Pit Stop No19: Meet Louise Grondin, a true Trailblazer for Women in Mining

Louise Grondin is the daughter of dairy farmers and grew up in Saint-Nazaire-de-Berry, Quebec, working on the family farm. Louise recognized early on that she wished to pursue post-secondary education. Excelling in both math and science and fueled by her love of problem solving, she went on to study physics at the University of Ottawa. She later obtained a Master of Sciences degree from McGill and got her credentials as a mechanical engineer from the University of Toronto.

After 12 years working for Ontario Hydro, she switched to mining in 1993. Since 2001, Louise has been working for Agnico Eagle Mines Limited. She was appointed Senior Vice-President of Environmental and Sustainable Development in 2010 and the human resources portfolio was added to her responsibilities in 2016. Louise is a key member of the senior management team that has led the growth of Agnico Eagle from a single mine regional gold producer to a multi-mine international leader in gold mining.

Louise’s passion for contributing and promoting the mining industry garnered her several recognitions, including being named in the top 18 Women of Impact in the Canadian Materials, Metallurgy and Mining field (2015), one of the 100 Global Inspirational Women in Mining (2013) and winning the 2016 Women in Mining Canada Trailblazer Award.

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Louise Grondin, Senior Vice-President, Environment, Sustainable Development and People

  1. Why did you choose to join the mining industry after 12 years with Ontario Hydro?

I was married to a mining engineer and we were both working in Toronto. My husband then got transferred to a mine in Abitibi, so we both decided to move from Toronto to a small village of about 300 people. At that time, mining was the only employer in this small village so if you didn’t work in mining, it was very difficult to find a job. I applied for an environmental superintendent position at the Selbaie mine and got the job! This is how I came to be in mining.

  1. What helped you advance your career at Agnico Eagle Mines to the position of Senior Vice-President?

My attitude! The one quality I find very important in leaders is being positive and seeing the glass half full instead of half empty. Being positive was a natural attribute for me and people saw that. They also saw someone who could get things done. I am in fact a solution seeker and someone who works really hard and is very driven.

What also played a role in my advancement was the growth of the company. I joined Agnico at a time when there was only one mine in operation and during the first 7 years after I joined, we expanded from 1 to 8 mines. I was there at a good time and could progress very quickly. I evolved from being the regional environmental manager to Vice-President of environment and with time, the health & safety, community relations and more recently HR portfolios were added. As the needs of the company became bigger, management counted on me. They thought that I could do it and look for solutions.

What also helped is the fact that I am a team player. I don’t fight anybody, instead, I make allies; and that’s very important because you’ll need allies to support you along the way. In addition to my personal attributes, the combined strength of my team members and good timing of having joined Agnico at the right time were key ingredients of my career progression!

  1. What are you most passionate about in your work?

It’s the positive impact we can have! I work in environment, health & safety, community relations and human resources, this means I work with people: employees and community.

We operate in remote areas and have the potential to make a difference with the people we work with and the communities in which we operate. By providing work to locals, we offer them an opportunity to own a house and send their kids to colleges and universities. We are changing the social landscape of the areas where we operate by creating value for the people. We are in fact extracting value out of rock and transforming it into making good whenever we can; that’s often something people don’t realize. Our potential to have a positive impact in the remote areas where we operate is limitless!

Moreover, when we go in areas where there has been no one before us, we study the environment and provide a lot of scientific information that is very valuable. It is information that universities or governments don’t have the capacity and money to provide so it is our responsibility in our permits to do it.

  1. Could you share a challenge you’ve experienced in your career and how you overcame it?

When I first joined Agnico, we had a problem with our effluent. Our water effluent was toxic and it was a very complex challenge to solve because you had to trace the problem back from the end of the pipe up through the whole process to find out what was contributing to making that water toxic. It was like solving a puzzle!

At that time, I was still new to the company and I had to quickly step in and have meetings with the ministry of the environment to address that challenge. It took us 2 years to implement a biological treatment plant to treat the toxic water. Bacteria are great and they can do miracles! But at the start, when we transferred the process from the laboratory to the pilot plant, the process didn’t work and I remember phoning technicians on weekends to check if there were any improvements. I still remember the day it did work and how proud I felt at that moment.

  1. What were some of the most defining moments of your career in mining that made you particularly proud?

One of the things I am particularly proud of, and without doing it on purpose, is that I can hear my vision for environmental management and community relations from the mouth of our employees and the community. We recently did a video in Nunavut to celebrate Agnico’s 60th anniversary and after interviewing our employees up there and members of the community and hearing what they thought the company wanted to do in environmental management and community relations, I was amazed to hear that they clearly understood the vision that I had been trying to realize over the years. I might not have a structure on which I can put my name but the fact that the people in the community reflect back to me what I wanted to do is amazing!

  1. Have you had mentors that supported you along the way? If so, how important were they to your success?

I had no one labeled as mentor but I did feel that my bosses had my back. I worked very hard and was very loyal to them. In my youth, I was more impulsive and they taught me to listen more and to think about what could a solution be before jumping into action as soon as there’s a problem. Also, they never doubted me. During meetings when issues were discussed, I would raise my hand to take on a challenge and I was never refused the opportunity to do so. I had a very positive attitude, which lead management to believe in my capacities to do the job.

  1. How do you find the balance between work and personal life?

It’s very difficult! You’ve got to adapt your career to leave space for your family. When I had my children, I was on an 8 to 4 schedule and I would work when the kids went to bed. You’ve got to manage and people nowadays are much more understanding than back in the old days. There’s almost no difference today between men and women, they both have to pick up the kids, cook and put them to sleep. When I was younger, it was more difficult but I was still able to deliver. If you are passionate about something, you find a way to make things work and I guess that I didn’t give a too bad example: both my children are now in mining! I also have to add that my husband has always believed in me and was very supportive! We were never in competition with each other, but always partners.

  1. Why is it important to have more women in the mining sector?

Looking at the population, it is made up of 50% women and 50% men. Mining companies need to welcome a more representative proportion of women because otherwise, they would be missing out on much of the talent. From my experience, women tend to be more collaborative and better communicators. Women also bring a more human side to the business, which changes the dynamics of a project in a good way. It is obvious to my male colleagues that we, as women, have something to contribute and it is a plus to have us around. Women are welcomed in mining, but the industry has not fully succeeded in showing that.

  1. Why has it been such a challenge to include more women in mining companies?

Mining is still seen as hard rock mining and unsophisticated, which isn’t true! Yes there are some jobs that still require more strength, but most jobs are mechanized and the industry has become very sophisticated and technological. I can compare us to the construction industry, which, like mining, suffers from the same image problem that needs to be broken. What we also need to put emphasis on is the variety of jobs that mining provides such as in communications, environment, health and safety, HR, engineering, accounting and even nursing! We’re not doing such a great job at representing the variety and opportunities for women in mining. The women that are in the industry can be good witnesses of these opportunities and we should encourage them to be ambassadors of our industry.

  1. Any advice that you could give to young women starting out their careers in mining?

When someone came to me and asked me what they should do to advance in their careers, I told both the men and women that if they do their job as if it were the most important job in the company, they will become important and people will notice them. I say that through my own experience: I have always been very dedicated.

You have to be very confident that the fact that you are a woman is not going to hinder you; on the contrary. It might happen that you are going to feel, rightly or wrongly, that you are not getting that promotion because you’re a woman, but I would suggest not to dwell on the negative side and rather to challenge your boss and ask where you can improve! It all comes down to attitude.

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Pit Stop No17: Discover Flavie’s mining journey

Flavie Arseneau just completed her mining engineering degree at McGill University. She has agreed to share some of the experiences she has had in mining. Check out my interview with a girl who was born for mining.

1. What enticed you into considering a career in mining?

Back when I was fifteen, I met a McGill Mining Engineering student who was working in a quarry. He told me about the program, the opportunities in the field and how rewarding it was. It sounded like something out of the box and this is what I was looking for. When the time came for me to choose a career, I looked for something that would challenge me and make me scratch my head every day and that brought me to mining!

2. Tell us more about your different Co-op work experiences.

I had my first coop experience at the Osisko mine now known as Canadian Malartic mine in the small township of Malartic. I was hired as an open-pit surveyor and would spend the day surveying blast holes, new excavations, and diamond drill work. It was a great experience as I had the chance to be independent and I felt like an important part of the team. I was lucky to be on the field every day as few students get to experience fieldwork at their first stage.

 

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Flavie surveying the open-pit

 

For my second internship, I worked at Bracemac-McLeod underground mine in Matagami. I was also a surveyor but this time in the underground mine, which was a very different experience from open-pit. I learnt a lot of new aspects of a surveyor’s job and the great importance of it. I was part of a great team as well and I really enjoyed working with the people over there.
 

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Flavie at the underground Bracemac-McLeod mine

 

For my third internship, I went to Raglan mine, which is located in the most northern part of Quebec. It was quite an impressive and complex mine. I had the opportunity to look at different aspects of long term and short planning. I also did a lot of things such as spending time undergrounds with foremen and miners on a day to day production crew. At that time, I understood something important about mining: underground operations are difficult and they rarely goes as planned, we have to be ready to adapt quickly!

For my fourth and final internship, I was based in Timmins and worked for Kidd Creek mine. I was part of the long-term planning team and the experience turned out to one of the best. I learnt so much on planning,ventilation, rock mechanic, reserve estimation, geology and much more. Everybody was open for discussion and never would I find a close door.

3. What skills did you gain from your work experiences that you wouldn’t otherwise have learnt at school?

Technical skills. I’ve learnt a lot on planning, ventilation, rock mechanic, and production when applied on the field. Being on the job also teaches you to work in teams efficiently. As well, I learnt to take decisions and to be sure of them. When you work on the field, you need to be smart, you need to be able to take big decisions, and you need to be present.

4. Were you given more responsibilities as you were gaining more experience?

Yes! I was given a lot of responsibilities and loved it. I believe responsibilities come with will power more than experiences. If people see that you are passionate and smart, they will give you more responsibilities even though you are still new to the field.

5. Were you ever treated differently because you are a woman?

No. I was half expecting to be treated slightly differently because I’m in a male-dominated industry but that never happened and it was a very positive thing.

6. What aspect do you most like about working in mining? And what do you dislike the most?

As bad as it sounds, nothing ever goes as planned in mining. This is a major challenge, which pushes me and keeps me going in mining. You really have to think of smart ways to find a solution to the problem or else you will be in big trouble. And you don’t want that.

What I dislike the most about mining is it farness. Mines are far and family are sometimes torn apart. The last thing I want is to be faced with choosing between my job or my family.

7. Is there a particular moment while working in mining that made you feel in the right industry for you?

I always knew this was the right field for me because I was aware of what mining was before choosing it as a career.

8. Any plans after graduation?

Master’s in rock mechanics at McGill under the supervision of Prof. Hani Mitri. My research will be focusing on de-stress blasting, which is both very interesting and applicable on the field.

9. Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?

I see myself working in a mine as rock mechanic engineer either at a Fly-in-Fly-out operation or on a mine site. I am hoping to be a professional engineer by then and maybe start a family? I’m definitely looking to be challenged every day and to work along side amazing people.

Pit Stop No16: The Do’s and Don’ts of working on a mine site

If you are a mining student like me and want to get the most of your experience on a mine site, check out the list below of the do’s and the don’ts! I obviously don’t know everything about mining or working on a camp so feel free to comment any suggestions you may have!

The Do’s The Don’ts
1. Just starting your first mine job? Feeling a little anxious or overwhelmed? Do relax! Mines can seem like big scary dark places but I can assure you, they are not! 1. Don’t underestimate the importance of safety on a mine site!
2. The first week is usually paperwork and site visit; do pay attention to lunch places, your supervisor’s office and the toilets (everyone has cravings…) 2. Do not come to work late… just don’t.
3. Always wear ALL of the safety equipment before going onsite! And when I say ALL, I mean like ALL of the safety equipment. 3. Don’t expect things to be smooth or easy… mines are rough and bumpy; get used to it.
4. Do get to know you colleagues; what got them into mining, their career path… It helps to break the first-week-awkward silence. 4. Don’t pretend you know it all… you don’t.
5. Do ask questions, any questions… do it. 5. Don’t wait for work to come to you! Try to ask yourself this question every day: how am I creating value today?
6. Since some mine sites are in a galaxy far far away, I do encourage you to make friends at the office! 6. A special one for female miners: you are no different than a man so don’t expect to be treated differently.
7. Learn!! Learn to cook, to clean, to sleep early (that one’s important) and if you have some extra time … you won’t have extra time. 7. Don’t complain about your job/boss, mining internships are pretty rare these days #downturn
8. Feeling lonely on some afternoons? Time to renew your Netflix subscription! 8. Don’t take days off from your internship especially if it’s 4-month, you want to give the best impression!
9. Do Skype with your friends and family; let them know you are still alive… after all, mines are that dangerous! 9. Don’t rush when handling expensive equipment! If you’re a surveyor like I was, you DON’T want to be remembered as the one who dropped the total station.
10. Get dirty… not that way! I mean go underground or in the pit whenever you get the chance! 10. Don’t expect to have everything right the first time, it is okay to make mistakes… but please do learn!

Pit Stop No15: My First Experience Working in an Underground Mine

The McGill mining program is a coop program, which means that students not only need class credits to graduate but also 12 months of coop work experience. The first two years of my undergraduate studies were particularly hard to land an internship. The mining job market wasn’t at its best and commodity prices were falling. With hard work and the right skill set I finally signed my first contract with the Matagami Mine division of Glencore.

I finished writing my final exams at the end of April and in early May I was already packing my bags for my next adventure. I left the city early on Saturday to arrive 8 hours later in the little northern town of Matagami. It was my first experience ever working in a mine, so I was wasn’t too sure what to expect.

On my first week, I filled in my steel-toed boots, put on my coveralls and headed to the underground. It’s easy to know if mining is meant for you or not: you either love it or hate it. In my case, being underground felt like being in a different world and I loved it! It was fascinating to see how huge the excavations, the trucks, and the stopes were. Even though the mine is in operation since 2013, which is relatively recent (some mines are 100 years old!), it’s already quite deep. It takes about 30 to 40 minutes to get to the deepest face in the mine that is 750 meters deep.

I was hired as an intern in the engineering department to work with the team of surveyors. The team and I would spend the morning surveying up to 7 different faces in the mine. Because of that, I was exposed to all sorts of activities underground. I would encounter the Jumbo man drilling in preparation for a blast, the bolters that are bolting a newly excavated face of the mine to make it safe to work under. One thing that is very useful when underground is to spend time communicating with the miners. Showing interest in their work and asking questions was beneficial for me to learn about the challenges they face and to understand that an engineering design should be feasible to execute safely.

After the survey is done, we would use the afternoon to develop AutoCAD plans based on the data gathered underground. These plans are used by engineers, technicians, and supervisors and are essential for the next round of operations.

My stage was a great learning experience. As an engineering student, you mostly learn the technical aspects and everything is very theoretical. Seeing how a mine actually works gives a lot of meaning to the theory learned in the classroom. It is also crucial, as engineers,  to understand how the operations are carried out in the underground and what challenges the miners face.

The most important thing in any internship experience is to have fun and enjoy the work!

And the most important thing in any internship experience is to have fun and learn, learn, learn!