Women in Metals and Mining

Gladys Smith

Managing director, Sanav

Gladys Smith is managing director of trading company Sanav, which specializes in minor metals, rare earths and concentrates. Smith began her career with a mining company in London, dealing minor metals. She was on the Minor Metals Trade Association committee for eight years, and more recently, working with International Women in Mining (IWiM) she has opened committees for the organization all over Latin America.

What made you join the metals and mining industry, and more importantly, why did you stay?

I didn't mean to join the mining industry. I was chosen in my company to be trained as a minor metals trader, the only woman chosen to do that job, which I really enjoyed from the beginning. Later on I decided to do it myself because it helped me to balance my life – to have my family and my own business.

Because of this job, I have travelled around the world, and I have visited fantastic places. When I say fantastic, it's not because they are beautiful places, they were refineries and mines, some which you have to travel a long way and climb mountains to get to. It has been really fantastic and I cannot complain about it. The industry has given me a lot of pleasure in my life.

You went independent and opened your own trading firm, which makes your story even more unique. What was your experience of owning your own trading company in a very male dominated industry?

I was lucky that I was working for a producer at the beginning. Because I was working for a producer, everybody used to knock on my door. However, they found this young foreign woman, and it was still very difficult. Later when I decided to go solo and open my company, it was even more difficult because men just didn't take me seriously. I had to struggle quite a lot working with traders, as traders think that they are God and they own everything! But I managed to survive for a long time. I think with time, they started respecting me.

I was the only woman in the committee of the Minor Metals Trade Association and I was there for eight years. Yes, it took a long time but you have to be persistent. You just have to sometimes close your ears and go for what you want, and get what you want. I wanted to do business and I just had to go and get the business. It was really hard work. But I enjoyed it and that is what helped me to continue.

I remember the first time I went to an LME dinner and I was one of the few women there. There were 1,200 people in that dining room and I think we were only 3 women. The mining industry keeps changing all the time. I have done my bit for the women in metals and mining, and it's so lovely to see more women in the industry.

Knowing what you know now, and the experiences you have had, what advice would you give to women who want to enter the metals and mining industry?

Just go for it. Work hard and make sure that your work is good, as most of the time, men are noticed more than women. We have to work harder to be noticed. Luckily, the world is changing and the male mentality is changing too. Going to South America all the time and opening the WIM groups, I was so surprised how, even in Latin America, mentalities have changed. Men are quite happy to open the doors of business to women now. You have to be resilient and you have to enjoy it.

When I was young, I wasn't allowed to go into the mines because if you were a woman, they said that you will bring bad luck to the mine. Now they allow you to go, which is good, it has changed. Now there are many women working in mines, even working with big trucks, cranes and all that, which is really good. There is still a lot to do, but we are on the right path.

Could you tell us a little bit more about your journey championing women and mining within Latin America?

Ah, I love it. Four years ago, the chairperson from International Women in Mining asked me if I could develop that region because she had tried and she couldn't find the right people. I said okay, I will do it and I started working with Latin America. Remember the time difference, and I was still working full time. I used to start working 22:00 in the evening to be able to do it, as the most important thing for me is to get the right people to open the groups. It was so important to find the right person to be able to work hard for something that you don't get paid for, because this is all voluntary.

I started with Mexico and I found this lady who was, at the time, the CEO of a gold mining company. She was so good and I gave her all the support I could. After that, I moved to Peru. Again, it took me a long time to find the right person, a lot of phone … it had to be the right person. It took me a long time to convince this one lady to do it. I said you can do it, you are capable. She did it, and I'm telling you that Peru is fantastic, it is a very enthusiastic, very hard-working group. It has everything going on: webinars, seminars, and events all the time, they don't stop. The country is now respecting women in the industry, which is I think what most women want really. We want respect from the rest of the society.

From there, I helped the lady who was running the group in Chile for a long time. Then I managed to do Colombia, Bolivia and Argentina. When I go to South America, I eat too much and I always get ill, it's terrible, but never mind... I met a bunch of really nice ladies with a lot of different experiences. Some are working in very difficult parts in Argentina, for example, in mountains, in very cold places, and in some places that they couldn't see people for days.

Bolivia was more difficult, because that is still a very male dominated society, but we managed to do it. We are trying to get the rest of the world to know about us and IWIM is growing all the time. Now I'm going to start helping Africa, which is similar to South America. There are a lot of countries that are starting to open and I can give them support. I have to encourage them, which is sometimes very difficult but we have so many groups now around the world.

Interview by Scott Yarham