One of START’s key metrics is diversity and female representation in our organisation. By tracking diversity, we are bringing transparency to the aluminium industry and keeping the gender equality conversation going.
This International Women’s Day, we highlight the achievements of the women in our aluminium business. We spoke to four women across our commercial and operations teams to learn more about what gives them motivation in their roles, and what advice they have for fellow women in mining.
Born to parents who worked in mining, Michelle Marentette continues the tradition by working as a casting supervisor in our Kitimat operations. Although mining is a male-dominated industry, Michelle is paving the way for females in the industry. Starting out as a temporary operator 12 years ago, she now supervises 19 members in the casting team.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was in born in Windsor, Ontario, and moved to Kitimat when my father started a job with Alcan. Fast forward to the present, I’ve lived in Kitimat for 42 years. It is a safe, quiet and beautiful town that I’ve grown to love and had dreams of raising my child here.
Can you share a bit about your work experience in Rio Tinto?
Before working at Alcan, now known as Rio Tinto, I worked around town at several customer service jobs. One day, I finally received the call I had been waiting for, my interview with Alcan (Rio Tinto)!
I’ve worked in Rio Tinto for the past 12 years in various roles. I started out as a reduction temp operator, landed my first full-time role with first aid [department], moved on to be an ingot chain operator in casting, and then furnace operator. Despite working in a male dominated industry, I was thankful that the leaders I worked with recognised my capabilities and leadership ability and showed me mutual respect. I was encouraged by my fellow operators to take up the role of becoming a full-time supervisor. Right now, my job involves managing shifts with strong leadership—working effectively, efficiently and safely—to make sure at the end of the day everyone goes home safe.
What do you love about your job?
As a leader, I love that I can bring together a group of people as a team. Like how others showed me mutual respect, and recognised my achievements earlier in my career, I want to pay it forward. Everybody has their own strengths, and I make a conscious effort to ensure I recognise each employee for his or her effort. The tremendous encouragement I get from my employees as well as the level of mutual respect we have for each other is very moving. How can I not love my job?!
What are some challenges you face, if any, working in a male-dominated workplace / industry?
I think it can be more stressful and anxious compared to women working in other more gender-balanced fields. Sometimes, as a leader, I face societal expectations and beliefs about a woman’s leadership abilities. At times, I also observe pervasive stereotypes—that women must be a “caring mother” or “office housekeeper,” and sometimes I feel the need to go above and beyond to get the same amount of recognition as my male colleagues.
However, the people I work with have the utmost respect for each other which makes it a case of constant education and ensuring we continue to have these gender-equality conversations.
What is some advice you’d give to other females in the workplace?
Be fearless, confident, comfortable. Take the initiative to lead others, advocate for yourself and don’t be afraid to say “no.” And, importantly, stay true to yourself and your values.
Who are your biggest female role models and why?
I don’t necessarily have a big female role model in my life. I look to my inner self for inspiration to do better, be the best I can be and hopefully inspire others to be their best. It is important to me that I find my true passions, work towards them, and accomplish the goals I set for myself and never giving up.
I hope by being positive and demonstrating confidence, I can help to inspire other women in the workplace to be driven by their values and impact others around them.
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
I am known as the “Halloween Lady” in Kitimat! Every year for the past 12 years, I have designed a Halloween haunted house for all in the community to enjoy. It takes a lot of organising, planning, patience, craftsmanship and money to prepare for this day.
What started out with just a few decorations in my garage has now evolved to a full on walkthrough maze with dark hallways and scary props to give one a good, old scare! I’m proud to be able to bring a bit of happiness to adults and children alike.
I am my happiest and proudest when I give back to the community. For me, that is offering the community a Halloween house to bring joy and smiles. Remember the date—October 31!