Last week, I had the chance to attend the Hard Hats and High Heels, an event hosted by Women Who Rock at the Art Gallery of Ontario. As an informal networking organization, the Canadian fashion industry and women in the mining industry came together for the night, looking to accomplish their goal of empowering women who work in the industry. I sat down with the founder of the organization, Elena Mayer, before the show for some insider information on the unique initiative.
Can you tell me about Women Who Rock?
Women Who Rock is a organization, which started last year, with the mission to attract and attain more women in the mining industry. I founded it while I was still a student at the Schulich School of Business. The reason why I did it is because I felt there was a bit of a disconnect between junior women and senior women in the industry. For one thing, women didn’t know about the opportunities they have in mining. Secondly, women already in the mining industry had trouble connecting with their colleagues. It all started by a few socials. When more and more women began to join these socials, I decided to start this organization to allow women to have a more formal umbrella. It quickly turned from a social setting to an empowering organization.
What inspired you to start this organization?
A number of mentors and trailblazers in the mining industry inspired me. It is quite male dominated. Only 11% of those in the industry are women. These women, in addition, are very disconnected from one another. I experienced this myself when I was 1 of 3 female students in the global mining management program. But my professors and other women in the industry were so inspiring and so passionate about it that I thought why not do something like that?
Why did you decide to go into the mining industry?
I actually have a legal background. I’m a lawyer. Because I speak Spanish, I was put on all Spanish speaking files and 90% of them were mining cases. But what really got me interested was the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) Convention 2011 when I had to go and promote my firm. That’s when I knew that this is what I wanted to do.
How do you suppose women can break the barrier of being the minority in such a male dominated industry?
I think, and this is both from research and statistics, that a lot of times, women lack confidence and suppress their opinions, especially when surrounded by males. There are some progressive companies that create programs. They have forums for women to share their idea and allow them to realize that their ideas are worth something. Women, have the tendency, even though their idea is valuable, to not share their ideas until they are a 100% sure. Women Who Rock hosts seminars with the basis of giving women confidence to speak up. What we strive to do is to create out of the box events, such as Hard Hats and High Heels, that will give women an opportunity to speak up and create a sense of self confidence. Learning all of this, for women especially, starts with the way we look and the way we dress.
How important do you think it is to dress well?
It’s not necessarily about fashion sense, it’s about being comfortable expressing yourself. For a very long time, women had to choose between being feminine and beautiful or being smart and intelligent. If you’re smart, we are taught to tone down our sense of fashion. So what we’re trying to do now is to show that the new generation of business women do not have to choose between one or the other. You can still be fashionable and feminine and love colours and be smart and intelligent to pursue a career just like men do.
What advice do you have for women in other industries?
I think we all have a common ground as women. We like to socialize, we like to talk, and we like fun events. Creating a sense of comradeship no matter what level and what type of a job you’re doing is very important as shown by our models today. Our models today are those who work in the mining industry. They’re ideologists, they’re engineers, they’re assistants. What they have in common is fashion. They want to dress the way they want but they also need to learn the right way to do so. We want to help the fashionistas succeed in a corporate world.
What are you most looking forward to tonight?
I’m looking forward to the panel discussion. Tonight is all about trial and error. We’re bringing two distinct industries together. Having two panelists from the mining industry and two panelists from the fashion industry allows us to be united by the same goal – promoting gender diversity. We want to give women the confidence to express their brain and their beauty. I’m hoping that we can show, through this event, that we’re not all that different.