Susan Lomas has worked in the mining industry for over 30 years and has experienced sexual harassment first-hand. Inspired by the #MeToo movement that started in Hollywood, she decided to found the Me Too Mining Association to start a conversation about sexual violence, intimidation and discrimination experienced in the mining and metals sector. Heidi Vella got in touch with Lomas to find out more.
‘We come in peace, but we mean business’ is the strapline for the Me Too Mining Association website launched in January.
Earlier the same month, singer and actress Janelle Monáe Robinson spoke the same words at the Grammy Awards in support of the #MeToo movement that emerged from Hollywood as a mark of solidarity with the alleged victims of sexual predator Harvey Weinstein.
From the glamour of awards season in Los Angles, to the around 80% male-dominated mine sites scattered across the globe, the two settings might be polar opposites, but the stories are familiar and the message is the same: end sexual harassment in our industry. Now.
“I have seen it, experienced it and heard many more horrible and serious stories than what has ever happened to me,” says Canadian geologist, Susan Lomas.
Lomas started working as a geologist at Canadian mine sites straight out of university. It didn’t take long before she experienced abuse for the first time. Her male colleagues plastered her work area with pornographic pictures, which she removed, twice. In response, the site sampler threatened to put her hand through a rock crusher.
“When I first started in the industry in the late 80s, there was this attitude of ‘you are in my space’,” she says, “I just had to try and find a place I could operate within it and keep moving forward.”
Lomas tells another story of a CEO at a mining company who used to lift up woman’s shirts to see what bras they were wearing. He was never held accountable and women eventually left the office, one by one.
“Working in remote sites it [sexual harassment] is almost more expected, but in the office, there is often this perception that it is going to be less intrusive, but sometimes CEOs of mining companies are very aggressive men,” she explains, “The industry has that cult of personality, they have all these people fawning all over them and this can breed a culture of impunity.”
Women on the record
There have been very few studies done to quantify the scale of abuse women face in the mining industry. However, along with Lomas, other women’s stories are being put on the record, some that are utterly horrific.
Last year, Kari Lentowicz spoke to local media about the sexist comments, gender bias and insular “boys’ club” she experienced as an employee at Cameco Corp.’s flagship uranium mine site, Cigar Lake, in northern Saskatchewan, Canada. The culture eventually forced her to quit her job.
In a New York Times article published last year, another woman describes working at a mine in the US where she endured sexist remarks, cellphones with pornographic pictures being passed around and her drill and walkie talkie being tampered with, threatening her safety. She also left her job.
In a LinkedIn article, ‘Anne B’ describes her experience, also in Canada, of inappropriate sexualised talk, being singled out and feeling unsafe heading to the showers, that resulted in her feeling ‘disgust’ for the industry. She also decided to quit.
Another woman, Julie Kramer, claims on Twitter that she was fired at the beginning of the year from Hudbay Minerals’ Manitoba operation after reporting sexual harassment experienced at work.
In July 2017, a camera was found in the washroom of Yellowknife RCMP Ekati Diamond Mine in Canada and in Australia the documentary Hotel Coolgardie, shot in 2012, gives an insight into the raging machismo that fuels sexual harassment of women in a remote mining town.
One of the most shocking stories, however, is that of miner Binky Mosiane in South Africa. The young mother was raped and murdered underground at Anglo Platinum’s Khomanani mine in 2012. It took two years to convict her killer.