“Women of the Diamond Industry” focuses on the issue of gender equality along the entire diamond and jewelry supply chain. The series provides a platform for women in the industry to tell their own story and describe the particular challenges they have faced in their careers.
The third article in the series is authored by Polina Proksheva, a geophysicist employed by ALROSA, the Russian diamond mining company.
DREAMING BIG AND MAKING IT HAPPEN
AT 30 DEGREES BELOW CELSIUS
Polina Proksheva out in the field in Yakutia. Two years after graduating from the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the Ural State Mining University in Yekaterinburg, she is now a member of ALROSA’s Vilui exploration expedition.
Most regard mining as an archetypal masculine vocation, but things are not necessarily as one would expect. The Russian diamond mining industry boasts a uniquely feminine gender heritage, with the Zarnitsa pipe, the first ever primary diamond deposit developed in the Soviet Union, having been discovered in 1954 by the two women geologists – Natalya Sarsadskikh and Larisa Popugayeva.
In fact, since Russian diamonds first made their way into world markets some 60 years ago, the tradition of women in its industry’s geological service has always been preserved. Many continue to join the profession in pursuit of their own diamond dream. This is my story.
I am a geophysicist employed by ALROSA, the Russian diamond producer. Twenty-four years of age, I graduated two years ago from the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the Ural State Mining University in Yekaterinburg, in western Siberia. As the crow flies, that is almost 3,000 kilometers from the city in Yakutia in which I now live and work, the so-called Russian diamond capital of Mirny.
It could be said that I chose my profession because it sounded glamorous. In Russian the word for both “exploration” and “secret service” is “razvedka.” The name of the specialization caught my attention at university, and I imagined myself as a special agent wearing sunglasses. It was only later that I came to realize it involved not espionage, but the exploration of minerals, precious metals and gemstones.
To pursue my profession, I needed to travel far from the place with which I was familiar. But I was very lucky to have my best friend and a few other former classmates moving from Yekaterinburg to Mirny together with me. With them by my side, moving to a new place was not that stressful. Our cozy hostel also helped, and it didn’t take long before the other people living there, who it turned out were both sociable and understanding, had become good friends.
Polina Proksheva at her desk in Mirny. She gathers and then processes data from aeromagnetic surveys, looking for geological anomalies that could indicate diamond deposits.
Yekaterinburg has chilly winters, but nothing compared to Mirny, where the temperature frequently falls to below minus 30 degrees Celsius. Undoubtedly the greatest challenge in the beginning was becoming used to the harsh climate, just as it is was hard to adjust to the amount of daylight we have during the winter months, which each day is just a few hours. That said, winters in Yakutia are very beautiful.
From the time I joined ALROSA as a junior geologist, I have been a member of the airborne geophysical studies team of the Vilui exploration expedition. It’s not a pure field work. I gather and then process data from aeromagnetic surveys using a special software, drawing maps of the magnetic fields.
I study anomalies, looking into details. If the picture looks promising, we provide our colleagues with this information to start drilling to find the source of an abnormality.
The element of my job that I find most exciting is waiting for the drilling results.
There was a time that geology was considered a stereotypical male occupation, but that no longer is the case. Yes, our work team is still made up predominantly of men, but I have never encountered any misunderstanding or discrimination. My male teammates are always ready to assist, support, advise and come to my rescue.
More than that, in our profession there are successful top women managers, including chief geophysicists. If you want to do field work and succeed, you should have all the opportunities to do so. Geology is a wonderful example that nothing is impossible.
ALROSA is committed to providing equal opportunities to all its employees, with the company promoting gender parity, and equality in terms of opportunity, with women able to self-actualize in almost any profession. The share of women among its employees currently is 30 percent, for both management and overall personnel, which is one of the highest rates among all the mining companies.
As soon as I joined ALROSA, I immediately realized how interesting the life of a young professional can be. In Mirny we have a young employees’ council, where most of the participants are recent university graduates. We take part in sporting events, go hiking, do volunteer work and help people. The company also offers a wide choice of educational courses. Such events help to bring us together and make us feel engaged. We strive to improve our own lives and those of the community, as well as conserving the stunning environment that surrounds us. It is part of helping the company fulfill its sustainability obligations in a region as vast as Yakutia.
ALROSA does a great deal to make employees comfortable, investing in the promotion of a healthy lifestyle and wellbeing. There are many gyms in Mirny and two swimming pools, all built by the company. I love sports, but my main hobby is ballet. It helps me reveal myself and my creativity, and to gain self-confidence.
Russia’s diamond capital of Mirny in the winter. The town lies immediately adjacent to giant open pit of the Mir mine. (Photo: © Carlos Folgoso)
I love my profession. Geophysics is the eyes and ears of the diamond-mining industry. We are proactive, looking for new geological opportunities that will ensure the future our sector.
My dream is to specialize as a geophysicist, and to introduce innovative approaches and technology. My message to all young women who have chosen to be geologists is that we can achieve anything we set our minds to.
Dream big, work hard and make it happen.
A landmark in Mirny is the memorial dedicated to Russia’s first diamond explorers. (Photo: © ALROSA)