CFO, iron ore Brazil
Ana Sanches is CFO for the Brazilian iron ore business of Anglo American, a multinational mining company with a diverse metals portfolio. Sanches overcame the challenge of an unexpected nine-month halt in production at the Minas-Rio mine in 2018, and has since witnessed and contributed to the ramp-up of the Brazilian operation, which produced about 23 million mt of high grade iron ore in 2019.
What made you join the mining industry? Why do you stay?
I joined the mining sector by chance. But I must comment why I do stay, and why I'm glad to be here. I believe in the role of the mining industry and I see it as an extremely important sector for the economy and with many career opportunities. Every day we need to be aware of the impact of our activities on people, on the community and on the environment, which prompts us to do even better, with a vision of sustainability. I created a passion for working in this sector in light of these different fronts and opportunities.
Moreover, it is definitely a sector with an opportunity for increasing diversity. The low representation of women in the sector evokes two feelings in me: A feeling of why this remains, where are the answers and potential solutions, so we need to act on it. And a feeling of "we need to do more”, because it is not only about representing women, but about expanding representation of different groups.
What has been your most challenging or most meaningful moment in mining?
This moment was on March 12, 2018, when our 500km slurry pipe – used to carry ore from the Minas-Rio mine to the port – suffered leakages and forced the company to suspend production for nine months. It was something completely unexpected, and we had to find immediate responses for various stakeholders, the community and the government. It was very challenging, as we had no source of revenue, but several cash outflow demands. It was a year that we accumulated a huge loss. At the same time, it was a great learning experience, because the actions adopted by Anglo American throughout this period was very consistent with its values. Moreover, this situation tested our leadership, how each leader acted in the face of this serious and complex problem. And we came out of it very strong and united.
Was it difficult to be a woman, in your position, at this difficult time for the company?
No, I do not think it was difficult, because I was already well established in this position. I feel that in this tough moment it was clear that we needed more people bringing different visions and approaches to the table. Therefore, I saw the appreciation of different thinking that diversity fostered
What is your company doing to cultivate talented women and help them advance their careers?
Anglo American is conducting an intentional search for women in our recruiting process, which means we must interview women for all levels of positions and divisions. It is a joint effort among women's initiatives and the company, acting to reduce the gender gap and to offset a historic period of disadvantage to women in the workplace.
We are also training our leaders to have an intentionally inclusive vision, because everyone needs to be aligned. Moreover, we are conducting seminars, [and we] created affinity groups to promote an open discussion about women in the company, but not just among women. Men are welcome, because it is not a competition, it is a rich and win-win collaboration.
What is your advice to women entering or already acting in the mining/metals industry?
Be yourself. I try to exercise my role well, without hiding. I am surrounded by men, but I do not want to seek a masculine performance to be respected. I think there is an overvaluation of the role of men as leaders in companies, which created a need for many women to exercise that role in men's mirror image. However, the energy that women spend trying to play a role that is not natural causes them to lose focus. The way is about being professional and competent, expose your ideas and exercise your role without fear.
Nevertheless, I see a historical burden in Latin America, which is very hard to overcome. The role that women play in Latin American cultures makes it difficult for many of us to advance in their careers and be recognized and respected in the workplace. But we cannot give up. And we have to help ourselves, and enhance the sorority. I hope the actions in place by Anglo American and many other companies in the sector generate great results, and in five years we can look back and see how we evolved in this case.