Mining for Leaders: meet Ljiljana Josic

February 11, 2019


We are excited to continue Mining for Leaders, a new interview series highlighting the diverse management team within Mining & Metallurgy’s operations, demonstrating how the sector walks the talk of Diversity & Inclusion. We hope to inspire all employees through examples of leadership, mentorship and personal experiences recounted in this interview with Ljiljana Josic, Manager, Mine and Waste Management.

Q: Tell us a little about your experience and how that has shaped where you are in your career today.

A: I am Serbian and have been in Canada for 22 years now. I have been with SNC-Lavalin for more than 12 years as Project Manager, technical lead and group manager. 

My engineering career began in a mining consulting company in Bosnia and continued with a smaller company in Croatia. At some point in my career, I was working as a teacher in a Technical High School in Croatia. I immigrated to Canada in 1996, and decided to continue my engineering education by obtaining a Masters of Engineering Science degree from the University of Western Ontario (UWO). In 2006, I joined SNC-Lavalin. 

Over the years, I have had the privilege of working with so many great people in the industry, around the world and on many different projects - more than 50 projects domestically and internationally in a variety of geologic settings, environmental and climatic conditions, including cold regions under permafrost, high rainfall and arid climates, active seismic regions, and tropical soil regions in Africa and South America.

Technical skills gained through education and experience have helped me to pursue my career – even to this day. I am always enthusiastic about new projects, tasks, technical problems and I always look for the most effective solution to any problem. These skills continue to help me be a strong leader in my field. It is inspiring to lead a team of people: I like to share my knowledge and experience with my colleagues; sharing all of these ideas gives us the opportunity to grow and to do a better job as a leader. But you have to have a certain amount of experience, a strong personality and self-confidence to take on a role as a leader.

Q: What was a great moment for you? An accomplishment or an award you won, for instance?

A: I’ve had a few career-defining moments but one of the most poignant was my first assignment in grad studies in Advanced Rock Mechanics. The professor called me after my submission and said, “You are extremely talented. Your marks and solution to the engineering problem are great, your technical approach and calculations are brilliant, but the way you wrote the report could use some improvement. Sit with me and I will explain how to write a technical report. ” 

I appreciated that opportunity to learn first-hand from one of the best professors in Geotechnical engineering in what was a very difficult course. 

It is crucial to be able to seek out guidance from mentors because they can have such an impact on one’s career trajectory, and our self-confidence. 

Q: As a successful woman in a male-dominated industry, how have you strived for balance at different times in your career?

A: Over the course of my career, I have chosen to ignore any external obstacles that have come across my path. I never view myself differently than those who surround me – that’s the way I always carry myself. I have never seen myself as a female engineer, but rather as an engineer. 

I believe in my skills, experience and education and that gives me confidence. Through my determination, dedication and perseverance it has lead me to where I am today

I took every opportunity that came my way, although I admit it’s difficult to break out in certain fields, but I never let that stand in my way. Yes, women do have to work harder, especially to prove themselves. A lot of the time, we are underestimated and not taken seriously, and due to this, we are not given challenging tasks or the same opportunities, especially in STEM fields. Things are improving, but we still have a lot of work to do to achieve gender equality. 

Q: Who are your role models, male or female, and why? 

A: I definitely admire the many female famous engineers and scientists that have contributed to history, but at the same time, there are so many male engineers that have impressed me with their achievements. While I was growing up, Nikola Tesla influenced me, as he was a Serbian-American born in small village in Croatia. As a child, I remember thinking, “Wow! He’s such a great inventor, representing a great continent, but from such a small village. So impressive!” He moved to America at the age of 28 and worked with Thomas Edison and was one of the best in the field of physics and engineering. I always remember one of his quotes that I heard at the time:

“The present is theirs; the future is mine.”  In other words, the sky is the limit. This notion has always guided me. 

Q: Who are your allies who have helped shape your development, leadership style, etc.?

A: My biggest support system is through my family: my husband, first of all, has always supported me. Without his help I wouldn’t be where I am now. I am a mother of two girls, the second of whom was born here in Canada. Raising kids, going to school, working in consulting – it wasn’t easy.

I was a very independent woman apart from that. I was always able to achieve what I wanted to due to my dedication to success. I was always hard-working and I believe in continuous education. Even after completing my Master’s degree, I took different courses to upgrade my knowledge; to learn something new. Outside of my engineering education, I completed a teaching certificate back home and a master’s certificate in project management here in Canada. 

I consider myself lucky, as I have had the opportunity to work with great people throughout my career; good colleagues with whom I could share my experience and ideas; even outside – peers in the industry – with whom I can gather and discuss. I also worked for great companies where I got the opportunity to work on big international assignments, be part of a great team, and work and learn from the experts in geotechnical/mining engineering. 

Q: What advice would you give to young women pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)?

A: Go for it!

For the younger generation, their career path should be based on what they are good at and what they are passionate about. There are so many aspects to engineering, and if you go into one particular area and you find it’s not right for you, you can always change field. It’s so broad. 

You have to be flexible.

Engineering is changing rapidly and has become such an amazing environment. You can always shape your career and be better in the future. 

I want young women to understand that they are smart enough and good enough to pursue engineering. It’s a rewarding career. Some female engineers would say it’s not easy, and it’s true: we have to work doubly hard to prove ourselves, but many of us have succeeded.

Being a Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) ambassador here at SNC-Lavalin, I have meetings with younger female engineers. It’s an open dialogue/conversation to encourage them to look for opportunities – they are all around.

"I tell them to ask their managers for technical assignments; to take on challenges; and if they should need help/support, to ask for it and not be ashamed. Only persistence and hard work will bring you where you want to be." 

Speak up – you have to ask for what you want! 

I also encourage them to do volunteer work. Building a career is a bit like the chicken and the egg metaphor: to get a job, you need experience; to get experience, you need a job. By volunteering for a couple of months here and there, you can get recommendations. You have to know exactly what you want.

I see things improving for women in the mining industry. The more we promote it as an exciting career option, the more we will attract female leaders and will have a role in changing our representation in the industry for the better.

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