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Diamonds in the Rough ready to compete with the world

For years, Saskatchewan-based Kari Lentowicz, a veteran mine rescue competitor and risk management expert, has dreamed of forming a mine rescue team made up entirely of women. Today, her dream is a reality, as a team of female Canadian mine rescue workers – Diamonds in the Rough – will compete in the International Mines Rescue Competition (IMRC) in Ekaterinburg (Yekaterinburg), Russia, from Sept. 22 to 29.

The realization of Kari’s dream took a lot of networking and a lot of hard work in both mine rescue training and fundraising. Last year, at the western regionals in Fernie, BC, Lentowicz approached a female competitor with her ‘outside-of-the-box’ idea, and, along with her employer’s management team, she was immediately onboard. Their enthusiasm encouraged her to keep going and soon they had a team, which evolved into Diamonds in the Rough Emergency Rescue Organization, Inc., a non-profit organization aimed at growing the numbers of women in the mining industry and, thus, enhancing diversity and inclusion.

Members of the team did not go into this venture lightly, as the costs involved for the group (registration fees, travel, equipment, lost wages, etc.) were prohibitive – in the neighbourhood of $84,000. Lentowicz personally paid for some of the team’s initial expenses and training, and then spearheaded a funding campaign to make up the shortfall.

Mid-Canada Forestry & Mining caught up with Lentowicz early in September to find out more about Diamonds in the Rough.

Q – When was Diamonds in the Rough formed?
A – Diamonds in the Rough was formed just this year (2018), but was conceptualized in 2007. It has been a long haul, but recently things have happened quite quickly.

Q – What has been the response from industry?
A – To be honest, initially it was a slow response, but overall it has been positive. We have multiple sponsors and we are very grateful to them:
Diamond ($20K+): Agnico Eagle
Platinum ($10K+): Rio Tinto, Cameco Corporation, and Hudbay
Gold ($5K+): BHP, Epiroc, Dräger, and Lucara Diamond Mines
Silver ($1K+): Hatch, SIGA, Impact Marketing, Atlantic Gold, Goldcorp, Levitt-Safety, Covergalls, Sherrit, Mudjatik Thyssen Mining, Women in Mining, and Lucara Diamond.

Q – It’s tough for women in the industry. Have you seen any positive changes since the formation of Diamonds in the Rough?
A – Gender bias is hardwired into the mining industry. From low stock on smaller sizes of PPE and limited dry space, to limited women’s housing facilities and bathrooms – all of this limits the ability and foresight that women should be a bigger part of the industry than the world average of 3%.

The support from companies, though, has been positive. We’ve also had women approach us to highlight their increased confidence in their roles. One has since joined her own mine rescue team.

Q – How do you change the culture of an industry?
A – Culture starts with allies (both men and women) in the workplace. Women need men to speak up and women need to support women. I’ve seen examples of competition between women as they try to ‘climb the ladder.’ Instead of competing, we should be putting the steps in place to elevate each other. Men need to change their language in meetings and behind closed doors, as well. Women often just try to fit in by taking whatever is thrown at them – otherwise they’re seen as ‘stuck up’ or a ‘bitch.’ We are quite capable of taking on leadership roles and many have done so quite successfully. But women need to be supported by male counterparts in order to achieve this.

Q – Who are the members of the Diamonds in the Rough squad competing in Russia?
Kari Lentowicz, K. Lentowicz Emergency Management & Quality Consulting, Denare Beach, SK
Heather MacKenzie, Rio Tinto, Diavik Diamond Mine, NT
Jennifer Hingston, Cameco, Rabbit Lake, SK
Naomi Fugle, Cameco, McArthur River, SK
Jodi Brasch, Hudbay Minerals, Snow Lake, MB
Janie Blanchette, Agnico Eagle, Val d’Or, PQ
Fanny Laporte, Agnico Eagle, Baker Lake, NU
Renae Campbell, Levitt-Safety, Winnipeg, MB

Q – How many teams will be competing? What do you know about Ekaterinburg, Russia?
A – There are 24 registered teams from the Russian Federation, Australia, Canada, China, Columbia, India, Kazakstan, Poland, Slovakia, Turkey and Zambia. Two of the teams including ours are from Canada. All events take place in Yekaterinburg or Ekaterinburg, Russia, which is the fourth-largest city in Russia, located on the Iset River east of the Ural Mountains. Yekaterinburg is about 1,420 km (880 mi) east of Moscow.

Q – What events will make up the competition and how has the team prepared?
A – The competition consists of the following events:
• Underground problem
• Firefighting
• First Aid
• Written Exam
• Relay Race
• Virtual Reality – simulated underground
• Technician event

The team members have been training with their respective company teams throughout the year. In addition, the team met for the first time in August and trained together for 10 days. In between our training, we’re also gathering and sharing information, as well as working on written tests provided by one of the trainers.

Q – How do you expect to be received by other teams from other nations?
A – I believe it will be positive. Women taking part in mine rescue isn’t a new thing. And there have been other all-women teams before – just none competing at an international level. Though I don’t expect negativity, if there is, it is just more proof that we need to be doing what we are doing: increasing awareness around diversity and inclusion.

Q – Is this a one-time event or will the team compete in future Mine Rescue competitions?
A – Diamonds in the Rough is more than just the 2018 IMRC competition team. It is a non-profit organization that will continue educating and increasing awareness on diversity and inclusion with a specific focus on emergency response. Targeting youth is a priority for education, which we hope to encourage and enhance through career program presentations in schools. The non-profit aims to support further training and competition opportunities for women as well. The training and participation for competitions aids in increasing skill sets as well as confidence. These events are important and we hope to facilitate further training of teams.

Spotlight on a Diamonds in the Rough competitor
At the recent National Western region Mine Rescue Summit, hosted by the Mining Association of Manitoba Inc., MCFM spoke with Diamonds in the Rough member Renae Campbell and asked her how she felt about her team and its upcoming adventure.

My experience is a bit different because I am not employed directly by a mining company. I did however become involved in mine rescue in 2012, and have maintained involvement ever since. It is because I realized almost instantly that mine rescue personnel are a very special group. They are one of a kind – the best of the best – men and women who are going into the mine when everyone else is coming out. Integrity, loyalty and a sense of family are at the very core of who these people are. It is through my experience watching them that I decided to pursue training.

Over the last six years, I have often been one of few women at a mine rescue event or competition (although never competing myself), but I am thankful because in my experience with my mentors, trainers or colleagues, they have been very supportive in helping my development along the way.

Almost one year ago, I started with Levitt-Safety, a company I was quite familiar with due to their support of mine rescue across Canada. The company and my colleagues have been extremely supportive of my participation with Diamonds in the Rough.

Our ‘Diamond’s have all come together with different skills, experience and backgrounds, but one thing is for certain - we are strong, we are capable and we are ready!