Being a woman in mining opened more doors than closed

Being a woman in mining opened more doors than closed

Romke Kuyvenhoven, Senior Consultant at MDE Minerals Consulting, chose the extractive sector as a career path because of her passion to work with the earth and find responsible ways to convert the ore bodies to materials that are, nowadays, required for a sustainable world. Romke strongly believes that despite any difficult times the overall balance of being a woman in mining opened more doors than closed. In order to attract more women in mining, Romke advocates that we have to go back to university, even further down to high school, and make sure little girls are as excited as they can be about typical engineering fields and work up all they way from there.

Q.: The extractive sector is a particularly demanding professional area with a profile that supports modern technological trends yet, identified more by its conservative structure in terms of administration and operations. How/why did you choose this sector as a career path?

Romke Kuyvenhoven: To be honest, when I chose this sector as a career path I knew none of those two aspects, I was not that much aware of how technological the mining industry actually is or the bureaucracy, I chose it because it is exciting to work with planet earth, it is exciting to work in an area where you are connected to things that have happened millions of years ago, the formation of ore bodies why they are at certain locations and it is exciting to find a very responsible way to convert the ore bodies to materials that are nowadays required for a very sustainable world.

So, I agree the mining industry is indeed more technological than people think. That’s exactly the reason why the relative use of human resources is low if compared to other industries like construction. I don’t see necessarily a contradiction between an industry that is technologically rather advanced and at the same time characterized by a bureaucratic structure, there is a lot of money at stake and, bureaucracy shows up because when the wrong decision is made it becomes a big issue. 

Q.: Tell us a little about your experience as a professional in the extractive sector. What challenge(s) have you encountered, hitherto, in your work environment?

Romke Kuyvenhoven: In my case, I’m a special case because I work in a Latin American mining culture originally from the Netherlands, I’m not only a woman but a foreigner from a country considered to be a first-world country, a country that many in Latin America look up to. I have always had the feeling in my personal case that if there would have been any disadvantage in being a woman it would be overcompensated by the fact that I come from a country that people really respect, I have not in the 15yrs in my career ever experienced any issues.

What is relevant is that it is easier to get the door open if you want to talk to a company or person because, for the right or wrong reason, they think it’s interesting to talk to a woman or someone from abroad. It is an easier way to come in, but it puts a lot of responsibility on your shoulder to live up to expectations and make sure the people understand they didn’t feel they made a mistake by agreeing to have a meeting with you. Cause at the end of the day what really matters is not how easy it is to have a meeting but what comes out of it.

I’ve had some nice experiences where I had a meeting with a prestigious old professional over 90yrs when I met him, he thought I was a secretary and I realized he thought that I was a secretary. He said you know so much about mining how come, and I said that’s because I’m a mining engineer. I thought it was a very sweet and nice generational gap that he just could not have imagined I was someone much more than an event organizer but a Mining Engineer. I don’t have too many bad experiences, I had one bad experience with an employer 2yrs ago, in hindsight there are employers you should never work for, and I guess I didn’t really do my homework, it doesn’t justify the fact that I wasn’t treated in a nice way. In general, it’s important to be strict and not just jump too fast into new opportunities. Despite the nasty experience, the overall balance is being a woman opened more doors than closed.

Despite some nasty experiences, the overall balance is that being a woman opened more doors than closed.

Q.: What we acknowledge and welcome in recent years, is an attempt of the mining industry to set up a direct and meaningful communication channel with the modern societies that are more aware of the sector's pros and cons. In this context, albeit at a gradual pace, women are entrusted with executive level jobs. What are your thoughts about inclusion and diversity in the mining environment?

Romke Kuyvenhoven: I’m critical with respect to this process, I do understand that a company should give a really good example at the same time the whole issue of why there are fewer women active in mining and also fewer at the executive level.

To some extent, it is the nature of women to have a variety of interests and they might have much more opportunities outside of mining whereas men are probably much more attracted to the type of work the mining industry offers. I think we will never get to a 50/50 distribution but what I do recognize is the importance to have equal opportunities and equal opportunities I think is, if there’s an opportunity a 100 engineers applying for a position and you need 2 engineers and 10 are female and 90 are male, then I would question myself to say if it is correct that we pick 1 female and 1 male because maybe the best woman in that group is not as good as the male engineers.

it is the nature of women to have a variety of interests and they might have much more opportunities outside of mining whereas men are probably much more attracted to the type of work the mining industry offers, a lot of women get hired and move companies, because as a woman in mining its easy to get hired but difficult to find a place were they are happy and that is exactly because of the same reason that they get hired because they are women and they feel good and great cause they get money but if you’re not hired because you’re the right person its difficult to fit in and be happy.

So I think the problem goes way beyond what the mining industry can do, I think you have to go back to university even further down to high school and make sure little girls are as excited as they can be about typical engineering fields and work up all they way from there.

I think it is a very noble attempt of the mining industry to get more women in more visible positions, it is also a little bit more naive because in practice I don’t think its really working out, yes I’m aware of companies with female CEOs or COOs I think there are a few big in the World that has a female CEO. 

Those women were the exceptions and were hired despite of the fact that they were female. So when we talk about many companies doing better because they have females involved, I think its important to be more cautious and apply simple statistics because in the earlier years if women made it up to the boardroom I agree it may be because they were 2 or 3 times better than any male colleague and that explains why a company with more females in the boardroom is more tasteful. It is not just of the mere fact that she’s a woman but because the woman took a tough road and is so good and so motivated that she’s literally survived that road because she was a talented woman. It’s good to create to opportunities for women, but it is not the same as having 50/50 women and men. 

In fact, once the women are hired they are treated as if they were hired because they are women not because they are good engineers which creates a lot of stress and tension in the workplace.

Q.: What are the «critical raw materials» for a woman in this sector to maintain the difficult but essential work-life balance?

Romke Kuyvenhoven: I think there are a few but networking and having friends, but having a plan a, b, c, and d is really important.

What I mean by having a network is reaching out to other females to figure out how others are managing that balance, it's also important to have friends who can step in if there’s trouble at work and at home at the same time. It is also important to have the confidence to be able to say at work: «I apologize I will not be around the next 2days, I need to address a situation at home and I will be back as soon as possible» but also be proactive to say «In my absence I propose this person will cover me and I’m confident it will work out fine».

So as a woman in mining never make yourself a woman who can’t be covered by someone else because that will only confirm what the company might be afraid of that if a woman needs to take some time off if it causes a lot of interruption it will make them think 10times before hiring another woman.

Friends and social activities are also important; it is amazing how many people in the world are facing exactly the same challenges. Most likely It is the same for males as well, they are having their own challenges, maybe wives at home, maybe they always have to defend themselves why they’re working so hard. So, the same advice 100% applies to males except we are talking to women in mining not males in mining, so I think that networking and having a work plan and being realistic and having clear priorities.

The other thing that gets attention but not as much as having allies in the organization, males can be very good allies and friends and I personally have a few male allies and friends who I greatly admire because of the way they understand the position of women in mining and how they support it, how they recognize how much a company can gain and grow by having women more women involved.

So, when I talk about networking a plan and friends, having a male colleague step up for you and basically make everything fine or support you if things get tough, it’s a very important thing. It’s something scary to an organization if women come together and defend each other and we can totally break that pattern and convert it into something constructive and credible if we include males as allies in this. 


Romke Kuyvenhoven graduated from Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands in 1996, with a Master’s degree in Mining and Petroleum Engineering. She moved to Chile in 1997 and has worked ever since in the geometallurgical development of base metal greenfield projects and actual operating sites.

About ten years into her professional career, she obtained a Double Master’s degree in business administration from Universidad de Chile/Tulane University (USA), and another ten years later she got a postgraduate diploma in geo-mining-metallurgy at the Universidad de Chile. More recently, she took up a part-time study in Ontological & Organizational Coaching to become a certified coach of the International Association of Coaching.

She set up her own consulting firm in late 2021 through which she provides geometallurgical services globally with a focus on cobalt recovery from copper ores and multiple-commodity deposits. She is also actively involved in the development of the Metcelerate young professionals training program, for which she oversees the development of the market in Latin America.

Romke is happily married and has three children. In her free time, she loves practicing sports, reading, travelling, and having quality time with friends and family.

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