Women Who Rock President and CEO, Elena Mayer, and Deborah Breckels, Chief Operations Officer lead their organization with the goal of igniting curiosity amongst women about mining and its importance for the Canadian economy, helping those in the industry forge successful careers, collaborating with stakeholders who share common challenges, and communicating success stories to help make the mining industry more inclusive.
By Hailey Eisen
Elena Mayer (pictured on the left) once dreamed of becoming a professional ballerina. Growing up in the Soviet Union, she says her dream was shared by many young girls. But, over the years, her focus shifted to corporate law and then to mining — an industry she never imagined she’d become so deeply embedded within.
After enrolling in the Global Mining Management Program as part of the Schulich MBA, Elena says she found herself one of only a few women in a class of 37. “Being sociable and curious about people, I immersed myself in the mining community and met many motivating and inspiring leaders,” she states. “At the same time, I couldn’t help but notice that many women in the early stages of their mining careers shared a feeling of disconnect from leaders and even their peers.”
There is no question that mining is a male-dominated industry, but Elena says she has a natural tendency to challenge stereotypes and the status quo. “Inspired by a few mentors, I realized I could play a role in empowering and connecting women,” she recalls. “In response to the need for mentorship relationships between leaders in mining and the next generation of female professionals, I came up with the idea for the Women Who Rock (WWR) foundation and subsequently the Auction for Action Program.”
Armed with a well-developed idea for the Auction event but unsure how to execute it, Elena reached out to Deborah Breckels (pictured on the right), a highly recommended professional event consultant who had made her mark in the mining industry planning and executing PDAC — one of the biggest mining conventions in the world.
As Deborah says, “Elena’s vision was inspiring, but required a detailed logistical and marketing plan. While executing someone else’s vision and passion is an ambitious undertaking, with 14 years of experience bringing the PDAC ‘mega-event’ to life, I wasn’t fazed by the short lead-time to plan and deliver.”
The mining industry is quite traditional, and with an aging male population holding most of the positions of power, we recognized there would be a skills shortage over the next few years.
The result was a highly successful series of events that paired young women in mining with some of the industry’s top executives and the beginning of a partnership between two women who shared a passion for bringing diversity and inclusion to an industry in need of their energy and commitment.
“The mining industry is quite traditional, and with an aging male population holding most of the positions of power, we recognized there would be a skills shortage over the next few years,” Deborah explains. “We’re working to fill that gap by attracting women into the industry and promoting diversity and inclusion across the board.”
Today Elena, President and CEO, and Deborah, Chief Operations Officer, lead the organization with the goal of igniting curiosity amongst women about mining and its importance for the Canadian economy, helping those in the industry forge successful careers, collaborating with stakeholders who share common challenges, and communicating success stories to help bring about change.
Beyond WWR, both Elena and Deborah enjoy successful careers — making them expert multi-taskers. “We’re definitely wearing two professional hats each,” says Elena. “Women Who Rock isn’t just a volunteer gig or a side-hustle, it’s a second full-time job, and one we’re both fully committed to, along with nine executive team members.“
Elena has married her passion for D&I with her extensive mining knowledge, holding a key position in planning and executing PwC’s business development strategy in Canada. Where her passion and skills really intersect is through her work leading PwC’s external component of the Women in Leadership Program, working closely with her mentor, Mona Ghiami, PwC’s Chief Inclusion Officer. Through the gender equity work at PwC, she says she’s gained a deeper understanding into how D&I fits into every part of a business.
Gathering courage and moving towards entrepreneurship, Deborah created her own events consulting firm, Attention to Detail Events. As its principal, Deborah provides a full spectrum of event services. “Events are more than bringing people together to share information and ideas — it’s about designing and delivering memorable experiences while providing optimal networking opportunities.” Beyond the mining industry, Deborah’s consulting business has expanded to international governments like Chile and global firms like Kao Canada.
“We’re great partners,” Deborah says. “Elena is the strategic thinker, she comes up with one-of-a-kind ideas that no one would think of.” And, Elena adds, “Deborah is very good at catching my ideas, turning them into something real, and executing them skillfully. People are amazed with our events and that’s thanks to Deborah’s leadership.”
They continue to expand the reach of WWR with their next ambitious event: The Americas Powerhouse Luncheon in partnership with Women of Influence, featuring four trailblazing women from Canada, Peru, Argentina and Mexico who have defied established norms and challenged the status-quo of their distinct cultural realities to rise to top leadership positions. One of the main objectives of the event is to attract positive attention and create more awareness about the importance of mining to the Canadian economy.
While not without its challenges, the mining industry presents many exciting opportunities. As Women Who Rock grows, both women are excited to see where the journey will take them. One thing is certain, their commitment to women’s advancement and diversity — in mining and beyond — will remain front and centre.