Bidding up change

Insider: Elena Mayer

Elena Mayer, Women Who Rock: “If you want to extend the pipeline you need to start attracting young women, and then retaining, and then training at the earliest stage”

Who Elena Mayer, president and CEO of Women Who Rock (WWR), a volunteer organization that facilitates mentoring and sponsorship opportunities to help women establish and advance careers in mining.

Involvement Mayer, a lawyer and MBA whose day job is senior manager, client relationship in PwC’s mining practice, is WWR’s founder. Led by Mayer and three other volunteer executives, WWR now has about 800 members. In January, it held its third annual Auction for Action, a flagship event in which top Canadian mining executives, such Rob McEwen, Aaron Regent and Jennifer Maki, were “auctioned” off as mentors to a select group of female mentees.

Listed How did Women Who Rock come about?

Elena Mayer I joined the industry in 2010, as a lawyer. Then I decided to get an MBA mining degree at the Schulich School of Business. One of the events that I went to in 2014 was an all-women panel talking about various roles available for women in mining. And I just had the idea of creating an organization for younger women. I’d found there was a disconnect between women who had been in mining for many years and younger women that wanted to create a network where they can discuss issues pertaining more to women that just entered the industry and, most importantly, women that didn’t have any background in mining before.

So it started with a couple of casual dinners, then it became 50 on a list, then it became 100, and then it became so big that I realized we actually needed to create an organization to host all these women. Four months later I created Women Who Rock and we had our inauguration event in May of 2014.

Listed So which women are you targeting exactly?

Elena Mayer Our mandate is women in later years of university in various disciplines such as geology and engineering, the traditional mining disciplines, but also those in marketing, law and business, because those women have a harder time finding their niche within the industry. And then also women who are in junior positions, five to seven years into their career, who want to climb the corporate ladder and sometimes feel very uncomfortable in a very male-dominated industry. Our target group is those women, helping them mainly create mentorship opportunities and now we’re also expanding into sponsorship opportunities.

Listed You’ve got many top industry people participating in your mentor auction. How does it work?

Elena Mayer We go straight for the leaders. This is the third year we are doing this. It is a sort of rocking-the-boat kind of event. It didn’t resonate with everybody at once, it was quite difficult to put the first one together, but now it actually creates lasting relationships. So while leaders are only obligated to give one hour of their time, the majority of mentors are actually creating new relationships that last way beyond this hour.

Listed How are mentees chosen? Can anyone be a bidder?

Elena Mayer We try to divide equally. We have an “I Wannabe Mentored” competition that started last year. We send an invitation to the majority of Ontario schools, and now also McGill, where they have to explain what leadership means to them, how would they innovate the industry, various questions pertaining to the industry. Then, let’s say if we have 14 mentors, we would pick seven students from that and we would find them champions who then would give them money to come and bid. And the other half of the mentees are junior women in the industry. A lot of times they’re sponsored by their companies.

Listed What specific challenges does mining have with regard to diversity and attracting new talent?

Elena Mayer There was a study done in 2016 that showed there are four main reasons why the younger generation doesn’t join the mining industry. First, there’s a bad perception of the industry at large, and as you know, millennials right now want to be a part of something bigger, better and they don’t want just salary. Then there is lack of awareness of career opportunities in mining, so when you think of mining you think of geology and engineering. But there’s banking, accounting, law, marketing, there are a lot of professions that mining needs and usually salaries are much higher, but students don’t know about it. Then, particularly for women, is that there are not enough women in leadership roles that provide role models for women to follow. And lastly, is lack of mentors.

Listed The overall focus on diversity has increased recently, but mostly for the senior ranks. You’ve come along at the same time. How do you see those things interacting?

Elena Mayer I think they kind of logically, naturally feed each other. New security regulations are aimed at companies adding more executive women or women to boards of directors, but when they look at the pipeline, they look at the same pool of women. So if you want to extend the pipeline you need to start attracting young women, and then retaining, and then training at the earliest stage. So that’s how we see ourselves, we see ourselves as an organization that feeds the pipeline. Then from that pipeline hopefully organizations can get a better pool of candidates.

Interview by Listed Staff

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