#MeTooMining digs into sexual harassment, assault in mining industry

Susan Lomas had to start #MeTooMining after her own experiences in the mining industry. She hopes women in the industry will come forward and share their stories.

Social media campaign launched to support women in mining

'It takes the women to stand up and say ‘enough,'’ said Susan Lomas, who has worked as a geologist for 30 years. (Submitted by Susan Lomas )

Susan Lomas had to start #MeTooMining after her own experiences in the mining industry.

Lomas has spent the past 30 years as a geologist. Last month, she launched the social media campaign to bring awareness to the sexual harassment and sexual assault happening in the mining industry.

The goal is to "facilitate a conversation" about the violence, intimidation and discrimination some women experience on the job.   

She says her own first experience of sexual harassment was at her first job out of university, at a mine in Timmins, Ont. 

There, she says, men plastered her work area with pornographic pictures. After she removed them, twice, things escalated.

"The sampler came storming in, threatened to break my fingers if I ever touched those pictures again, threatened to put my hand through a rock crusher. It was very violent, very scary," Lomas said.

For examples of sexual harassment in mining in the North, Lomas points to two incidents in the N.W.T. last year.

A man was charged with voyeurism after a camera was found in a women's washroom at the Ekati diamond mine, northeast of Yellowknife.

A man was fired last year from N.W.T.'s Tundra mine, after allegedly going into women's dormitories and stealing underwear and other personal items. (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada)

Another man was fired from Tundra mine after allegedly going into women's dormitories and stealing personal items, including underwear. 

Lomas says she hopes more women will step forward to tell their own stories.

Lomas says she was working at a mining office in Vancouver where office staff had issues with the company's CEO.

"In particular, lifting up shirts to see what kind of bras the women were wearing and feeling he had the absolute right to do that," she said.

"That's part of our path forward — we want to come up with better policies against this type of behaviour, and have pathways for women to report," Lomas said.

She says the women in that Vancouver office didn't know their options and many ended up leaving the company.

Lomas uses a geology analogy to describe the degrees of sexual harassment.

"There's sand that falls down on you all the time with comments about your looks or whatever. Then there's the boulder that lands every now and then. You just sort of end up looking around after a while at all the sand around you," she said.

"You don't notice it as it falls, but suddenly you can't really move anymore and you realize how much, how long it's been there. But you try and keep pushing it aside so you can move forward with your career," she said.  

Lomas thinks the culture in the mining industry can change to make women stay.

She says there are "wonderful men in the mining industry."

"It takes the women to stand up and say 'enough'. It takes them to stand up and say 'enough, this is not appropriate' whether there are women present or not," said Lomas.

Eye roll moments

Mining was never presented as a career option for Anne Lewis when she was growing up in Whitehorse, even though her father, uncle, grandfather and great-grandfather were all involved in the mining industry.

Today, Lewis is the president and founder of Yukon Women in Mining. The organization's main goal is to get more women into the mining industry.

Anne Lewis, founder of Yukon Women in Mining, says her organization is producing a series of videos based on 'eye roll moments.' (Jane Sponagle CBC)
Lewis says she has not personally experienced sexual harassment in her 10 years in the industry, but she has been mistaken for staff working at an event instead of a mining professional. Yukon Women in Mining is producing a series of videos being released this spring based on "eye roll moments," says Lewis.

She describes them as "moments where you are really surprised something was said to you."

One example she cites is a when a woman is flying and talking to a seatmate about her kids being at home, and the seatmate asks, "what have you done with your children?" — as if she has abandoned them.

"I think men rarely get that question," she said.

"The more we can have honest conversations about 'Why are you asking me that question? Would you ask that of a man?', the more we can move past those things we're doing without really thinking about," said Lewis.

About the Author

Jane Sponagle

Jane Sponagle is a reporter for CBC North based in Whitehorse. Jane started her CBC career with The World This Hour in Toronto before heading to the North. After a few months in Yellowknife, Jane moved to Iqaluit where she spent six years reporting on politics, food security and housing. She has also reported with CBC in Halifax.