Interview with Maria Cristina, AngloGold Ashanti’s Senior HR Manager: “I try to do more inclusion by raising women’s educational levels in the area of influence where we have the operation”
Thank you for your time for this conversation Maria Cristina Piedrahita. As you know on March 8th, we celebrate International Women's Day, and Globe is dedicated to promoting awareness of the importance of our role in this industry that has always been very "male-oriented". Our idea is to convey the example of professionals in key roles and leadership and further promote women’s recognition in mining.
1 - Daniela Campos: As a Human Resources professional, a role that applies to different industries, how did you start working for the mining industry? Could you give us an overview of your trajectory?
Maria Cristina Piedrahita: I came from the service sector before I started working in the cement industry. Actually, I started in the industry because of the opportunity and the position they were offering me from my personal and professional development. When I started in the industry, I fell in love with the whole process of working with different people. During that same time, I started leading the women's leadership program. I led the creation of a program at Berkeley University in San Francisco, California. We did a very time-intensive program to develop Leadership Skills in women from the entire Argos Group, to believe in power; and there were different areas. There were two full-time sessions, for two weeks: one session took place back at the University and another that took place in Medellin. Ever since I have always been quite sensitive to the role of women in an industry where for the most part is led by men. In addition, I also accompanied the training of women, mostly single ones, who graduated as drivers of Mixer trucks. They are one of the most expensive trucks in the industry, and we did vast training with women. So, I think we are little by little gaining territory. It is not easy; it is not an industry that is very open to women for technical positions. But somehow as women acquire technical training, it opens up doors for them. Women are found mostly in administrative positions, and that is where the scale moves a little, because at both, AngloGold and Argos, the indicator is 65% men 35% women, more or less that is like the range of the population.
The other thing is, how has my experience been? I think I have based it on several things: One, is to be able to have the capacity to relate with both men and women and on a practical manner, of results, of construction. There are points where, in that program that I told you about, female leadership, it was a space in which I became very aware of certain behaviors that as women sometimes endorse, but more from culture and not from what they really involve; things like, for example, sometimes, in meeting women are more, when men are intervening, they start to intervene more on the comparison, we could say they are more interrupted. Sometimes, even when men and women speak both can make the same comment, judgment, solution, whatever, and sometimes the bias makes the men's comment prevail over women.
I think that slowly it has been changing, I think that sometimes organizations are still doing it more from a point of diversity than from a conviction that simply balances, and stability is necessary and relevant. I believe that we are just getting started along the way and especially in the production industries and issues that have historically been more male-shaped. I think that having that experience in that course, then, I no longer allow myself to be interrupted so much, I intervene more, I am more aware of my voice when I go to talk about things with men, in meetings, that kind of thing is what I've been doing.
2 - Daniela Campos: I think it has a lot to do with the next question I was going to ask you, what were your main challenges as a woman when you took your first leadership position?
Maria Cristina Piedrahita: The first challenges were, as I have mentioned, women’s way of thinking being listened to, that the results and the deliverables would be just as valued as those of men. And I think that, as that happened, they were valued and by far as achieving different results. From there, I earned a lot of rights to be able to lead a program like this leadership program that I'm mentioning, several things that at that time came up, but it was definitely gaining space. Besides, it happens to me too, I don't know if for better or worse. Nor do I qualify it; the issue of being a psychologist sometimes either intimidates people who believe in psychology or sometimes it's also like: “it’s not like your judgment is that of a psychologist "; then, I had to learn to base certain concepts, judgment and so on, in a discourse much more organizational and of indicators and everything, so I think it was that. It was more of a challenge from those above. At that time, I was the Director and it was more complex to deal with the Vice President, with whom I just told you have happened. He would interrupt me or did not value my comments as much and he valued the men of the team to whom I had always said that. So, it was like defining yourself, gaining that space and making much more blunt comments because in the lines of vice presidencies you already find people, in the vast majority of cases, who have been in this for many years. At that time, I was dealing with everyone who had been in the industry for many years, not only the older ones but everyone who had been in the industry for many years. So, it is complex, moreover, as this is such a technical industry, the weight of knowledge is sometimes very exclusive.
3 - Daniela Campos: How is the diversity and inclusion scenario currently in the industry? As the Senior Human Resources Manager, what is your main objective in adapting this scenario to the current culture of the AngloGold Ashanti?
Maria Cristina Piedrahita: I believe that there are several things going in its favour. Today, we have a corporate program in South Africa, and the main value is diversity and inclusion. There's a lot of work done on the inclusion of women from every side and I think things have been done. We are having greater bonding of women and, now, not as much on the technical level yet, but they are within the plans for development. Soon we will start training women on technical levels.
Two, I think it has a lot to do with presence. On the executive committee, there are already five people, two women, and three men, therefore the teams have started to achieve more balance and help. Sometimes, for example, Ana Maria and I get together to discuss certain topics and work together to learn more about the business in order to land the concepts a little more, so they are not so abstract.
The other thing I think is that it's changing: Sometimes I'm a little concerned about putting indicators on the percentage of the female population in an organization. That's good because it puts pressure on the organization for bonding, but it doesn't always end up being done out of conviction, that's the risk to me. We don't have an exact quota today, but there is an interest, an important intention to include women. That is why I try to do more inclusion by raising women’s educational levels, for example, in the area of influence where we are going to have the operation so that these women can start working; understanding that we also have a very complex social and religious contexts in our region. At the offices, we may have a greater female presence in some areas, but in the operation, you do not see it in such significant numbers. Because in the office it is easier to see it, but in the operation, where we are going to have the mine, there is a majority of religious people, which influences those numbers. It's a religious tourism destination. So, women who are, in fact, the majority in the village, having religion plus a sexist culture, they are instructed to raise children, to maintain the house, in the old school role altogether. Then we are designing a strategy of how to go gradually leading to having more presence in the mine sites but by conviction, without going to disrupt an entire social context, which you also have to take into consideration, because then we do an imbalance job, by just covering a few numbers and it can turn it into social chaos that is not convenient. What matters is how you do it.
Daniela Campos: I believe that, for the communities that are near the mining operations due to cultural issues, I think there is still a long way to go.
Maria Cristina Piedrahita: That’s true! And that's where I feel the biggest challenge is. One of the things I have started doing is that I have slowed it down a bit, as I want to make sure it is done properly. I would like for us to be certified in gender equity. It is a certification given in Colombia and requires a lot of steps to be followed: that the processes are inclusive, that you have the capacity to operate, manage and so on. Let's say that’s what we have to do in the first phase since I participated in that certification in Argos, and I know how the processes go and how they have to be written to start leveraging the process. Also, the diversity committee is recently starting to form we call it that so we can leverage the issue. Not only from gender equity, because the risk of gender equity is not just thinking that you solve it with women's bonding and that's it, but it's all around building the conditions, capabilities, and spaces for women's presence in the organization to make sense. One of the other advances we had was in the camp design, Hatch had the premise of 80-20: 80% men and 20% women, and we said NO, I'm going to design it as with the capacity of 50-50, that is, that I can go over time linking the number of women and that they have the adequate bathrooms for women, the right conditions for women; because if you design it from the beginning 80-20 that's going to be my indicator forever, that's not the point. But since I already have some conditions, these are helping me to reach a goal.
4 - Daniela Campos: And in your opinion Do you think the mining industry could still take a long time to achieve a level of equality between men and women?
Maria Cristina Piedrahita: I do believe that because in the offices you see one reality, but in communities, it is another one; and in communities, it's really where we have the biggest challenge.
5 - Daniela Campos: The last question, how do you encourage other women to work in the mining industry? And as a change agent, what would be your main action for that?
Maria Cristina Piedrahita: How do I encourage women to work in the mining industry? By telling them the great field of action that we have within this industry. From being able to balance conversations many times, in offering a point of view from a job as well as personally, from strengthening their beliefs and their concepts. From the personal point of view, I also have made the dialogue very open, that is, the great challenges there are and the contributions. Finally, women are also moved by a very maternal aspect, and the maternal aspect does not necessarily have to be children and families, especially thinking of these new generations. "Maternal" means to care, to protect, to anticipate, to analyze different variables, which is like the capacity that women have from a female condition. I think it's valuing yourself, learning to value yourself and not thinking that because you're in an industry where there are so many men, that what you would have to do is to think like a man and act like a man because, in the end, it's where the full sense of what diversity really is.
Daniela Campos: Excellent.
Maria Cristina Piedrahita: To the community, it is more from the possibility of being able to have a quality of life to them and their families, from learning, development, from building dreams; because, in the end, what brings together the different populations is very different. In a village the quality of life of their family can be poor because they are usually from larger families, dysfunctional families, with complex stories, with a young mother married with a lot of children and they, in turn, come back and repeat the same history over and over again. So, from there it's how they connect from being a woman, from being able to accomplish things alone, or from not having to depend on a man, they can fend for themselves.
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Globe 24-7 (Globe) has been conducting human resources consulting and search assignments for local and international mining, power and energy companies around the world for over a decade. Globe has offices in the major markets of the world to ensure consulting assignments and search campaigns are effectively managed at both site and corporate locations and has grown internationally to now service small, mid-tier and large-scale companies through its project recruitment, search, HR consulting and HR Systems divisions.