plateau, which will require some additional effort to overcome. In my opinion, one of the best ways to address this is to focus on the younger generations - addressing general stereotypes at an early age, so that a boy can drink from a pink cup, and it is not unusual for a Dad to be the primary care giver. As one of our Sr. Executives recently said, part of the solution to the ingress of women is facilitating the egress of men. This means providing opportunities for men to utilize programs intended to benefit women, such as parental leave, without fear of harassment or concern of detriment to their career (as it should also be for women). So, when we get to a place where activities and colours do not equate to a gender– as a society we will have made a difference.
I believe that WGC is on to something by increasing the visibility of women at conferences in both chairing and giving talks. The 'infiltration' of the usual channels from which conferences are sourced, may have more of an impact than we think. I think this is a good way to start changing the accepted norm, as we all suffer from preconditioning.