Nazgul Oskoeva: “It is not about being a man or woman: it is about being a human being (treat everybody as you want to be treated); it is about dedicating yourself to what you do, acting to add value, continuously improving, knowing where you want to be, never giving up—and it is about choice.”
Nazgul Oskoeva initially entered the mining industry through a chance meeting: her fluency in English led to her serving foreign guests while working in a restaurant. They turned out to be representatives of a Canadian company that had recently started a mining operation in Kyrgyzstan, and, following the required proficiency tests and interviews, she subsequently became their Russian translator. In her 21 years since then with Kumtor Gold Company (Centerra Gold Inc.), Nazgul progressed from humble beginnings in Security and Training to a technical role as the Mill Operations Administrator. She then completed Six Sigma certification and has had opportunities to understand and work in almost all processes of the operation (Mine, Maintenance, Camp, Exploration, Drill blast) within the Continuous Improvement and Risk Management departments. She has held the role of Procurement and Logistics Manager since 2018. By Kathy Sole.
How did mining come to you? How did you choose mining as a career?
While a student, we decided to raise money by providing translations of video presentations of Safety in Mining for the first Canadian-based mining company to enter the country after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was very unusual and new: our first-ever experience of seeing expats and hearing native English words. Eventually we were not able to earn any money, but this was my first experience of seeing mining and deciding that I want to work for a western company. When you wish something deep from within your heart, the things around add up to make it happen. A couple months later while working as a waitress after graduation, I served guests speaking no Russian: I was an English-speaking star that moment :). I found out that they were looking for a translator. I went through three interviews and started my journey with mining that has now lasted 21 years. In the beginning, there was nothing connected to mining: I was a simple Security Administrator.
Please describe your current role.
I am so grateful to my colleagues that they challenged me to take my current Procurement and Logistics Manager position. There is still such a wide sphere for me to discover, although I have been in this role for more than a year. I have a very different view of this function compared with what I thought from 20 years of being an end-user. Procurement covers everything horizontally from manufacture through compliance and shipment to the consumer, and vertically through the necessity to understand detailed mining processes to supply a correct pump or reagent. At the same time, you have to be good psychologist to build bridges between suppliers and end-users, and smooth the path to match all parties’ wants and needs. We compare our activity with that of a genie, but, in his case, Aladdin had to work out exactly what he wanted: in our case, end-users often do not know exactly what they want. So our objective is to be able to understand the request, source it from all around the world at adequate price and quality, arrange optimal ways to deliver it, ensure that it is compliant, and arrange its availability within a click of a mouse. My role is to make sure the process goes smoothly and continuously improves with a motivated procurement and logistics team, satisfied end-users, and responsible suppliers forming a compliant base.
What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector?
I am proud to be part of such wide-scale production. Proud to be a woman among a male-dominant operation. Proud to be in a team exploring new challenges. Proud that I achieved where I am currently by merit. With my current mind-set, I would not even feel a tiny hint that females and males can be differently perceived in mining and cannot provide another example of an enterprise where such equality permeates throughout the organization.
But, if I had been asked this question few years ago, especially at the beginning of my career, I had the 180° opposite opinion. I would agree that, for a woman, it would be more comfortable to be a teacher or a doctor. I have to note that, in addition to the concept that “mining is a male business”, our Asian culture places women in secondary roles and this was more difficult to cope with early in my career, particularly given my young age at that time. Yes, I can tell you that I was making the lunch table for those in the office and washing dishes after them! Moving from one position to another and growing in experience and promotion, I heard a lot of “how can such a young girl teach and tell us what to do?…how does she dare to ask questions?” and I felt disdain and disparagement from the “adults”. But I had a goal – to learn, know, and become proficient in what I was doing. I love challenges—and challenges love me. Every new position I took on was new for the company. I worked hard to understand it so I that could equally talk to anyone, whether it was a Mine Engineer, Mill Manager, or Maintenance Planner.
It is not about being a man or woman: it is about being a human being (treat everybody as you want to be treated); it is about dedicating yourself to what you do, acting to add value, continuously improving, knowing where you want to be, never giving up, and it is about choice. You choose to either give up or continue finding alternative ways: it makes you stronger. With such, all negatives become redundant and your surroundings build your path to the goal.
I was lucky to have supervisors who supported me during my down periods. I thank every moment of being cold and dirty at the blasting field when male operators offered me hot tea; being confused at first during presentations to the male top management and they stood together with me; being lost with a new system when male engineers helped us cope together; and many other moments. So, I am glad and proud to be a woman in mining. Maybe those presentations, new systems, and test-blasting patterns would not have happened if a woman was not part of the process. She can ease the situation, release the stress, unify the crowd, use her magic: being a woman is enjoyable everywhere. To the question, “What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector?” I would answer now: “Is there anything special in being a woman in the mining sector? It is the same as you would work anywhere: just contribute wherever you are, as you would contribute to your own development, and you will get respect, success, opportunities, and self-satisfaction.” I cannot imagine and do not want any other experience than I have had during my last 21 challenging years, and I see a further valuable future in this sector.
What are you passionate about in your work?
Challenges and Changes! I own challenges and changes for the achievements I have won. Development cannot happen without ups and downs. I mentioned above that I was lucky to be a leading part of teams bringing new programs to our company. Unknowns motivate me to stay late, to work during weekends, to delve in and work on solutions, even if you find that these solutions are not what you actually wanted. It is surely better to try and regret than not to try and regret.
One of the proudest pages of my life was that, although I was not a professional chemical expert, I was so eager to understand the Mill process and prove myself, to show that even being the only woman among a male team and being a young specialist with no chemical background, I could achieve the required results. I can surely say that I have the experience of going through thorns to a successful continuous improvement (CI) project that was recognized by Management and—more importantly—for myself. This was one of my first experiences to try something very unknown, and maybe this was the start of loving challenges . I started as a translator for local Managers. I recall much shyness and confusion, but this great chance taught me that going through challenges makes you stronger and brings growth. It was a leap in my career when I got the chance to learn the Six Sigma program and to be one of the first people in the company to lead it again in an environment that was all male and all older than me. Further, when we were delivering the program, there was a struggle of culture: it was necessary for the culture to change, in addition to our conservative mentality.
Have you had mentors or sponsors that helped you on the way?
I cannot call them “official” mentors and sponsors, but I always had people who supported and helped me. They are both men and women, locals and expats. I learn from successful people; I try to understand and analyse their actions. But, I would say, that it mostly depends on yourself: you build your life. If you work on yourself, mentors and sponsors will be always around.
What challenges have you experienced by virtue of working in an industry that is predominantly male? Do you feel you have had to adapt to ‘fit’ the industry?
Again, with my current mind and age (42), if I went to work for any other western mine I would need to adapt to the processes and to the male environment. Here in Asian countries with a conservative culture, you have to adapt to the male-dominant culture; you have to be careful with your words and actions, you have to prove that you merit respect, that you are capable of doing the same job. I had a LOT of challenges when I was a young girl in a much older male environment. For example, in the very beginning, it was by default that you have to clean the table, serve the lunch, and wash the dishes, until you are brave enough to rise against this, spell it out, and be criticized for this, because others are also afraid to speak up or think it is better to be silent. Or when you cannot stop a crowd of men from swearing but if you leave you will miss the discussion; again, until you are brave enough to speak up after being ignored many times because you get a response of “why are you here then?… If you do not like that we are swearing, then go home… Women have to be home…How can your husband ([he must be] a looser) allow you to work here at all?…” But without those challengers, I would not be what I am now. I would call on women in such circumstances to be brave, push ourselves to new knowledge, do not just think: go and act. «The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.»
What would you love to do next?
Procurement is still new for me. It is unknown field that I want to understand and lead. If I think more widely, I want to start working on sharing my knowledge and experience, learn and carry knowledge and experience to people. In the short term – I want to sleep, have three days of no movement, relax on a beach, have a massage, clean my phone memory, and play with my daughters!
What is one thing you wish you’d been told when you were starting out that you know now?
Whatever it would be, I did not have the mindset that I have now: I was told what I am thinking about now, but I did not listen. The main things would be “Respect yourself, rely only on yourself, do not trust so much, be focussed, have another baby, collect your money [pay check]”. I believe it is strange to publicise such wishes in a career-related profile, but the truth is that our personal lives are the priority.
What is the biggest mistake that you’re really happy you made?
This question made me think deeply. Really, I cannot recall any mistake that I would be happy to make. I am grateful for everything that has happened in my life. When someone asks what mistakes you would change, I answer – they all are my mistakes, my life lessons. I had to learn them to get to where I am now.
Do you sit on a board? If not, would you like to?
I would say I am ambitious about it. Yes, I would like to be on a board. I have good and sufficient experience to oversee and share my opinion.
What is your opinion in the women-on-boards debate? Are you pro quotas or against them?
YES, women should be on boards with full debating rights. There should not be any distinction between men and women. Worthy people should sit on boards. And I definitely want women to be able to do it. But thinking about my situation, for example, I realize there are so many obligations that you have as a woman (mom, wife, and daughter) that you hardly find time to sleep, let alone think of being a member of a board, although I do try to free up my time using baby sitters and servicing agencies (although again blaming myself that I am not doing it myself).
Do you believe women in mining groups can help to change the image of the industry and make the sector more attractive to women?
100%. I am ready to share my experience, prove more, and motivate women to be brave, to be self-assured, work on themselves, and be part of the movement that is changing the world.
Any advice to young women starting out in their careers? What do you wish you’d known when you were 25?
Do not be afraid to go and learn historically male subject specialties. It is challenging, but you will be surprised that you are easily able to do it. Go and study metallurgy, mining, engineering. Be brave, do not be shy to express your opinion if not in among the crowd, but find a person you can trust, share your ideas, ask for tasks, take on more challenges. When you are young – you can move rocks!
What is your secret to work–life balance?
I know I have to rely only on myself. I have kids and have to provide them with a foundation. I have to keep my parents happy and healthy. This motivates me and the above “have to” are not forcibly imposed obligations—it is part of me being in harmony when I do it. I seldom dedicate time for myself, but when I do, it provides me with energy. Sport is part of this.
Do you have any books that you can recommend for professional development?
The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, Leading Change by John Kotter, The Journey Home by Kryon, channelled by Lee Carroll.
What books are you currently reading?
I am reading Tribal Leadership (by Dave Logan and John King). If I had more time, I would read historical biographies (I love Mahatma Gandhi, the Long Walk to Freedom of Mandela) and watch motivational movies (Les Intouchables, Hidden Figures).
Have you any hobbies, pastimes, or secret talents that you would like to tell us about?
I love yoga. I just recently tried to give 10 minutes of yoga exercises and meditation experience to my colleagues. And I can do headstand asanas! I play the piano when I am stressed. I wish to travel and, when I am in other lands, I try to experience some risky challenges, such as tower-edge walking, diving, bungee jumping, or paragliding.
Nazgul Oskoeva was born in a small provincial town of the Kyrgyz Republic (a former Soviet Union Republic). After graduation from high school, her university studies were undertaken during the difficult early years of the independence of the country after the collapse of the USSR, so she started working in the agricultural sector at the same time as studying Management at university. Three months after graduating in Economics and Metallurgy, she was employed by Kumtor Gold Company, where she still works today. Since that time, she has worked in six different areas of the operation: after roles in the Security and Training departments, her move to Mill Operations Administrator was the starting point of her dedication to the company and feeling that she could contribute to the benefit of the company. She undertook Six Sigma training and started working on Mill Continuous Improvement Projects. In 2009, she got the opportunity to understand and work through almost all processes of the operation (Mine, Maintenance, Camp, Exploration, Drill Blast) within the Continuous Improvement department and then in Risk Management. Nazgul has been the Procurement Manager since 2018.