Badamragchaa (Baadma) Rentsenkhand
Women in mining are important. For the past three years, Major Drilling has made a tradition of highlighting female employees who are blazing new trails in the drilling/mining industry. Chronicling their stories is part of a larger narrative about the value of including women in mining, from the field to the boardroom.
Major Drilling recently achieved gender parity on its board of directors, and for the first time, a woman sits as board chair. Kim Keating, a successful leader in the engineering profession, with strong operational experience, assumed her board chair role in June 2022.
Also new is Major Drilling’s partnership with Women in Mining Canada. The organization strives to educate, elevate and empower women in the Canadian mining industry. To achieve long-term success, Major Drilling requires talented, diverse and inclusive teams that reflect the makeup of the communities where the company operates around the globe, supported by a thoughtfully crafted Human Rights and Diversity Policy. Major Drilling became a bronze-level sponsor in 2023 and celebrated this new relationship and all women in mining at a reception during the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada 2023 Convention in Toronto.
Kim Keating, Board Chair, Major Drilling Board of Directors
“We’re standing at the crossroads of an exciting time as we see women in mining advance toward a better future in our industry,” Ben Graham, VP HR & Safety, said. “Our workforce is showing signs of transformation as more women bring their skills and experience to drilling positions. Women bring tremendous value to our company and are inspiring others to enter the challenging and fulfilling mining industry.”
As the world marks International Women’s Day on March 8, 2023, we are proud to share five more stories of outstanding Major Drilling Women in Mining.
- Safety First – Laura Dalila González Escobedo, HSEQ Advisor, Mexico
- Up and Coming – Sage Whitworth, Trainee Driller, McKay Drilling, Australia
- Rising Star – Badamragchaa (Baadma) Rentsenkhand, Driller Assistant, Mongolia
- Finding Her Balance – Munkjhin Enkhmend, Driller Assistant, Mongolia
- Giving and Getting 100% – Mélissa Lessard, Driller Assistant, Canada
Safety First – Laura Dalila González Escobedo, HSEQ Advisor, Mexico
Laura Escobedo conducts field safety training for drillers in Mexico. Her presence as a woman in the field is changing minds as she works to help drilling teams use safety as their guide on every task.
“How strange.” That’s the phrase Laura Escobedo remembers hearing at her first project after joining the Major Drilling Mexico team. People from the small town near the drill site were surprised to see a woman among the drillers. Though Major Drilling was established in the area for some time, they had never seen a woman working with the field crews.
That’s all right with Escobedo. In many ways, changing minds is in her job description. As HSEQ Advisor, she visits projects and trains the Major Drilling team members to think differently about safety.
Originally from the city of Zacatecas, she is fully qualified with a degree in environmental sciences. When she finished her studies, she took the opportunity to work in exploration and learn about the drilling process. Good pay and the extraordinary process of drilling led her to change her field and work in drilling long term.
She understands the significance of working as a woman in mining. “To develop professionally and personally in this environment, it implies a greater challenge, but the satisfaction is greater, too,” she said.
Historically, the presence of women in mining has been unusual in Mexico. There was even a commonly held belief that if a woman entered a mine, the mine would “salt” or become unproductive. This type of gender exclusion is similar to archaic superstitions in other parts of the globe such as in Cornwall, England, where it was once said that red-haired women were omens of tragedy if they descended into the mines.
Fortunately, today women like Escobedo are overcoming taboos and prejudices as it is increasingly common to find women in the industry. They are bringing positive cultural changes and improving performance as they engage as part of mining/drilling teams.
“With regard to drilling and especially at Major Drilling here in Mexico, the inclusion of women in operations is just starting to take place, which is why it is satisfying to be one of the first women here,” she said.
As she goes about her field visits to drill platforms, greeting workers during shift changes and conducting training on safety topics, like wearing personal protective equipment properly, she is proud. She knows what she does to promote change in habits can save a life.
“I know it’s possible to change someone’s way of thinking for the better,” she said. “I’m most proud of my skill to ignite a conviction about safety in others.”
Up and Coming – Sage Whitworth, Trainee Driller, McKay Drilling, Australia
Sage Whitworth of Perth, Western Australia, is up for anything. She has flown in and out of job sites. She’s spent cold, wet days drilling head-to-toe in mud. She knows what operating and maintaining rigs for 12 hours in searing 45-plus degree (113 F) heat feels is like.
And she loves it.
She was voted by her colleagues as McKay Drilling’s RC Offsider of the Year. She joined the company shortly before Major Drilling purchased Perth-based McKay Drilling in 2021. McKay provides high-end specialized drilling services throughout Australia with 20 rigs and 230 employees.
“I was absolutely stoked to have achieved this,” Whitworth said. “It is by far probably one of the things in my life I am most proud of.”
Now two years in as an experienced offsider, and currently a trainee RC driller, she knows a great deal about drilling, namely about the environment, geology, mining, safety, trucks, engines and mechanics. Yet, she feels she has hardly scratched the surface. “I’m still learning new things on a daily basis. The most enjoyable part of my job is that there is a plethora of things to learn,” she said.
Whitworth is one of 12 women who work as driller assistants with the McKay Drilling team. She knows she is treading fairly new ground. “A lot of these jobs that are predominantly men are like that for a reason. They’re not easy jobs. They’re very physical and dirty jobs. But it doesn’t mean a woman can’t do it, it just means it’s going to be challenging,” she explained.
She chalks up her success to determination. “I came into this industry with no mechanical knowledge at all. I hardly even knew how to check the oil level in a car, and I couldn’t even drive a manual without stalling it. But I kept trying and I didn’t give up. And trust me, there were many times I was ready to!”
She also found a welcoming environment at McKay Drilling, which made all the difference. “Despite the fact I am quite often the only woman on the crew, everyone at McKay was great from the first day,” she said.
Encouragement was there when she tried new things. Help was there when she asked for it. “I never felt like there was something I couldn’t do just because I was a woman,” she said. “Yeah, some things were harder like lifting certain heavy objects. But the guys taught me that it was more about technique than strength. Of course strength helped, but it was good to know that it was possible for me to do everything they were doing.”
Physical strength was no match for the strength of character that formed one miserable, wet day in the field. Whitworth began drilling and all was going well until the crew hit “some of the worst ground I’ve ever seen.” Messy, uncontrollable amounts of mud blocked the drill. Freezing temperatures and non-stop splattering mud wore down her resolve as a mechanical breakdown prevented the crew from continuing on with drilling that day. Back at the project’s caravan camp, there wasn’t a drop of hot water in the showers when all she wanted to do was wash away the troublesome day.
Sage Whitworth assists at the drill during a difficult, muddy day in the field.
Still, when she looks at the photo of her drilling that day she now describes as “my worst day offsiding ever,” she keeps it all in perspective. “If I could get through that and not quit, then I can do anything.”
Ready and determined, Sage Whitworth is definitely up and coming at McKay Drilling.
Sage Whitworth, left, poses with her Australian drill team members at a project site in Western Australia.
Baadma Rentsenkhand (center) joins the drilling team underground at the Oyu Tolgoi Copper project.
Rising Star – Badamragchaa (Baadma) Rentsenkhand, Driller Assistant, Mongolia
Athletic, friendly, loves to travel. Baadma Rentsenkhand has what it takes to be a great driller.
“On my very first day on the surface, I saw huge and massive rig P19 (UDR 5000) where I spent one month interning,” she said. “I was amazed by its complexity and power of the rig and saw the core also on that for the first time. It was an eye-opening experience for me. I still can’t forget that day.”
Initially, choosing a career in drilling wasn’t on her mind. It was only through one of her mother’s acquaintances that she learned Major Drilling was encouraging women to apply for assistant driller positions. After successfully completing the application process and finishing her original plan to earn university degree in athletics in 2021, she was hired.
Rentsenkhand’s home is 350 km (217 miles) west of Ulaanbaatar, so she takes a bus to the city and flies 600 more kilometers to the Oyu Tolgoi mine site in the South Gobi desert.
Her duties are to support the driller, ensure the core is clean and well presented in the core box and other general drill rig support. She receives ongoing, rigorous training in safety and rescue equipment. Though the work is hot and dusty underground, she loves the community spirit at the mine and likes the people there. Her colleagues are understanding, friendly and supportive. She likes that on her shift her team includes many young people her age. They are not only colleagues, but also close friends.
“Baadma is one of our upcoming stars who has set a goal to become a driller,” Ulzii Chuluun, Major Drilling HR & HSEC Manager, said. “Not long ago, there was a time when there were no female drillers or drill assistants in Mongolia, but Major Drilling chose to change that,” he said.
Rentsenkhand is on a career-level path through Major Drilling’s driller assistant program. She can visualize herself achieving all three assistant levels and eventually become a full-fledged driller. She admires female colleagues like Nandinchimeg Munkhsaikhan, currently at Trainee Driller level. Seeing evidence of how women can progress in a previously uncharted profession is very powerful.
At the Oyu Tolgoi copper project in Mongolia, Baadma Rentsenkhand removes a drill rod head assembly before emptying a core tube.
The industry is fortunate to have her as a rising star. “It offers more career prospects to develop myself,” she said. Salary plays an important part in her career choice as good-paying mining jobs bring a lot of opportunity. “Being financially independent also helps me to grow, to invest in myself and support my family.”
Her big-picture perspective is a big reason why she sees the value of mining. “Mining and drilling play a vital role in the economic development of Mongolia, so working and being involved in this makes me feel that I do an important job.”
Being part of something bigger is a theme that resonates deeply with her. She is proud to be part of an organization that supports the local community. “Our underground drilling team won the new year party greeting performance and was awarded 5 million tugriks to donate for the good cause,” she shared.
Mine staff recently organized a fundraising event for Mongolian basketball players to auction their jerseys to raise money for an 8-year-old girl who is diagnosed with bone cancer. “We participated in the auction and donated the sum as a good deed as part of company’s social responsibility.”
To Rentsenkhand, working as a woman in mining means many things, but what matters most is feeling supported, informed and well-trained. Since working for Major Drilling, two other young women recently joined the team, and they are continuously progressing. “I am very proud to be part of Major Drilling because in Mongolia and in this industry, there are not many women working in this field,” she said. “I want to see more women in drilling.”
Finding Her Balance – Munkjhin Enkhmend, Driller Assistant, Mongolia
Munkjhin Enkhmend assists on an LM 90 underground drill, marking core orientation.
What makes a good driller? For Munkjhin Enkhmend, the past year working as a driller assistant has shown her that a good driller ensures smooth progress. It’s someone who can juggle high concentration, multitasking, agility and quick-thinking skills. This is who she wants to be. “I see myself to becoming a driller who has good sense in drilling which comes with experience,” she said.
For Enkhmend, her journey toward racking up drilling experience started as the only female in her class at the Mongolian University of Science and Technology where she received her Drilling Engineer degree. Then, through the University, she started her journey on a pathway designed to help more women like her enter the field.
A professor shared a job vacancy announcement about Major Drilling Mongolia. Even though she doubted herself at first, she is very glad she applied.
Now in the field, she loves the intonation of the drill and has the driller’s intuition about the sounds of the machine. She notices how men and women work well together at her job deep underground at the Oyu Tolgoi copper project. She also observes some distinct differences. “I’ve noticed that we as women tend to be very careful with drilling equipment and tend to be more focused,” she said.
Her current job is like many others in the Mongolian mining industry. Enkhmend takes the one-hour plane ride from the capitol to Oyu Tolgoi. She then catches the bus to her shift from on-site living quarters. After changing into personal protective equipment and reviewing safety information at each prestart meeting, she descends 1,300 meters to the underground drill site. The cadence is simple—mix mud, drill, box the core, repeat. After shift reports, she’s done with her work day (or night).
Enkhmend is also a parent who strives to balance the needs of home and family with work. Before entering the drilling field, she first secured care for her two children, a son, 9, and a daughter, 4. For a year, she has worked as a driller assistant and sees a career wide open with opportunity. She and her husband, who is also in the mining industry, happen to work on the same 14 days on, 14 days off roster, so she is pleased they can spend their breaks together.
The sacrifice of finding the balance was easier with a friendly Major Drilling team who set the tone at her very first shift. “Our crew welcomed me with open arms,” she said. “They assisted me with every single step. I was a bit nervous heading 1,300 meters underground, but my fear disappeared quickly. My first impression was wonderful.”
Munkjhin Enkhmend (left) assembles the core inner tube in preparation for another run.
Being a woman in mining in Mongolia is still unique. Fortunately, the education programs that help women enter a career pipeline in the industry are working. In 2021, Major Drilling was recognized by the South Gobi Province Governor’s Office as a “Best Employer of Umnugovi aimag.”
Enkhmend feels women can hold their own just as much as any man in the industry. Having women in the team environment provides a great balance. She looks forward to a prolonged career in the industry, building her skills and advancing.
“A good driller takes good care of the crew, creates good atmosphere within the crew and encourages cooperation among buddies. I will work hard to become a good driller,” she pledged.
Giving and Getting 100% – Mélissa Lessard, Driller Assistant, Canada
Spend just a short time in the mining industry and you’ll soon realize that drilling isn’t just hard work, it also requires a taste for adventure. For Mélissa Lessard, Driller Assistant, the adventure of fly jobs and taking in the beautiful scenery surrounding Canada’s far-flung mines and drill sites is a great payoff for her toils.
Lessard has drilled in Quebec and underground in Nunavik, with no two workdays ever being the same. Whether she’s drilling 300-meter holes or 1,400-meter holes each job offers a very different but very rewarding experience.
She is originally from the south shore of Montreal, Quebec, with drilling sites being a big change from her home turf. She started working for Major Drilling January 2019 thanks in part to friend who told her about the mining sector and encouraged her to join the company. “I figured I had nothing to lose by giving it a shot!”
A typical day assisting at the drill finds her making sure the pump shack is well fueled, properly set up and working well. She strives to stay two or three steps ahead of her driller by preparing her tools, ensuring the site is clean and safe, marking the right depths, putting rocks in the box and cleaning the equipment.
Mélissa Lessard, Driller Assistant, Major Drilling Canada.
She loves the adventure drilling brings, especially when she sees magnificent landscapes with wildlife like bears, magpies and foxes. It’s also a big plus that the job also keeps her in good physical shape and challenges her to be resourceful.
While being a woman in mining is no longer unheard of in Canada, Lessard knows it is a difficult industry for both men and women. When she joined her first project, she was encouraged by the men on site who told her she is capable, good, and they are there for her if something is needed.
“It made me feel good,” she said. “I find that drilling or any other profession in the mining field is a world apart. It’s special, where everyone sticks together, we feel a sense of belonging and pride, and I love being part of it.”
It’s her mindset that she can give 100% to her tasks and get 100% back. “It’s helped me to completely overcome each challenge and to carry out each contract until the end,” she said.
One very challenging day at the drill Lessard found herself working hard to keep up with a very fast driller. She determined to adapt, gain speed and strength and give it her 100% effort. She said, “As a woman, having a place there at the drill and seeing that we are just as capable [as men] is very rewarding. It makes me want to better myself even more every day.”
She wants to continue and become a driller with Major Drilling because the company puts priorities in the right place. “I like the Safety-First side because I find that no other workplace attaches such great importance to health and safety as mining,” she attests. “I like the mutual help that we can have too. I fell in love with this job, actually!”
Mélissa Lessard (left) enjoys camaraderie with her peers. It’s an important component of her drilling experience, helping her feel like she is part of the Major Drilling family.
Lessard believes women have good qualities that create a good balance and a good team with men in the industry. “For every individual who starts a career in drilling, there is learning and development.”
She knows while there are differences between men and woman at the drill site, “I also believe that the perseverance and determination of women brings team spirit and continuous improvement.”
It’s her hope that the more women there are in this sector, the more it will become normal to have women in mining. This will result in more companies being open to hiring women.
Lessard’s advice to women who are considering drilling as a career? “You just have to believe in yourself and have the will to go for it!”
Women in mining are an important part of Major Drilling’s success. Telling their stories is an impactful way to encourage, grow and improve the industry for all.
See Major Drilling Women in Mining profiles from past years:
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