Barrick has many accomplished women working in all areas of its operations. In the sixth of seven interviews with some of these women, we feature Averne Flaharty-Escobar, Chief Metallurgist at the Goldstrike mine in Nevada.
Averne Flaharty-Escobar joined Barrick in 1993 as a chemist and has steadily progressed to leadership roles and responsibilities. She has worked on numerous improvements within the Goldstrike assay and metallurgical laboratories while increasing her technical knowledge of autoclave oxidation, roast oxidation and cyanide leaching. She played a lead role in the TCM project (total carbonaceous matter) at Goldstrike, supervising operations of the TCM demonstration plant and providing technical input for the engineering of the full scale plant.
Beyond Borders: Why did you choose a career in mining?
Averne Flaharty-Escobar: I did not necessarily choose a career in mining. I chose a career in chemistry which tended to be well suited to a lab or research type environment. It just happened to be that the lab in which I worked was on a mine site. Over time, the industry has become more diverse for career options, including in research and development, so I stayed.
Is there someone who served as a mentor to you and what was the most important thing that you learned from them?
I did not have a mentor per se, but I have had training and guidance from various people on how to lead people.
What has been the biggest challenge in your career?
One of the most challenging things I have done was to manage operators in the TCM demo plant. Many of the operators had not worked in a plant setting or done shift work. The challenge was getting them "operationally trained" while simultaneously making sure that the tests we were conducting were understood and implemented properly. In looking back, I can say that the experience developed my understanding and knowledge of plant operations and how important it is to have positive communication whenever possible.
How has the industry changed in its approach and attitude towards diversity since you entered the field?
When I started, the industry seemed to have women present in specific roles. Most women worked in human resources or as assay lab technicians. Over time, I have seen change. In particular, there has been a push to get more females, both at the high school and elementary school levels, interested in science and technology careers. This has created a growing female talent pool in these areas. There has also been a push to include minority groups in these fields, and this has also benefited women. As a result, I have seen more females in technical roles in mining historically held by men.
What can the industry do better to accommodate change and diversity in your area of endeavor?
One of the things that can be done better is to expand recruiting for various roles in mining throughout the higher educational system instead of confining it to mining programs
The mining industry has changed. Process facilities are more complex and require more technical expertise. The Goldstrike metallurgical lab, for example, used to consist of a few filter presses and columns. Today, it requires lab-scale processing units to mimic plant facilities. As we move towards making mining more green, expertise, both scientific and political, is needed to help create acceptable standards and ensure we adhere to those standards. I’ve just touched on a few changes, but they show that the industry requires more than just mining and engineering degrees.
Another area for improvement is recognizing that women have to take time off for child birth and maternity leave. What seems to happen too often in the industry is that women’s progressive mobility is hampered because they have taken time off to care for their children. Addressing this issue requires open discussion about career plans, flexible work schedules, and recognition that "time off" will not negatively impact career progression.
What are some things that have surprised you about being a woman in a male dominated field?
I am not one who necessarily pays attention to differences of people within the context of normal grouping of people by race, sex, creed, etc. I pay more attention to personality, skill set, and knowledge.
What advice would you give to women considering mining as a career?
Pick a career in which you are genuinely happy. A person who is happy doing what they love will have a good attitude and will always want to improve. If that career happens to be in mining, well, there is that added bonus of learning what 21st century mining looks like and having a conversation starter.