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Women’s + Allies Network: introducing member Amy Byers

January 5, 2022

Thompson-based Amy Byers, manager, Surface Operations is pictured with her family, from left: daughter Emily, husband Dale Katchmar and son Nolan. Photo: Amy Byers

Welcome to the Women’s + Allies Network occasional series, where we feature members of the network (both women and men) who have agreed to share their feelings around being part of a growing movement that advocates and supports gender diversity in the workplace, and in some cases, who share personal experiences and challenges. In this installment, we meet Amy Byers, manager, Surface Operations, Thompson, MB and 17-year Vale employee. 

How did you first get involved with the Women’s + Allies Network? 

In March 2021, before it became known as the Women’s + Allies Network – Canada & UK, I met with the founders including Theresa Nyabeze who I’ve known since school – we both went to Laurentian University. At the time, there were just over 10 of us, and now the network has grown to 270 members! 

Why did you join the Network?

During my early employment, starting as a metallurgical engineer, I was acknowledged for my technical aptitude and not necessarily for my ability to lead or engage teams. My journey over the next 17 years led me to my current position, which would not have been possible without allies and women mentors who I met throughout my career. These individuals acknowledged my potential and supported my advancement into roles of increasing responsibility. Vera Marie Whitehead, who was the manager of the Concentrator at the time, approached me about a leadership job posting and said I should apply, but I told her I was hesitant because I was trying to get pregnant. ‘That’s okay. Apply!’ she said. With her encouragement, I did, and I got the job. It was at that moment that I realized, wow, no one had taken that kind of interest in me, and it meant a lot to have someone in my corner. Fast forward, I now have two kids, I somehow managed breastfeeding and work, which carries with it such an unnecessary stigma and even shame. Now, I make a point of speaking with new moms and encouraging them to celebrate this part of their identity, and to feel proud, not ashamed. I owe it to them to continue to pay it forward for the next generation. 

How have you been benefitting from the Network? 

Since joining, I have had the opportunity to actively listen to others and gain perspectives that I didn’t have before. For example, one session we covered D&I and privilege, and how each of us have it. I have since embraced my privilege, recognizing that, thanks to my position as a leader, I have the power to speak up when something is not acceptable – and I can do this for men and women. Zero tolerance across the board. Most recently, I have been focusing on changing my team’s use of language to be more inclusive. Instead of man lift, use aerial lift. Instead of man door: it’s entrance. It’s been a drip of annoyance for me over the years, and now I’m calling it out. The strength, confidence and self-awareness gained from each Network meeting or training session resonates well beyond the moment, which helps to improve our interactions and experiences both at work and at home. 

Why do you think it’s important to have a Network like this for Vale employees? 

It creates a community and a catalyst for all employees to come together to remove the isolation and exclusion of individuals under a common goal. When each of us realize we are not alone, our experiences take on new meaning, which creates new opportunities that would not otherwise have been realized. For example, Erin Cullen has been heading up a Leadership Development (LD) program, and thanks to this Network I became aware of it, and I leveraged it for one of my new supervisors. We are sharing more, piggybacking on the effort of others and that breaks down the silos. Not to mention, all of this is better for the business because we are sharing resources, instead of starting from scratch, and that saves money and makes us more agile. 

Do you think a Network like this will help with Vale’s Business Turnaround? If so, how?

Having communities of support and mentorship fosters focus on D & I at all levels of the organization. D & I Networks ultimately improve our workplace environments and experiences, which lead to increased talent retention to support our Turnaround. If an employee feels welcome and a sense of community within the company, it’s less likely they will quit. 

In your opinion, what does the future look like for women in mining? 

Women have a future in mining that is filled with opportunity and potential. As we become a more diverse and inclusive workforce, we will see advancements and innovation in the mining sector that would otherwise not have been possible. We also need to build a support system at Vale for working parents. For example, we don’t have a bus service in Thompson. If we took turns driving each other’s kids to school, it would go a long way to helping strike more of a balance between work and family – for all of us. Having an onsite daycare and creating private spaces for women to breastfeed instead of trying to hide it, which many of us do, would create a more inclusive workplace. As women become more present in the workplace, it will naturally become a safer and more comfortable place for us. This is what the future ‘us’ looks like, and with more horsepower behind us, we will get there. 

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