“My accomplishments have been achieved thanks to the passion I have for what I do”

KATHARINA JENNY: “My greatest accomplishments have been achieved thanks to the motivation and passion I have for what I do”

She is one of the leading women in the mining sector. Recently, she took over as General Manager of Ferrocarriles Antofagasta Bolivia (FCAB), the logistics branch of Antofagasta plc. To women who would like to be part of the mining sector and who have not yet taken a step, “I would say do not be afraid, in mining we no longer have prohibited fields, on the contrary, we can perform in all areas of the business. In this sense, it is proven that the incorporation of women and people in general, with different experiences and backgrounds, contributes positively to the execution of high-performance teams”.

Your greatest achievements have allowed you to be where you are. How did you reach them?

My greatest accomplishments have been achieved thanks to the motivation and passion I have for what I do, the perseverance and effort that I have put in every challenge that has been presented to me at work. These are elements that I have always tried to transfer to my work teams. This way, I have been able to inspire them to commit with the team and to take the challenges we must face as their own.

Tactically, I like to make decisions quickly and clearly to speed up the proper development of different initiatives.

What has been the most significant barrier to assuming a leadership position like yours?

For me the most significant barrier is still there, the mining industry remains unfriendly for the development of women. Although there are advances, there still are gaps and biases that make it difficult for us to grow professionally and balance family and personal life. What I do underline is that it offers a range of possibilities, but it takes character and conviction to face them.

An example of this was my return after my maternity leave. I did not feel comfortable with the functions assigned to me. My new job did not challenge me as a professional and did not add clear value to the business. For me, family conciliation is really important, since I feel better as mom performing in what I like and being a contribution to the organization. Today, I see this as an opportunity that allowed me to grow, to make important decisions, to prioritize family harmony and face new challenges. Today I am working in a large mining company.

How do you see the work of women in the current Chilean mining industry? What do you think is missing to attract more women to this sector and how could their preparation be improved?

Women have been increasingly taking more space in the mining industry, which is very positive. The sector realized that it needed to incorporate women into organizations since this leverages productivity, improves work environments, and makes companies more competitive and profitable. But it is still not enough: the female staff is still around 8%.

There are spaces that have not been covered yet. The great challenge is to find a balance among motherhood, family life, and mining shifts. The latter, I currently see it as a challenge: not only to attract more women but also to incorporate the new generations, since they value much more their time outside of work. It is a gap that the industry will have to study in order to continue attracting new and good talents. 

In order to attract more women to the mining sector, it is key to offer them a career plan, a development plan so they can visualize from the very beginning the possibility of growth they can have within the industry. Today, it is important to emphasize that the big challenge of the mining industry is not only adding women to their workforce but what it is more relevant, to give them space for growing for them to prevail in this industry.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for a sector such as mining, for more women to reach leadership positions? And how do you think this could speed up?

We are entering a stage of second-generation challenges. Although the issue of incorporation is not fully solved, it is moving forward. How to retain and develop female talent at the heart of the business is the challenge that mining has today.

For this, we have to solve cultural issues since there are still essentially masculine performance areas (maintenance, for example). We must also address the conciliation of career development with motherhood, family and personal life. It would be beneficial for both men and women.

Tell us if you have had special support in the company to get where you are. Coaching, some “role model”?

I do not know if I have had any special support. What I do know is that I feel very fortunate to have met people throughout my professional career who have taught me a lot. I do not mean only bosses, but also peers and members of my work teams, many of them with a lot of experience in the mining industry. From them, I learned how important it is to form good teams and to relate to everyone in the best way. These teachings have not only served me in the professional field but also in the personal one.

How do you think men are responding to gender parity issues at work and at home? 

Men are rapidly adapting to gender parity. Nowadays, it is increasingly common to see men sharing the house chores. It is no longer about helping women, but they understand that those are their obligations too, raising the children, maintaining the house, etc.

Regarding the working environment, the response has been a little slower, but it is becoming more common for men to see women as a peer, as a person with equal or more capabilities than them. To some of them has been easier. Maybe, the hardest thing to do has been to assume that a woman is their boss. It is a different kind of leadership, unusual to them.

What factors do you think are useful to better develop the leadership of women in mining, in different responsibilities?

A key factor that helps women to better perform in the mining world, to have greater responsibilities, has to do with the opportunities that may arise. One of the constraints for them to rise to higher hierarchy positions is related to the profiles sought since some of the requirements are preparation, years of experience, not only locally, but particularly in the field. For women, it is hard to compete in this area. Therefore, one of the things that must be done is to generate more flexible opportunities, maintaining the concept of meritocracy to choose the best candidate.

What advice would you give to all Chilean women in mining who dream of continuing to grow and do not know how to do it?

I would tell them that in order to continue growing, the first thing is to set a goal, have conviction and work to achieve the proposed objectives. Another important factor is to generate good work teams. The results are achieved with people, therefore it is key to develop them.

It is important to prepare yourself, study and acquire the necessary tools for this. So, it is not only the goal but to trace the road, to prepare and form the right teams.

What would you say to the potential mining women, to those young women in Chile who have not yet decided what to study or who are “scared” of mining, to encourage them to pursue careers that allow them to contribute to the mining industry from different work areas?

I would say do not be afraid, in mining we no longer have prohibited fields, on the contrary, we can perform in all areas of the business. In this sense, it is proven that the incorporation of women and people in general, with different experiences and backgrounds, contributes positively to the execution of high-performance teams. This is a benefit for the company, the organization, the State and the country. In addition, women are very necessary for organizations since we provide a diversity of talents, social mobility and increased demand; and creation of new jobs.

What are the main features that a woman needs to work in this sector?

I believe that women do not need very specific features to develop a career in the mining industry. On the contrary, the skills of the female gender are those that today promote and validate even more the need to have women in this industry. What I mean is that today it is much more valued in organizations to be collaborative, rather than competitive, to be emotional rather than rational, to focus on the process rather than only on the results, to offer a more systemic view, rather than a view from the individual. These features are mainly present in the female gender.

Where would you like to be in the coming years?

At the moment, I think about taking over the General Management of the FCAB and working with and for this organization, with the purpose of continually adding value to what we do, which is “moving the valuable things from the North”.