A client’s geology superintendent once told Christine Mae Coquilla something bold. He said it feels good to have a woman’s perspective in the mining industry because women think differently than men. Fortunately, that once-unthought-of opinion is becoming more prevalent as more women join the industry.
As a Major Drilling Safety Officer, Coquilla is part of the next generation of women in mining who is changing minds and making an impact through her own contributions. A big part of being a safety officer is to train and enforce safety measures across the workforce. For Major Drilling teams at Tribune Resource Ltd.’s high-grade gold Prometheus Project at Monkayo, Davao de Oro, Philippines, safety training and enforcement is a responsibility that belongs to Coquilla.
It began in late 2020 when she received a call to be a relief safety officer for Major Drilling Philippines and soon developed into her current, full-time role.
“It was an unexpected blessing and surely an opportunity I do not regret grabbing,” she said.
Christine Mae Coquilla stands near Major Drilling’s Smart 8 underground exploration core drill at the Tribune Resources Ltd. Prometheus Project.
Joining the Major Drilling Family
Though just 24 years old, Coquilla qualified for her Major Drilling duties through her previous work as a junior mining engineer at a nickel mine and through her degree in mining and mineral engineering from Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.
Still, she was sometimes intimidated by the age and gender gap she has with fellow employees, including the expert drillers on Major Drilling teams.
She explains, “At first I thought, ‘How can a 24-year-old woman manage and impose safety rules to people with more experience in the field? Will they listen to what I say, or will they shrug me off?’”
Vilma Dalangpan, Project Administrator / HR at PACOMINCO Site for Major Drilling, got to know Coquilla and knew she had what it takes to succeed after seeing how easy it is to reach out and talk to her.
“She was shy at first, but eventually she had adjusted to us,” Dalangpan said. “Everyone, especially our underground crew, feels free to open up their concerns to her. She also learns fast and acts fast regarding issues addressed to her.”
Eventually, Coquilla conquered her fears.
“I realized that gender and age do not actually matter,” she said. “People will listen and respect you if you would do the same with them. I have high regard and respect for my workmates, especially for our drillers and drill assistants.”
What she loves best about her job is interacting with the crew so they can effectively follow safety measures. The weekly “Toolbox” safety meeting is her opportunity to directly talk to them about their tasks and check whether they understand and remember critical safe working procedures. During the meetings, she leads exercises and stretching to promote overall well-being. She also encourages teams to do simple stretches during break time underground.
Safety programs she champions include the TAKE 5 risk assessment, the 10 Lifesaving Rules and Critical Risks Management. She says training others to work safely is a pleasure because it is more of a sharing of knowledge and a continual review, rather than simple enforcement.
Major Drilling Project Supervisor, Joel Ronquillo, notices the difference Coquilla makes on the team.
“She is dedicated to her work and shows willingness to learn especially about our operations and activities underground,” he said. “She is also willing to help and share her knowledge with us.”
Christine Mae Coquilla conducts regular safety “Toolbox” meetings to ensure safety protocols are in place and followed by Major Drilling teams at the Prometheus Project.
Each day, Coquilla spends half of her time in the field to conduct site safety inspections with the supervisor and then returns to the office for paperwork. On site, she usually talks with the underground crew to address their concerns to make any needed corrections.
“Christine’s biggest contribution to our project is her commitment to keeping our crew safe, and at the same time, promote their well-being,” Ryan Balasabas, Major Drilling Philippines Safety Manager, said. “She encourages them to stay healthy and fit for their task because our crew’s health is also a part of their safety in the workplace.”
Although gender equality moves at a very slow pace in the mining industry, there has been an improvement, although not vast, in the number of women working in the field, such as geologists, mining engineers and safety officers.
Balasabas says Coquilla, like many other women in the mining industry, is realistic, yet optimistic when considering how women today have more opportunities than ever to work in the sector. Like the geology superintendent who once told Coquilla it’s good to have a woman’s perspective, Balasabas also feels the presence of more women in the mining and drilling sector allows a more diverse workforce that can offer different business insights that lead to company successes.
This is good news for Coquilla.
“I enjoy my job since I don’t actually feel like I am doing work, it almost feels like a family here,” she said. “I am also thankful that as someone younger than them, they also share their knowledge with me. I am thankful for their continual guidance and support, like a real family.”
She sees the payoffs of her efforts whenever the crew understands discussions during Toolbox meetings and can apply the discussed safety protocols on site. She feels the trust they have in her as their safety officer—a role to which she is deeply committed.
Encouraging More Women in Mining
For women who aspire to be in the mining industry, Coquilla wants them to stay positive and not be discouraged into thinking that the industry is only for men.
To her, working in the field proves that women are capable of doing the things the society used to regard as a “man’s job.” She strongly feels women can exist and succeed in mining and drilling.
“We are all human after all, so given the chance and opportunity, we can learn to perform tasks and develop skills needed in mining, regardless of the gender.”
“I am lucky enough to live in an era where companies in mining are slowly accepting and integrating women in their workforce.”
Still, it will take time to see progress on gender equality in the workplace.
Christine Mae Coquilla poses for a portrait in the underground area of the Prometheus Project.
Coquilla also sees her work as an opportunity to advocate awareness about responsible mining. The mining industry has responsibilities toward the environment. So, she says she is thankful to join a company committed to protecting the environment, evident in Major Drilling’s policy on environmental, social and governance issues.
As she works as a woman in the mining industry with her unique viewpoint, Coquilla is excited about the challenge to enhance gender diversity in an organization she cares about.
“I am really blessed to have an entire crew that feels like a family.”
Major Drilling Women in Mining Advancing the Industry
Thank you for reading about Major Drilling Women in Mining. Enjoy stories of these outstanding women who are advancing the mining industry:
- Christine Mae Coquilla, Safety Officer, Major Drilling Philippines
- Shima Jagernath, Human Resources Manager, Major Drilling Suriname
Discover more stories in our archive of Major Drilling Women in Mining.
- Kala Cassinelli, Core Driller Assistant, Major Drilling America
- Laura Lee, Percussive HSEC Coordinator, Major Drilling Canada
- Bhing Maglantay, Regional Controller, Major Drilling Asia
- Rosario Sifuentes, Percussive Operations Coordinator, Major Drilling Mexico
- Simone Félix dos Santos, Major Drilling Brazil Underground Supervisor, Major Drilling Brazil