WHO INSPIRES US INTERVIEW | Susan Lomas

Covergalls reached out to talk to someone who inspires us with the work they do: Susan Loma. Photos on this page are courtesy of Susan.

Susan Lomas, President and Principal Consultant of Lions Gate Geological Consulting Inc., and creator of the Me Too Mining Association, spoke with Covergalls about what she loves about her field, acknowledging the issues that exist within the mining industry, and her endeavours before and during the pandemic with the Me Too Mining Association. 

Please note that this interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Can you please introduce yourself? What is your occupation and preferred title? 

Susan Lomas: I am a geologist, I have been for the last 30 years. I started out working in the bush, in exploration (mostly in Ontario and Quebec) for the first 10 years. After that I transitioned to international work and began to travel for projects. I got into three dimensional modeling of gold deposits, base metal deposits, and estimating the contained metal. For the last 20 years or so, I've run my own company doing that kind of work and traveled to over 35 different countries. Hmm... That’s kind of the nutshell of it!

In terms of my title, I'm the president of my company. My husband and I ran it together, but he joined a mining company last year so it's just me now. So I guess my title is President and Principal Consultant.

What made you first interested to go into your field of work?

I was studying the sciences and it didn't come easy for me. I had to really work hard to do well in physics, chemistry, and math. I even failed a few times and I had to redo some courses. But, and I don't know why, I've never understood this within myself, I didn't give up. I never got great marks in high school but then I took an introduction to geology course and it suddenly made sense. Geology took all the sciences and melded everything together. I never wanted to pursue any one of them individually, and it was such an exciting course. It answered so many questions I had about the earth and the planets and I just found that fascinating.

What would you say you love and hate about your field?

Interesting. Let's start with what I love: it’s exciting, it’s dynamic. There's so many different ways to be a geologist now, in the field, in an office, and on computers. Mineral deposits are located everywhere in the world so my work offers great chances to travel; I’ve traveled to around 35 different countries and seen different geology in each. I’ve also seen the different ways that everybody lives on this planet. That's always fascinated me, and it’s an incredible benefit of being able to travel. It’s incredible to think about all the people that I never would have gotten a chance to meet if I had been in some other type of career. 

Some of the challenges are, of course, what led me to start the Me Too Mining Association. Within all those different work sites, all those different places that I traveled to, I saw inequality, particularly the mistreatment of women. Of course I’ve had my own share of experiences too, of harassment and threats and violence. When the #MeToo movement hit in 2017, it all coalesced into a recognition of this need: that we're not having this conversation in mining. We need to talk about what's happening at mine sites and exploration camps, in the towns around these places, and the negative impact that they're having. Everybody talks about economic impacts but this topic has, really, cost more people in a negative way I think.

The mining industry does have a notorious history of bad working cultures for women (that still exists in many ways today). What do you think is the biggest change that the industry needs to do, and should be doing, in the next five years?

First and foremost: it's the acknowledgment that we have a problem. It's a difficult acknowledgement, and a difficult discussion, but it's important.

A true and honest discussion about sexual harassment in mining is just actually starting to happen in Australia (What’s happening in Australia?). The inquiry started around those sexual assaults, which happened in fly-in, fly-out camps in BHP and other mining camps in Australia. It has led to larger mining companies standing up and saying, okay, we have a problem. That hasn't happened in Canada yet. It's still very quiet and nobody really wants to talk about it, but it is something that’s happening to women and men. So I think the biggest change we need is that acknowledgement, and the beginning of that discussion. Then real solutions. It will be interesting to see what comes out of the Australian inquiry - and I've been asked for opinions on that. I think there needs to be an external body set up, outside of the companies, where women and men can go and say that they've had a problem. Then there's a system in place where you can seek help, treatment, and emergency services. There's actions and consequences for these people.

 

To make these changes happen you really need to have good leadership in place. What do you personally think is the first thing that you would suggest a leader to implement in their first year working at a company?

The first thing is that a lot of companies don't have proper reporting pathways. People don't have an avenue to tell the company that there's a problem. It’s in this way that companies get to say we don't have a problem (even when there is one!). Companies need to establish a pathway, and a communication plan, so that people can start making these reports that they're having really negative or unsafe experiences in the workplace. The next step is then dealing with these reports effectively, and immediately, so that people feel safe and know that there are actions that are going to happen if they do report problems. That's a real wall that a lot of people face: People will look at the quiet, and the fact that nothing is happening or being done, when they hear about a situation and feel like it’s not worthwhile to even say anything. 

What does justice or accountability look like to you? 

It’s hard to say because it really depends on a case-by-case basis. Everybody's different. If something has happened to someone, what they want or need out of a reconciliation-type process, or consequences for the person behind the behaviour, will differ. Acknowledgement is important. The acknowledgement that something happened, instead of just burying it and nobody dealing with it, or that person getting talked to on the side and a tension remaining with no resolution. Really, you need to talk to the person involved and see what it is that they need or want.

Can you describe a time where you personally had to make a tough decision? 

I couldn't say... I suppose some of the toughest decisions that I've had to make for myself within this career have been sometimes dealing with inappropriate behaviours from co-workers. I can't say that I’ve always dealt with them “properly,” because I didn't have the knowledge or the training of what to do. 

I think a lot of women have probably had an encounter where it's like an instinct to just sort of shut down, because they don't want to make a big noise or feel like making an issue of it. I think that having someone to talk to or advise you is important.

Absolutely. It’s building that network and having those conversations. It goes back to the work we’re doing with our Me Too Association. What we do with our DIGGER and bystander intervention is say: “here is what you can do, here are some options,” and we spell them out as best we can. We give some phrases and say, stand in front of a mirror and yell them out at the mirror when you're alone. They really do come much more naturally when you need them when you practice like that, as opposed to shutting down and freezing. Those reactions of embarrassment and shame that we can take on show how much negativity we can build in ourselves when these things happen to us. It's not us that should have those feelings, right? It's the person that says that. So it reminds people to take away that shame and that embarrassment and because you shouldn't feel that, that's not on you.

In the past two years, since we've been living in a global pandemic, is there anything that you've noticed having changed? Either in the way that you run things with your company, or even with the Me Too Mining Association? 

In terms of me and my company, I work from home from my home office. I do still go to sites and do visits, however, to ensure everything is being done properly. What the pandemic has done is given me lots of conversations with people now going through the new experience of working from home, which I have done for the last 20 years. 

In terms of work with the Me Too Mining Association, it was really bad timing because we were just starting to get momentum. We had just started to have inquiries from mining companies about the course, our DIGGER program, and going out and teaching workers but everything shut down. Everybody's gotten really busy through this time. We ourselves have regrouped and we're rebuilding, doing a lot of conferences and online talks. We're getting into that new domain of it and going into the online world which people have adapted to so easily. We never would have been able to do it before the pandemic.

Is there anything that you are excited about for the future, in terms of either your work or personally?

I just see that there’s a slight dawn of the industry changing and acknowledging this need of worker safety in the industry. So, I'm excited for what's going to come out of the Australia inquiry. I think that the reports from that are going to be quite meaningful!

If you are interested in the Me Too Association's training, and DIGGER program, for your company, school, or association check out their website for more information. In addition to training they provide resources, strategies for what to do as a bystander, and more.