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Activism & Action

What Pipeline Protests Tell Us

Wet’suwet’en supporters on the bridge over the Wedzin Khah river, Wet’suwet’en territory.

A few years ago, I asked an Indigenous female economist how she views the environment in the context of building a strong economy for Canada. She was speaking at a business conference to an audience of female entrepreneurs. Her response: “For the Indigenous peoples, the environment is our family. Non-Indigenous cultures may see the environment as a commodity,” she said, “but Indigenous peoples view the environment as our family, and we treat and protect it as such.”

Whoomp. I felt her statement reverberate through my body. I always saw the environment as important, but at that moment, I realized my view was in an abstract and disconnected way. The environment is family—this concept has been colouring my view of the world ever since.

And so, I have been watching the Coastal GasLink pipeline protests in British Columbia through the lens of Environment = Family. Would I be taking the same action if my family was at stake? I look at my son and think, “Yes, I would.” In a heartbeat.

Yet, the current protests of the Wet’suwet’en in British Columbia and the Mohawks of Tyendinaga in Ontario over a natural gas pipeline project and land access in Western Canada seem to be coming across to some in the public—including media, political leaders, RCMP, and Coastal GasLink—as irrational, selfish, and even hysterical. As a woman of colour, I am familiar with that tune. Angry women, like angry Indigenous groups, make people uncomfortable. I have been called irrational, selfish, and stubborn—at times when I simply felt that I was right.

But everyone has varying perspectives on what is right.

Coastal GasLink, the corporate proponent of this multi-billion dollar megaproject, believes its pipeline project is right for its business, its shareholders, and Canada’s economy. It feels that its consultations with First Nations have been sufficient and complete. It has ticked the consultation boxes and secured the permits, so Coastal GasLink believes it is technically right to move ahead with construction.

Wet’suwet’en believes they are right to protect their lands, their history, and their family—the environment. They feel that they were not consulted sufficiently and that they did not give consent for the pipeline to pass through their lands, and they have the right to protect their lands and the environment—their family.

Both the company and the Wet’suwet’en view each other as irrational and unfair. Reaching mutual understanding and agreement will be a significant challenge when neither can view the other party as fair and reasonable.

Community consultations for mega projects can take years—even decades—for a corporation and its stakeholders to reach a place of mutual understanding and agreement. When such consultations involve marginalized groups such as women and Indigenous peoples, there are additional layers to work through, starting with how we are perceived as stubborn, irrational, and ungrateful. Colonization of Indigenous peoples, patriarchal dominance over women, and commodification of our natural environment by primarily Western cultures are not dissimilar.

Indeed, they may be so closely linked that making progress in one area requires progress in all areas: ending colonization of Indigenous peoples, dismantling patriarchy, and protecting the family that nourishes us—the environment.

Coastal GasLink’s pipeline project has been in the works for years. The company has spent approximately six years conducting impact assessments and consulting stakeholders, including First Nations communities, along the pipeline route. It has secured all the correct government permits. In spite of this, Wet’suwet’en people continue to demonstrate against the pipeline, bringing construction to a standstill and the country at large to their attention.

I have no connection to the Coastal GasLink pipeline or the stakeholders involved. I am a fellow Canadian watching another complicated and sensitive standoff with Indigenous people regarding a resource extraction project.

But I am a professional in the mining industry. I have been in the field, at mine sites and in local villages, facing angry and fearful people opposing mining projects in faraway places such as New Caledonia, Madagascar, and Papua New Guinea—all as geopolitically and socially complex as our country.

I have listened to hopeful community leaders who hold expectations that a mine will bring good, prosperous jobs and lift their community members out of poverty. And I have listened to tearful mothers and fathers from remote regions where economic opportunity is almost non-existent, heard their hopes that we (the mining company) will help clothe, feed, and educate their children.

I have seen companies choose to keep local communities at “arm’s length,” refusing to truly engage and find ways to share benefits of the mine equitably. I have seen some companies barrel through community protests and local unrest, hire their own security, or call in the local army to forcibly remove local citizens and bulldoze local villages, with devastating consequences. These companies never garner local support and often face involuntary shutdowns due to community blockades, attacks, and other forms of protests that drive project costs into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

I have also seen companies completely halt the development of their own multi-billion dollar projects, putting the project on a care and maintenance program (the purpose of C&M is to just have enough funding to “keep the lights on” at site), while continuing to invest corporate money into public consultations, local relationship building, community investments, and forward regional planning—even when the commodity may have tanked in markets. And then, when the price of that commodity rebounds and the project is re-started, that company is better-positioned thanks to the stronger community relationships it has built, garnering trust that a project goal is of mutual benefit for all stakeholders.

A truly sustainable mega-project will aim for a win-win outcome for the local stakeholders and the company. The Coastal GasLink pipeline project seems to be heading for a win-lose. Perhaps the company’s intention was win-win, but somewhere along the way, its stakeholder engagement program failed to recognize and fully engage all the stakeholders involved.

Coastal GasLink may have ticked all the government-required consultation boxes, it may even have gone beyond government requirements, but clearly, that was not enough to mitigate today’s protests resulting in costly equipment sitting idle, the layoff of hundreds of workers and contractors, and a huge economic domino effect across the country with passenger and cargo rail shutdowns.

Many are insisting on government action. But, ultimately, it is Coastal GasLink’s responsibility to do better. It is always the responsibility of the project proponent to know all possible stakeholders and their degree of support or disagreement with the project, recognize and respect the varying hopes and fears, and engage all stakeholders in thorough, comprehensive, and culturally sensitive dialogue and consultations. It owes this due diligence to its business, shareholders, investors, and the country.

There is still a window of opportunity here. As the oil sector is not performing well and the company is bleeding money due to the blockades (not to mention incalculable damage to its corporate reputation), Coastal GasLink could press the pause button on project construction, dismiss the RCMP, and re-engage with its stakeholders. It could listen closer, try to understand each other, search for a common goal of mutual benefit. It may take months or even years, but we need to accept that this is okay, that investing time and energy into building strong relationships in order to help us build more sustainable megaprojects is better for everyone—local communities, the economy, businesses, future generations, and the environment (our family).

Sabrina Dias is the founder and CEO of SOOP Strategies Inc.

Publishers note: On Feb 20th LiisBeth Media staff and advisory board voted unanimously to support the Wet’suwet’en community and their right to assert control of their land as upheld by Wet’suwet’en law and governance. The rule of law argument to applies to both Canada and the Wet’suwet’en nation. Members of the Wet’suwet’en community, led by the five hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs, have not given their free, prior, and informed consent to the current state of the Coastal GasLink project.

We urge the Government of Canada to engage in authentic dialogue with a view towards reaching a withdraw RCMP presence in a way that both maintains surrounding community safety and upholds their commitment to action truth and reconciliation, and to uphold the obligations laid out by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). UNDRIP Article 10 expressly condemns forced removal, including under coercion, and further condemns the use of extra-state actors like corporations.

Anything less is an assault to peaceable coexistence and reconciliation between settlers and Indigenous Peoples in Canada. You can download our full statement here.

For more information on how to support the Wet’suwet’en community, click here.

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When we talk about how to advance inclusivity and diversity, we often default to identifying new ways of including those typically excluded to enter the dominant group’s tent. As colleague Dr. Barb Orser would say, this is known as the “Add X (insert your word here____________ i.e., women, LGBTQIA2S, people of colour, newcomers, etc.) and stir approach to diversity and inclusion.

Given the mounting evidence that the decades-plus worth of “Add X and Stir” efforts are yielding disappointing results and, in some companies, even creating rifts, we need to start thinking differently.

This is where the feminist economy comes in.

What is the feminist economy?

The feminist economy is a kaleidoscope of startup and established organizations and enterprises that live at the intersection between feminism, social justice, and business.

It’s not all about bookstores or zine publishers anymore, either.

It cuts across sectors and is comprised of fearless startup founders, enterprise owners, non-profit leaders, plus collective, association, activist and cooperative directors of all genders who collaborate and expressly launch gendered products and/or services that challenge norms and advance both gender and social justice.

This pluralistic, global community doesn’t just tinker. These leaders robustly practice and innovate diversity and inclusion concepts. No wonder. They invented the conversation about 200 years ago. And because they exist on the fringe, often without corporate or establishment ties, they have the latitude to push the boundaries—with both hands.

Sure. They might have also read Lean Startup by Eric Ries. But they are more likely to have been inspired to act by Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategy or Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World when thinking about startup design, finance, and strategy.

They also routinely draw on feminist scholarship for inclusive operational practice and governance ideas, plus engage with feminist media to share insights and findings—because there is no feminist executive program (yet!). Their companies create economic value—but also serve as social justice labs. They work hard and take risks in order to put into practice feminist values, futures, scholarship, and best practices in an economy that continues to reward in outsized ways kyriarchal compliance (patriarchy + intersectionality = kyriarchy).

According to our most recent LiisBeth survey, the majority of feminist founders and business owners connect with the visionary definition of feminism articulated by feminist writer, bell hooks. It’s based on love for all humanity and the planet.

So where am I going with all this? As argued so well by Dr. Dori Tunstall, OCAD University’s Dean of the Faculty of Design (the first Black dean of a design school in North America), during her keynote at the 2018 Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum, diversity and inclusion practices, as we know them today, are not only not enough—they seem unnecessarily colonial, primitive and fragile.

We need new stocky, radical ideas.

Perhaps it’s finally time to make feminism a “safe word” in the world of business and innovation. Instead of marginalizing its scholars and its practitioners, it might be finally time to name, fame, and embrace its wisdom.



Amanda Laird, author & feminist holistic nutritionist


In the wake of its Oscar win for short documentary, Period. End of Sentence. is about the stigma of menstruation in rural India, and how helped a group of Indian women create a micro-economy in their community. We think it’s bloody great to see so much positive press about periods.

Speaking of periods, check out our Q&A with author and nutritionist Amanda Laird about her path to podcasting and how she got a book deal to write about smashing the stigma and shame of periods and listening to your body.

We are so close to being able to use that new period emoji. Next cycle.


Go to and be one of the first two people to leave a comment on Amanda’s story to receive a signed, FREE copy of Heavy Flow.

Tell us what prompted your feminist entrepreneur journey. OR write a taboo haiku about your favourite (or weirdest) period experience.

Sabrina Dias and crew on site in Nevada, USA


Sustainable mining is like saying nutritious mass food production. Impossible in an industry rife with corruption, greed, and sexism. Yet Sabrina Dias stands firmly in her work boots and her vision: successful, profitable businesses built on the foundations of sustainable development. 

Dias used to encounter hostility and bullying in her work, but that has shifted to respect and admiration.

She’s a crusader with a higher purpose. Read the story here to see how she picks herself up and dusts herself off. She is known to “go tribal” and mining companies have everything to gain by working with her. Rock on!

Photo: Unsplash


Self-employed people, entrepreneurs and freelancers have no mandated minimum wage, and sometimes they don’t get credit for their work. And many sell themselves short when it comes time to invoice.

Our new contributor, Emma Elobeid, works in the content marketing world—and she says “enough.” While there is no right or wrong (in terms of pay) in online content creation churn, it’s important to know your worth.

Read more on claiming identity and pay equity, and check out lessons learned from the frontline feminist freelancer.

March is around the corner.
Many wil be marching.
LiisBeth needs your help to March forth.
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And every paid subscription helps us with grant applications.
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We have reached over 2,500 subscribers, but less than 30% contribute financially.


Canada’s former justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould: Photo via Shutterstock.


If you are in Canada, you are probably still reeling from former Canadian justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s testimony yesterday. If you are not in Canada–this story is about another a corporation abusing its power–pointing a gun with a barrell tightly packed with jobs- to an elected governments’ head. Yes. This happens in Canada too.

Was Wilson-Raybould pressured to delay its prosecution of SNC Lavalin? The transcript speaks for itself. She was.

SNC Lavalin is a $10B Quebec-based company with 8700 employees in Canada and 50 000 employees worldwide. There are only two women on its twelve person leadership team The 11 member board includes three women. It did not make the 2019 “Best Canadian Employer” list. It has a history of bribery and collecting billion dollar fraud, corruption and shareholder-led class action suits.

In her testimony, Wilson-Raybould concluded by saying  “I was taught to always hold true to your core values and principles and to act with integrity. These are the teachings of my parents, grandparents and community. I come from a long line of matriarchs and I am a truth teller in accordance with the laws and traditions of our Big House. This is who I am and who I will always be.”

Speaking truth to power. Raybould-Wilson, you have taught us all a lesson.

The question is–do we have the stomach to learn from it. Will Canadians support governments who uphold the rule of law when faced with material threats by neoliberal era King King corporations?

Gilakas’la (means “thank you” in Kwakwala), JW-R for your courage.

For other takes on the case, check out these indie media articles we believe are worth reading. They be can be found here and here.

Carole Murphy (pictured above) is a Montana-based eco-entrepreneur, gender equity advocate, and creator of Heart Stock Radio. In 2016, she incorporated her business, Purse for the People, as a Benefit Corporation.

A Benefit Corporation is basically a B Corp backed by legislation.

Why is that a good thing? For starters, it protects the company from those wanting to mess with its social benefit mission. As social entrepreneurs know all too well, mission is often on the auction block during capital raises, leadership changes, and founder exits. Incorporating as a Benefit Corporation also prepares businesses to lead a mission-driven life post-IPO.

The UK pioneered the concept of a legislatively backed hybrid organization with the introduction of the community interest company (CIC). The United States followed suit with their version of the idea. Only two provinces in Canada, British Columbia and Nova Scotia, have a legal option that resembles benefit corporations. That’s gotta change.

Murphy says, “The biggest challenge with benefit corporations is a general lack of understanding about what they are, and why they’re important.”

That, too, has to change.

Murphy is launching an equity-based campaign on March 1.

You can check out past live recordings of Heart Stock Radio here. MARK THE DATE: LiisBeth founder, PK Mutch, will be on the show on Friday, March 8 at 7 p.m. EST.


Rebecca Traister’s latest book is timely and crucial. It offers a glimpse into the galvanizing force of women’s collective anger which, when harnessed, can change history.

We bet Canada’s former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, plus many others will curl up tonight with this one.

Last fall, we asked over 130 LiisBeth readers in our last survey where they went to keep up with feminist ideas and thought leaders. The number-one source was feminist media and books. In a time when social and gender justice is the new political centrefold, the feminist book category is, not surprisingly, exploding. There simply is not enough time to read them all.

So we are going to help you whittle it down.

Watch for our 2019 recommended reading list next month. If you missed last year’s list, you can still download it here.

Illustration by J. J. Steeves


Thinking of starting an advisory board? Not sure where to start? Check out this month’s handy Growth Wheel in the form of a free downloadable briefing: “Advisory Board or Red Wine Club.” It will help you get started.

Lorna Mutegyeki combines her business background and creative expertise to connect people and make a real difference.


In an industry notorious for unfair wages and horrible working conditions, fashion designer and business owner Lorna Mutegyeki stands out. Not only because her clothing designs are bold and unique and stunning, but also because she insists on treating her employees with the respect they deserve.

In 2017, Mutegyeki launched Msichana, a sustainable luxury fashion label that is committed to advancing employment opportunities for women in Africa. The social enterprise employs and empowers women through every step of the production process. Msichana ensures the women are paid fairly, have great working conditions, and that each garment is unique and handmade using the highest quality fabrics on the continent.

“Each piece is a handmade, one-of-a-kind work of art with much love and attention put into it,” says Mutegyeki.

From belts to dresses, jackets to jumpsuits, prices range from $80 to $600+, which might sound pricey, but remember: you get what you pay for. Zero mass production. Zero waste.

The creations are designed in Canada and proudly produced in Africa by weavers, dyers, and embroiderers. The company’s supply chain is completely transparent and ethically made for women, by women. Materials are meticulously sourced and include tracing the cotton down to the seed where it was grown. Ethical fashion is hard work.

Mutegyeki is based in Edmonton. She is a chartered professional accountant and has an MBA from the University of Alberta. Msichana is the result of an inner need for Mutegyeki, the desire to make a difference in the kind of work she was doing.

“I realized the dissatisfaction I had was probably never going to leave so I decided to just take the risk and tackle it head on,” she says.

Msichana is also breaking stereotypes by providing these types of work opportunities for women in Africa. She told us that in Ethiopia, most embroidery work is traditionally done my men. Mutegyeki’s goal is to empower women and show the impact that empowerment has on their lives, families, and community.

We’re following some exciting design news (hint: it involves inclusion) from Msichana in the coming week. Look for a full profile at

A look inside Msichana’s studio in Uganda.

Yin Yoga with Affirmations for Self-Love & Healing
[30 minutes]
Self-love is not just for Valentine’s day.
Practice healthy self-care with Yoga with Kassandra. Your inner self will thank you.


We asked, you answered. Tack! That’s “thank you” in Swedish. A portrait of former Swedish Feminist Initiative Party Leader, Gudrun Schyman, is coming in weeks.

NEW POLL from our query bucket: Which story should we publish? Click here to vote (takes one minute or less to complete).

  • Is the attack on neoliberalism bad for women? The numbers show that many women benefitted from it around the globe.

  • The Wakefield, UK miners’ strike was famously supported by gay and lesbian organizations—and serves as an example of an intersectional movement long before the word was coined. What is the legacy it left behind? What is Wakefield like now?

  • Profile of a social justice–oriented Oakland, CA dance studio run by two fierce feminists and their unique “Try Matriarchy” initiative.


How do we make social justice the most pleasurable human experience? How can we awaken within ourselves desires that make it impossible to settle for anything less than a fulfilling life?
Emergent Strategy author and editor adrienne maree brown finds the answer in something she calls “pleasure activism,” a politics of healing and happiness that explodes the dour myth that changing the world is just another form of work. Drawing on the black feminist tradition, she challenges us to rethink the ground rules of activism. Her mindset-altering essays are interwoven with conversations and insights from other feminist thinkers, including Audre Lorde, Joan Morgan, Cara Page, Sonya Renee Taylor, and Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Together they cover a wide array of subjects—from sex work to climate change, from race and gender to sex and drugs—building new narratives about how politics can feel good and how what feels good always has a complex politics of its own. —

Do you cringe everytime you hear a speaker at a women’s empowerment event tell the audience that “it’s our time” because colourful scans of women’s brains prove they are biologically wired to align with today’s most desired leadership skills like empathy, collaboration, or flower arranging? Good news! Gina Rippon’s new book crushes that myth with a Dr. Martens boot. Rippon, emeritus professor of cognitive neuroimaging at the Aston Brain Centre at Aston University in Birmingham, UK, describes herself as “an outspoken critic of the ‘neurotrash’ (known as the “Neurotrash Warrior”) defined as the populist misuse of neuroscience research to misrepresent our understanding of the brain and, most particularly, to prop up outdated stereotypes.” The book has just been released.


  • China and Feminism: Will the feminist’s movement’s work ever be done? Not likely. Especially when we see initiatives like China’s social credit system on track for implementation by 2020. Essentially, citizens will be ranked and rated on a social credit score based how well they meet their social and economic obligations. Imagine. Hanging out with the Feminist Five? Minus 100 points. Good Confucian housewife? Plus 50. China ranks 87 amongst 142 countries in terms of political empowerment and economic participation of women, positioned in between Venezuela and Uganda.
  • More on China: Episode three of the Netflix series, Patriot Act, focused on censorship in China and included a full interview with feminist activist Xiaowen Liang and how women in China are initiating the #MeToo movement despite censorship regulations. Follow @FeministChina for the latest info on grassroots Chinese feminist movement. New episodes of the Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj air every Sunday where he brings an incisive perspective to global news, politics, and culture in his unique comedy series.
  • Breakthrough Film Festival 2019 submissions are being accepted until March 1st. BFF is dedicated to supporting emerging filmmakers who identify as women, trans, or non-binary. The yearly festival takes place in downtown Toronto and showcases Canadian and international short films in all genres made by emerging directors of all ages, with a special category for new generation artists (18-30 years old). Eligibility: must be an emerging talent and identify as a woman, trans, or non-binary person. To submit, click here.

That brings us to the end of our 50th newsletter!

If you found value in what you read here or in the original articles on our website, we hope you will consider donating one time or becoming a monthly subscriber for as little as $3/month.

Demonstrating growth in paid readerships is not just about the money–it also helps us secure sponsorships and grants—it serves as proof positive that readers value what we do.

To donate one time or become a donor subscriber, click here.

Next newsletter will come out April 2nd-ish! Mark the date! 

Peace out,

Activism & Action

This Woman Rocks

Sabrina Dias on location in Nevada–after pushing the blast button for the first time.

Sabrina Dias was 13 years old when she saw the Challenger space shuttle explode into flames on TV, killing seven astronauts on board, including teacher Christa McAuliffe. After Dias learned the disaster was caused by a design flaw, she decided that she would learn how to fix it. That led her to earning a degree in ceramic engineering at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont.

A personal tragedy—the loss of her mother to cancer, which put her in charge of caring for a younger sister—caused Dias to take a job closer to home and sidestep into mining. Now at 46, Dias is a sustainability specialist in that sector where she remains keener than ever on fixing things to prevent massive blowups. Dip into a newspaper on just about any given day and you’ll discover that the mining sector has an awful lot to fix.

Mining is a leading cause of deforestation, habitat loss, and contamination of soil, water, and air. Workers and surrounding communities often suffer from the health and safety consequences. Then there’s the Wild West mentality of some companies that barge into a region with little consultation and extract maximum profit while returning minimum benefit to local communities that bear the brunt of the environmental degradation. A study by Shin Imai, a professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, lists a litany of abuse connected with Canadian-owned mines in Latin America alone: local women being raped by security forces and mine workers; and protesters being beaten, arrested, kidnapped, and killed in violent clashes with mining security forces.

“A shit show,” is how Dias described one mining site in Africa. She was called in to conduct a risk assessment on the site while working for a major gold company, which was plowing ahead with the construction of a mine without meaningful community consultation. The site faced daily violent protests. “I was on site when it was attacked,” says Dias. “I was as scared as I have ever been. People were throwing rocks and pipes over the fence. Workers were being attacked in town. The anger on peoples’ faces was beyond rational, but that is what happens when people feel they aren’t heard.”

Dias recommended the company stop construction and restart community engagement. Executives didn’t care to take her advice. Nor did they heed her recommendations at another site where newspapers were reporting that women in local communities were being raped by contractors working for the mine. Her report, she says, “was wiped out” as it went to senior management. Her job was to help the company improve community relations, but she was being handcuffed from doing so. “It was a really toxic workplace,” Dias recalls. “I would go into the office in the morning feeling sick. I thought, ‘I’m not going to let them win.’ But they ultimately won and packaged me out.”

It took her two months to recover from what she calls serious workplace bullying to shut her work down. She gave serious thought to leaving the mining sector, as many women do. “That book, Lean In, is bullshit,” Dias laughs now. “I couldn’t lean in anymore. I thought, mining is totally unethical. It was soul killing. I thought I could move the sustainability needle from the inside and sometimes you just can’t do it.”

Sabrina Dias on location in British Columbia

Then a former colleague asked her to write a sustainability plan for another mining company, and Dias figured maybe there was another way she could help mining companies become better corporate citizens. That’s when she used her severance package to start her own boutique consulting firm providing sustainability strategy and reports.”I thought I could move the sustainability needle from the inside and sometimes you just can’t do it.” –Sabrina Dias

As Dias points out, mining can never be completely sustainable; it involves altering an environment and extracting resources after all. Yet, we all have mining’s dirt on our hands when we consume its products in our vehicles, houses, infrastructure, tools, appliances, and even our computers and cell phones. According to one industry report, each American will consume some 27,400 pounds of iron ore over a lifetime. So, for Dias, the question is how do we reduce the impact of mining and make this valuable sector as sustainable as possible?

A core part of her business is producing sustainability reports (a performance report of a company’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) perfromance) that are increasingly used by investors, governments, and communities to judge a company’s performance on social, environmental, and economic sustainability as well as governance. She favours a tagline: “You measure what you value and you value what you measure.” Millennials, she says, are looking to invest in companies that not only pay well, but do good. And traditional investors are getting savvy to the fact that companies that score well on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and the Global Reporting Initiative often outperform sustainability laggards in earnings.

Dias says her work, ultimately, is about reducing risks for everyone—companies, investors, and local communities. “One shitty engagement with a community and protesters hook up to social media and the mine is shut down and stock prices plummet,” says Dias. “A company has everything to gain by integrating sustainability into its operation. It has proven to be good for the bottom line.”

Dias’s company, founded under her name in 2014, is now relaunching and incorporating as SOOP Strategies. It’s a lean operation with five associates based in various countries who are able to work around the globe, along with three senior advisors she calls her “gray hairs.” She turns to them for expertise, mentorship and, on occasion, to help open doors when, as she says, the “optics of a petite brown woman” prove a barrier.

One of those gray hairs, Jacques Gérin, a former vice president of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and deputy minister of Northern Development for Canada, calls Dias “very much a pioneer” in the field of mining sustainability. He likes to tell this story: When Dias went back to school to add a Masters in Environmental Studies (MES) to her engineering degree, she did a survey of mining’s impact on local communities in Madagascar for her thesis. But she didn’t just ask questions, Gérin says. She lived in the affected communities for weeks at a time over that year. “It took a lot of guts to do that,” he says. “It’s a very poor area and there were language difficulties. It impressed me. A man wouldn’t think that way, but a woman goes in and actually lives with people who she studies.”

In fact, Dias’s thesis advisor warned her against doing exactly that. Getting so close to her subjects is called “going tribal,” says Dias. “They worry about you getting too attached to people and their stories. But how could I not?” She calls that year life changing. What she learned then still informs her work today. “I learned about people’s fears and concerns. There’s a mining company (in your community) and they’ve hired some of you but not all.” So how can the mining company help improve the local economy and infrastructure for everyone? “Doing the right thing,” she says, “is about building trust and mutual benefits. People want running water, a school for their children.”

Her company website features a picture of Dias visiting with villagers in Madagascar, accompanied by a question: “Can you tell which one’s me?” Dias jokes that she has one of those complexions that allows her to fit in near anywhere. Her parents are from South India, of Portuguese descent. The point, she says of the photo, is that, “Everyone’s the same, whether you live in Toronto or a bush in Madagascar. Bottom line, we all want a better life for our children.”

But Doing Right Doesn’t Come Easy

Dias says she wants her company to become the Canadian mining consultant on sustainability reporting. Yet, in the next breath, she says she doesn’t want to grow too fast or large, lest that compromise the values she can bring to the sector—and the unique corporate culture she has built up. “Everyone (on the team) feels a higher purpose to what we’re doing,” says Dias.

In contrast to larger consulting firms, her teams don’t sell strategies and assign the actual work to a junior. They want to be the ones on the ground doing the work, with the client benefitting from their experience and values. Says Gérin, “What stands out in her whole career is her sense of values. She doesn’t shy away from them. People who hire her will get the full Sabrina [Dias] and things she believes in.”

Of course, there are other obstacles to growth that Dias wouldn’t mind overcoming. The first is mining’s notoriously fickle commitment to “doing the right thing.” When times are good, it’s easier to spend money on what’s often considered the “soft values.” When belts tighten, things like sustainability reports are often the first to get cut, which can make client retention difficult.

Such thinking is shortsighted according to Carole Burnham, another senior consultant to Dias. “In this century, people recognize they won’t get to do what they want [i.e. a permit to open a mine] unless they behave more responsibly,” she says. “You can’t have unrestrained capitalism in anything [with profits flowing almost completely to owners and shareholders]. You have to have proper governance and regulation and enforcement to make sure what people are committing to, they follow up on.” Burnham says mining is transforming, but too gradually.

And Being a Woman Doesn’t Make It Easier

Another challenge Dias faces is being a woman in an industry heavily dominated by men. According to Women Who Rock, an association dedicated to advancing women in mining, the sector has a problem both attracting and retaining female talent. Currently, women represent only about 17 percent of those working in the Canadian mining industry, which has barely increased from 11 percent in 1996.

Burnham, who has a PhD in chemical engineering and more than 30 years of industry experience, says the mining sector presents unique challenges for women. The work is often done in remote, isolated camps and in countries that are often politically unstable and dangerous, which makes it difficult for women caring for children. Dias, herself, spent years overseas, working on site for eight weeks and flying home for two. It’s hard on a relationship, she says, and when it came time to start a family, she wanted to work closer to home.

As well, such sites often lack proper facilities for female workers, such as safe quarters, bathrooms, and daycare. Even the clothing—like overalls designed for men—can be cumbersome and inconvenient. Frustrated, one Canadian woman left mining to start a clothing line for women in trades called Covergalls.

At the corporate level, Burnham says executives are so used to dealing with other men that they overlook women, even when they’re in the room. “It’s almost as if you’re not there. I find that if you’re in a meeting and there are a lot of people around the table, if same advice comes out of a male’s voice, people tend to hear it more than if a female is speaking,” she says. “It’s not necessarily deliberate. It’s almost unconscious.’

Ian Pearce, the former CEO of Xstrata Nickel, since bought by Glencore, has been an outspoken advocate for gender balance in mining. He says his wife, a professional engineer, quit the sector after facing sexism in the workplace “daily, hourly.” He believes the industry is going backwards rather than forwards. “We are laggards as a sector,” he says. “At times I am severely embarrassed by my male colleagues when you listen to some conversations they have. The world is being created for men and is still for men and it needs to be rebuilt.”

When Pearce pushes gender diversity, fellow executives often push back, asking why he’s not promoting diversity in general. “Diversity is good for mining,” he says, “and it helps in any form, by discipline, culture, by gender, and in diversity of thought. [But] I think once you get gender diversity in, the rest will come faster. It’s through gender we can break the ceiling on diversity.”

He admires Dias for not only sticking in the industry, but sticking to her values and setting up her own shop to promote them. “It’s courageous of someone like her,” he says. “It takes leadership and vision to take that chance.”

When Reaching Out for Help Helps

For her part, Dias says she draws on all the support she can get. She recently enrolled in BDC Capital’s The Artemis Project, geared to helping women entrepreneurs in mining and metals grow their businesses. According to BDC’s statistics, less than two percent of women entrepreneurs reach $1 million in annual revenue in Canada and fewer than one present of supply chains procure from women entrepreneurs. These stats have not budged in 15 years.

Dias also recently attended the Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum, co-produced by LiisBeth founder Petra Kassun-Mutch and three other leading feminist entrepreneurs. It was a relief, she says, to spend a day surrounded by others like herself, people who get her values.

But her company may get its biggest assist from tightening regulations in both developing countries and Canada, which will force mining to make a greater commitment to sustainability. As recently reported in The Globe and Mail, countries such as Guatemala and Chile are doing more to protect their land and Indigenous communities from the negative impacts of mining, suspending operations and bringing companies to court that don’t adequately consult with local communities.

Canada recently appointed an ombudsman to hear and resolve complaints against Canadian mining companies. And Indigenous peoples in developing countries are beginning to sue Canadian mining companies through Canadian courts, rather than weaker local justice systems. That means Canadian operations in developing countries can be held to the same human rights standard as Canadians have at home. That could put Canadian mining companies at a competitive disadvantage—or it could earn Canada a reputation for sustainable mining around the world, making Canadian companies a preferred supplier with progressive manufacturers and investors.

Says Dias: “It is a clean indicator that much more is expected of the Canadian mining industry. And rightly so. Sustainable development can no longer be transactional. It is still often treated as a ‘nice to have’ by way of philanthropy. Terms like CSR [corporate social responsibility] or SLO [social licence to operate] reflect and imply that social sustainability should remain on the periphery of operations, or one-offs without continued effort and management. Sustainability needs to be integrated into the core of a business strategy, concrete planning, which is the approach we bring to clients and on which I have always believed. The exciting part for me is that we are ready to convert that awareness into real action.”

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