Innovative. Inspiring. Fun. That’s what the Hard Hats & High Heels fashion show and panel presentation was all about. Organized by Women Who Rock (WWR) and the Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards (CAFA), the cross-sector collaboration featured Judith & Charles’ chic pieces and Alicia Woods’ Covergalls, all modelled by women working in mining.
Shortly before the models graced the runway in front of more than 300 attendees at the Art Gallery of Ontario on June 8, The Northern Miner’s publisher Anthony Vaccaro moderated a panel on how women working in the field and new graduates can dress for success. Panelists included Fashion Magazine’s contributing fashion editor George Antonopoulos, Holt Renfrew’s vice-president of exclusive services Lisa Tant, Kinross Gold’s senior vice-president of human resources Gina Jardine and one of PwC Canada’s partners Marelize Konig.
WWR’s president and founder Elena Mayer says dress codes aren’t discussed often, but they are vital in corporate settings. “Taking into consideration mining is a male-dominated industry, many think it is a frivolous topic,” she says. “But we women are tightly connected with the way we dress, and self-confidence is connected to that.”
The idea for Hard Hats & High Heels arose when Mayer met CAFA’s founding director Brittney Kuczynski at the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) conference in March. The women, both working in mining, with Mayer as a senior client relationship manager for PwC Canada’s mining group, and Kuczynski, on Paradigm Capital’s institutional equity sales team, combined their passions for mining and fashion to create a dynamic platform that allowed women in mining to learn about opportunities in Canadian fashion and Canadian designers to promote their work.
“We are all about business development and getting Canadian labels and growing that awareness among a very coveted group of young professionals and executive level women,” Kuczynski says of CAFA’s mandate. She notes these women are the inspiration behind many of the designers’ collections. “They are women that are of great substance, are fearless and do have a lot of confidence. And they need to dress so their wardrobe is evocative of that.”
PDAC executive director Andrew Cheatle, one of the initiative’s many supporters, said he loved the idea when he first heard it. “It’s important to celebrate our diversities and to show that. And we should have fun as well.” The representation of women in the industry is slowly improving, Cheatle says, recalling when he was the chief geologist at Goldcorp’s Musselwhite mine in Ontario that at one point his team had an even number of men and women. He added that it’s crucial leaders in the industry “break down barriers and make that change and diversity happen.”
New Gold’s chief financial officer Brian Penny and chief operating officer David Schummer did their part by participating in the fashion show as the two only male models. “It is a great opportunity for the company to get involved and to do some good work. Women are an important part of our industry, and we support them through initiatives like this,” Penny said before walking the runway. Schummer added that some of the best chief engineers that he has worked with throughout his 25-year career have been women.
Asked how they felt about strutting their stuff, Schummer said he was “looking forward to that,” while Penny admitted he was “scared silly.”
Some women acting as models that day shared similar sentiments about the catwalk. “It’s always fun to get dressed up, but to walk on the runway — I’m a little hesitant,” trained engineer Andrea George said. “But I’m sure it’ll be fun.” George, who works as an event planner at PDAC, said it was important for her to get involved to “showcase that women can be professional and get their jobs done in the science, engineering and mining industries — and still look feminine and have fun with their hair and makeup.”
The evening also provided participants, such as Kinross geologist Amelie Lassalle, a chance to network. “It’s a good opportunity for us to meet so many women in different industries,” said the France native, who is part of Kinross’s “Generation Gold” program. The four-year international graduate program rotates young professionals to a new country each year to develop technical, business and leadership skills. “It’s just awesome,” Lassalle says of the program, relating that she spent time at Kinross’s Tasiast mine in Mauritania and Chirano mine in Ghana.
For fashion tips, Mayer and Kuczynski both stress that women should dress comfortably and in a feminine way. “You don’t have to choose between being feminine or smart. We, at this day and age, can do both. So go and discover what your style is and stick by that,” Mayer says.
“Being comfortable, but never forgetting your femininity and dressing like a woman … could be a very powerful tool in a business that is dominated by men,” Kuczynski adds.
Sponsors of the event included Kinross, Barrick Gold, New Gold, PDAC, the Bank of Montreal, Canadian law firm Gowlings and PwC Canada. Five dollars from each ticket sale was donated to the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre through the Women in Mining branch in Toronto.