Isabelle is a geological engineer with over 14 years of professional experience in the mining industry across Canada. During her career, she has developed vast expertise in geotechnical and environmental engineering, more specifically in management and risks related to mill waste facilities, mine waters and waste rock.
- How did you choose to work in mining?
Initially, I was interested in slope stability, avalanches, and earthquakes, which got me into studying geological engineering. It is then through a work term at an oil sands company in Fort McMurray that I discovered a passion for mining. My job consisted of rotating in different geotechnical positions with regards to tailings facilities and waste rock piles to replace the technicians while they were on vacation, which exposed me to a broad range of topics in geotechnical engineering. As we all know, Fort McMurray faces significant environmental challenges, and I decided to do something about it and help solve some of the environmental problems through my professional career.
- How has your experience of working in mining been?
Very good! When it’s not in a downturn, the mining industry is fast-paced, and the work is both fun and fulfilling; you meet a lot of motivated people with energy and ideas. When the industry is doing well, there’s plenty of work for everyone, and that’s when you learn the most.
- Could you share one or two challenges you’ve experienced in your career and how you overcame them?
When you’re tagged as an environmental person, you’re seen as someone who’s there to slow down the operation when really your job is to make sure that everything goes well to continue operating. So on top of being a woman and viewed differently because of that, I was also an environmentalist and suffered from that image. I overcame that by making the people I work with realize that I’m not there to stop them but to make things better in the long run. Through a better tailings management plan, things will go much smoother and fit much better with the operations. It takes a lot of technical knowledge and planning to do the job, and it’s important to show that to be respected.
- Tell us more about your current position and what you are most passionate about in your work.
I am currently a geotechnical engineer in the mine waste management and environmental department for a consulting practice. This department is very new and has been active since January 2017. Its creation was driven by the company’s will to get into the environmental side of mining to close the loop on the services they offer. I am passionate about making a difference and using my technical skills to improve things regarding environmental and mine waste management.
- What are the most useful skills that you use at work?
Technical skills. If you are not strong technically, you will lose credibility. This is even more so the case for women. As women, we don’t have it easy, so having strong technical skills helps us to make our way and be recognized. Communication is always important; I keep working hard to improve mine. If you have the technical ability, the communication, the planning and organizational skills, you pretty much have it all! But without the technical expertise, you’re out.
- Have you had mentors that have helped you? If so, how important were they?
I’ve had quite a few mentors. Some of my mentors have helped me to push my technical ideas forward and get the budget to get them through. Other mentors have helped me to expand my expertise through a coaching relationship.
- How do you find the balance between work and personal life?
There are two types of lifestyles in mining: the Fly-In-Fly-Out life and the city life. In the city, one can manage to get a work-life balance with the help of a handy daily planner. On FIFO, however, it’s more difficult. You are physically tired at the mine site and away from everyone, which can make you feel disconnected from everything; and when you fall on an off time, you have to make an effort to reconnect with the people that matter in your life while they are busy with their weekly schedules.
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?
I want to keep learning! At this point, I’m considered a young senior, but I don’t quite feel senior yet; I want to keep learning to earn that title personally. On another side, we often hear women not having the confidence to assume that they are ready.
- Why is it important to have more women in the mining sector?
Diversity has been proven to increase productivity, respect among colleagues and ideas to solve problems. And there’s no reason today for men only to work at mines especially that technology has made mining jobs a lot less physical.
- Any advice you could give to young women starting out in their careers in mining?
If you can get a job at a mine site, I would suggest that you go for it because it’s where you learn the most. There’s always more work than available resources at mine sites. As an engineer, you’re going to balance operations, people, health and safety on a daily basis. You’ll also learn about the limitations from climate, logistics and even from strikes! Don’t limit yourself: go onsite, learn, and make good money!