Commentary: Gratitude for women pioneers

The author Lesley Stokes at Newmont Mining's Batu Hijau mine in Indonesia. Credit: Lesley StokesThe author Lesley Stokes at Newmont Mining's Batu Hijau mine in Indonesia. Credit: Lesley Stokes

Sometimes when I practice gratitude in my life, I think back to when I was a little girl and imagine telling this little girl of all the incredible adventures that lay ahead.

I’d tell her the stories of how she would grow up and hike the tallest mountains, fly over the deepest valleys, travel to the far reaches of the world and sleep under the midnight sun. 

I’d sit beside her and marvel, knowing she would mature into an intelligent, strong and independent young woman who would gain the respect of her peers, and have access to a future full of opportunity and wealth. 

I’d warn her that sometimes it was going to be tough. But those experiences would teach her how to gain confidence, practice patience, master the art of forgiveness but most importantly, know how and when to stand up for herself. 

And I’d tell her she’d accomplish all of this simply by exploring a mystery that’s billions of years old: the Earth. 

Becoming a geologist was one of the best and most life-changing decisions I have ever made, though I can understand the disappointment expressed in last week’s Letter to the Editor, “Daughters: Avoid mining or geology as a career.” 

I consider the author of the letter as one of the true “pioneer” women geologists who likely beared the brunt of a hostile work environment geared favourably towards men. 

But for every hardship she has endured, there are others like myself who are marching behind and standing to benefit. Although my experience hasn’t been perfect, the conditions for women in the industry have certainly improved, and they continue to evolve in a positive direction before my eyes.

The future isn’t possible without pioneers like her. So instead of waving a white flag, I’d like to sound a trumpet to all the daughters of the world: if you so desire,   pursue geology as a career, dig your hands into mining and charge full steam ahead. 

You’ll be glad you did. 



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1 Comment on "Commentary: Gratitude for women pioneers"

  1. Joanna Hodge | June 17, 2015 at 8:06 am | Reply

    A thoughtful insight and response to the letter published last week. This is a complex issue. My personal experience as a woman in the mining industry has had both challenges and highlights. I’ve had the opportunity to travel, meet diverse and interesting people, earn a good salary (at times) and experience things that I may not have otherwise. I’ve also been laid off at least five times due to industry downturns, sometimes with no notice, and have had to move across continents and oceans to keep working.

    I’m not sure that any of these things are unique to being a female geologist, but what does give me concern right now is that most of the men working in the industry that I know are still employed, whereas my female geologist friends are unemployed or have taken jobs in peripheral industries to remain employed, as have I. I know of at least two women who were laid off immediately upon returning from maternity leave, and I have, on more than one occasion, been paid less than my male counterparts for doing the same job, the justification being, when I challenged this with my boss, that they had wives and families at home and had to be paid more as an incentive to take the job. Workplace culture, both in the field and in corporate settings, is still absurdly sexist, given that we are well into the 21st century.

    I do believe that the mining and exploration industries can offer wonderful opportunities to anyone who is willing to take them up, but there is a caveat – long term job security depends partly on when you graduated and entered the workforce – during an upswing or a downturn – and sadly it is still a challenging industry for women for many reasons, although this can depend on who you work for, what you want to do in the mining industry, and how willing you are to put up with some degree of inequality.

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