Meet MaryAnn Crichton, Managing Director of Investment and Business Planning at Hatch

MaryAnn Crichton has been a PDAC member for over 20 years and joined the Board of Directors in 2017. She is co-chair of PDAC’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee and member of the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group.

Having completed an undergraduate study in chemical engineering, MaryAnn began her career in the mining and mineral exploration sector at Shell Canada in Alberta. Shortly after, she found herself back in school, where she received her MBA and moved into private equity. Through a broad range of experiences with exploration companies and financial institutions, MaryAnn continued her career at Hatch where she is currently a Managing Director and Senior Partner.

Throughout her career, MaryAnn was often the first and only female in her organization. However, since then, she has seen companies making significant strides to incorporate diversity and inclusion training. At PDAC, MaryAnn is committed to helping the organization take a leadership role with the issue of equity, diversity, and inclusion. In doing so, she hopes to attract more diversity into the industry by continuing to emphasize opportunities for women, minorities, younger people, and Indigenous groups.

Today, MaryAnn mentors young women and men in the industry, encouraging them to find a career that aligns with their passion. She also volunteers with many groups in her community. MaryAnn has been active in the Canadian Women’s Foundation and Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO). She was awarded the PEO Order of Honour at the Officer level. In 2006, she was awarded the Ontario Public Service Award for co-founding the Women in Engineering Advisory Committee, updating the Engineering Awards, and other PEO committee work. She is a “Fellow” of Engineers Canada.  MaryAnn believes in giving back to the communities in which she and her family live.

We caught up with MaryAnn as part of Women's History Month to ask about her experiences as a female engineer, and what she hopes to achieve during her time on the PDAC Board.

Learn more about MaryAnn's story

How would you describe your job to someone unfamiliar with the title and the sector?

As a chemical engineer with a MBA, the managing consulting group combines technical and commercial insight on a wide range of opportunities in the mining, mineral, metals, infrastructure and energy industries. It involves working with client, internal and other teams, lots of analysis, often travel, coupled with business insights and innovation to recommend feasible solutions. For instance, I work internationally with companies, financers and investors on mergers and acquisitions, strategy, financings, ESG (environment, social and governance), capital project development and operations improvement projects. There is a lot of variety as a management consultant in the mining and mineral sector.

Why did you decide to follow a career in chemical engineering?     

MaryAnn Crichton_picture 1 I am not sure there is a short answer to this, as I didn’t have any role models or guidance in high school. It took some time to make the decision to apply to engineering school, as I started university in honours chemistry with a physics minor. But I was encouraged by the boyfriend of a good friend at another university to make the switch. I was very interested in science, math and the environment, and wanted a profession solving practical problems. My parents were incredibly supportive and my father mentioned that with an engineering degree there are so many different opportunities and avenues to follow. So it seemed like a good place to start a career.

As the first, and only, female engineer and partner at various organizations throughout your career, did you feel like you had to work harder to prove yourself as a woman in the industry?

Yes, of course I worked hard, but everyone works hard when they are starting out. Universities and companies have been developing programs for diversity and inclusion of women and visible minorities. Of course there is still more work to be done as women still get paid less than men in similar positions, unconscious bias needs to be tackled and there needs to be more women representation on boards and in senior leadership positions. Men have to stand up and support diversity and inclusion at all levels in a company. Many women now make immense contributions, from senior women throughout the ranks.

Is engineering a career that you would recommend to other women, and if so, why?

Yes, it is a great profession. Engineering provides many opportunities, and I think the mining and mineral exploration sector now is being more innovative by using advanced technology and being much more environmentally and socially responsible. It is no longer a sleepy, old sector. There are many new and exciting developments. Engineering is a great way to start a career and I would encourage anybody to consider it. It is a lot of fun, with a lot of variety.

Were there obstacles that you have had to overcome as a woman in your career?

There is still the big issue of systemic bias or unconscious bias. Disturbingly, where I see that manifested the most is when a woman is decisive and provides clear leadership, she could be deemed as bossy or aggressive. A man with those same traits is deemed a strong leader and decisive. It is a tight line to walk and you have to communicate a lot and be very personable. In addition, no matter what sector you are in, women remain underpaid in comparison to men. While we have come a long way, there is still more to go. Fortunately, I see millennial and younger men being very open, unbiased and supportive of women and other minorities.

It is no secret that men dominate the mineral exploration and mining sector. Have you noticed any progress throughout your career to try to close that gap?

MaryAnn Crichton_Photo 2Absolutely. Many companies have made significant strides in the last five years to make things more gender-friendly and inclusive. Small things like equipment modifications and work clothes and safety gear that fits. Many studies show that diverse companies perform better financially, so boards of directors and management in many companies have been through diversity and inclusion training. Diverse teams make better decisions by having a range of options for approaching problem solving. I am not just talking about gender diversity—although that is the first tier—but, diversity of thought improves decision-making. Many companies now appreciate the importance of diversity and have developed programs to hire and retain women to ensure they feel supported in various aspects of their career.

What advice do you have for students, particularly young women, interested in a career within the mining sector?

The minerals and mining sectors offer a wide range of exciting careers. Follow your passion and you will always find a route to do things you want to do. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time. Be confident in your abilities—not just technical skills but also the ability to communicate effectively, work on teams and lead groups. One of the things I tell the women that I mentor—and even the men—is that you have to network. Get to know what options are out there, what other people are doing and where the industry is headed. Get involved in industry associations and volunteer work. Women traditionally have not networked well or feel reticent to reach out to people in the industry for advice. Most people, when you ask them for guidance, will be happy to talk to you and direct you to the others. My youngest daughter is in third-year university and interested in supply chain management. With the pandemic, things look quite challenging. I keep encouraging her to do market research, talk to people in a variety of industries and network to find opportunities something that she likes to do.

Why men are more likely to network than women are?

Well maybe women lack confidence or have not been shown how to do it or have not been encouraged. It is interesting to see how men get onto boards because they went to university together, often meet by playing squash together or at the golf course. It seems to come more naturally for men, the "bro network". 

Is there anything you would like to achieve during your term on the PDAC board?

We must take a leadership role in the issue of equity, diversity, and inclusion. It is one of PDAC’s strategic imperatives. Last year, as part of e3 Plus, PDAC published a diversity and inclusion guideline. That was an essential step because e3 Plus is a benchmark used throughout the world for exploration and development companies. It is a gold standard reference point that other associations have adopted. We have also finalized an equity, diversity, and inclusion policy for the PDAC itself, which was approved at the board meeting in October.

Why is this important for PDAC and the industry?

It is a complex topic to understand and takes much training and discussion—I am also learning a lot. If you can understand how other people think, it helps you approach problem solving and creates awareness. To attract more diversity into the industry, I would like to see us continue to emphasize opportunities for younger people, women, minorities, and Indigenous people. There are many opportunities, and I believe it is up to us to profile the industry as progressive to attract talent and the next generation.

You are a member and co-chair of PDAC’s Diversity and Inclusion Working Group and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee. What do these committees hope to achieve?

The first step was to develop a policy for PDAC. That will then dictate several steps and actions to make the organization more aware of things like cultural bias and unconscious bias. We are also committing to annual reporting. Committees will be required to answer questions on how they measure their own progress to improve equity, diversity, and inclusion. For instance, the Convention Planning Committee will have to decide what benchmarks they will use to show improvements—more women speakers, more women on committees, and things like that.

Meet the other women featured in our Women's History Month campaign