What comes first—the chicken or the egg? That same conundrum can be applied to the mining world, namely, how can our company attract more women without the infrastructure to accommodate them? The current dry (women’s changerooms, washrooms and showers) at our Creighton mine in Sudbury, ON are narrow and can only accommodate about 20 women. So, in innovative Vale fashion, we decided to convert brand-new trailers, situated about 200 feet from our Admin building, into a spacious women’s dry. The 2,280-sq.-ft. facility cost $1.25 million and took about eight months to build. When completed at the end of Q1, it will have space for 99 women. Using a trailer has saved a significant amount of money and time over the alternative, a major renovation.
Todd Deslauriers, Logistics superintendent, and Donna Mitchell, Business Support superintendent, both at Creighton mine, were tasked with completing the project—which both say had some hairpin turns in the road to completion.
Initially there was discussion around retrofitting the existing men’s dry in the Admin building for the women, and then creating a new space in the building for the men. But the time and money required was too great. Todd estimates that the plan they landed on saved about a year’s worth of time, given supply chain and labour shortages during COVID, and more than $1 million. “Things don’t move quickly in a pandemic,” said Todd. Of critical importance, the revised plan also helped unclog the HR bottleneck faster, too, which was starting to show signs of bulging due to lack of dedicated space for women.
The last piece of the puzzle is funding for an enclosed and heated walkway from the Admin building to the women’s dry. “It’s not a long walk,” said Todd, “but we want people to be comfortable, especially after a shift when they are tired and perhaps sweaty.” The walkway will be completed before the end of the year.
Another bonus: the timeline for a gender-neutral facility was moved up. The current 20-person women’s dry in the Admin building will be renovated into a gender-neutral dry. Engineering is in process, and the company is looking at funding.
Donna pointed out that increasing space for women is important for business, particularly our company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. “This aligns with the company’s ratio of men to women forecast in upcoming years,” she said. “We are seeing women in a mix of positions in trades, labour, engineering and geology and in plants as support, project leaders and contractors. As our workforce scales up, we will have the infrastructure to accommodate more women.”
Thirty years ago, when Todd first started at the company, he could only recall two women on staff— one ventilation technologist and one geologist. “That was pretty much it. But in the last 10 years or so we’ve seen more women, especially in the last two years,” said Todd, who has a 22-year-old daughter, and believes that making mining, and other historically male-dominated industries, more accessible to women, is “the right thing to do.”
Donna concurs. “As a woman, it’s good to see that there are prospects opening up for other women who may not have had these opportunities in the past. We need to keep challenging the term ‘traditional roles.’”
In her 14 years at Vale, the last two at Creighton, Donna has held a number of support roles, but this is her first time in a job that puts her physically in a mine. “It’s been a good experience, expanding my knowledge of mining processes and being hands on. The roles I’ve held in the past, support functions, tended to draw women. Now I’m seeing more women in mine positions. We’re seeing women engineers, welders, millwright apprentices, heavy-duty equipment operators and production and support miners – and it’s time.”1