We are excited to continue Mining for Leaders, an interview series highlighting the diverse management team within Mining & Metallurgy (M&M)’s operations. We hope to inspire readers through examples of leadership, mentorship and personal experiences recounted in this interview with Robyn Valin, Director, Marketing and Proposals.
Q: Tell us a little about your education and your work experience and how that has shaped where you are in your career today.
A: I am a metallurgical engineer by training. When I was in university, my program included three coop terms, two of which I spent in steel plants. It was a very interesting experience to be working in a plant environment, and to be the only woman among 100 or so people.
When I graduated, I took a job with a nickel mining company, and worked for them at their Ontario and Manitoba operations for the first few years of my career.
And I have been with SNC-Lavalin for 11 years now, always within the M&M Business Development and Proposals groups. At the start, I also worked on a few small studies.
I first noticed the shifting demographic when I entered my second year of CÉGEP (Québec equivalent of Grade 13 / 1st year university). Only five or six out of the class of 30-35 students were female, especially when it came to advanced math and higher level physics. Women tended to go for biology and chemistry (health sciences), while very few of us chose to pursue further math and physics courses.
Then, I specialized in Metallurgy at McGill University, where the program had one of the higher percentages of women – around 30% as compared to other engineering disciplines. I was aware that I was entering a non-traditional field but I have never been one to conform to conventions. I was where I wanted to be,
Q: What was a great/defining career moment for you? A mentorship, stretch assignment, accomplishment or opportunity, for instance?
A: Joining Business Development and Proposals was a key moment for me: I had a real passion for the work I was doing, and I got promoted to the role of global lead for Mining & Metallurgy’s proposal centres in 2011.
This came with an increased level of responsibility, and acknowledgement of my skills and expertise, as well as an enhanced profile as a result of being exposed to more things.
Q: As a successful woman in a male-dominated industry, how have you strived for balance at different times in your career?
A: It’s not always easy!
I can’t say I’m always successful. You have to establish your own boundaries and decide what’s important to you. I have always put emphasis on family and my children. If I have to leave at the end of the day, I have to leave; but I pick it up later in the evening when my kids are in bed.
I manage expectations so that I can still be the mom I want to be. Thankfully, I have never gotten pushback on that; people respect that. And it helps that I have a supportive husband and boss. I deliver, but with more flexibility around when and how I get the work done.
Q: Who are your role models, male or female, and why?
A: I don’t have one in particular. Everybody’s got their own path and their own knowledge and skillset, and they manage to the best of their abilities. There are lessons that can be taken from everyone.
Q: Who are your allies who have helped shape your development, leadership style, etc.?
A: Again, I get great support from my boss, and he recognizes the importance of work-life balance. In terms of shaping my development, he pushes me outside of my comfort zone into things he knows I am capable of, that I haven’t necessarily raised my hand to do.
When I was given the global proposal lead role, that was a fantastic opportunity for me! But if I go back even further to the first coop job I had for a steel plant in Hamilton, in terms of leadership style, my supervisor placed a lot of importance on listening to the crew. He would do walkarounds everyday so that people could see him and communicate with him. It was important to the employees that someone was listening to them. And he wouldn’t just park the feedback he received on the shelf; he would hear what they were saying and make efforts to improve. I am a firm believer in that. I don’t believe in maintaining the status quo: when people are happier, you get better work product from them. There is always room for improvement.
Q: What piece of advice would you give to young women pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)?
A: Do it.
I would give the same advice to a woman as a man. If you want something, work for it and do it.
"Set a goal and do what it takes to attain that goal: advocate for yourself and go for it."
Set a goal and do what it takes to attain that goal: advocate for yourself and go for it.
I can say I have experienced some adversity throughout my career, but overall, I have had very supportive supervisors and colleagues who have treated me as an individual.
My experience at SNC-Lavalin has been very positive in that regard. I can’t complain that I have been held back or that I have had to prove myself extra…and not every woman can say that.