Liability and insurance are the hurdles that keep the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada from offering childcare at its annual convention. Courtesy of PDAC

Since giving birth to her son almost two years ago, Elizabeth Vaughn Cleland has all but given up attending meetings in mineral exploration. Conferences are a valuable tool for new mothers to keep in touch with the industry, network and make contacts, but she found that resources for them at conferences, like lactation rooms and child care, were lacking.

Now a stay-at home-mom, Vaughn Cleland, who is a geologist in mineral exploration by profession, described her first experience at a conference with her son as “okay.”

“The lactation room was kind of like a closet that they stuck a chair and a lamp in,” said Vaughn Cleland. She had to find someone who would open the door with a key, she explained, but if she left the room she would have to go back and get someone to open the door again. “You weren't locked in, but if you left the door would lock behind you,” she explained. “So you couldn't walk out and go clean your stuff and come back.”

Not being able to make contacts at meetings will be an obstacle when she re-enters the workforce. Compound that with a gap in her resume, and Vaughn Cleland fears that damage to her career may have already been done. “Because I can't go to those [meetings], I feel a little more isolated,” she said. “It's more difficult for me to keep up with things and now I feel like I'm completely left behind.”

For mothers in the mining industry who have young children, resources like lactation rooms or childcare at conferences and in the workplace can mean the difference between staying up-to-date or falling behind in their careers.

Vaughn Cleland’s first conference as a new mom was the Geological Society of America (GSA) meeting, in October 2016. She had picked it after reading online that the GSA had lactation rooms and childcare available.

Related: Mining companies adopt flexible work policies to accommodate new mothers

Several factors, such as the physical location or liability insurance, come into play when an association wants to offer child care or nursing rooms.

For the GSA, the available spaces can change year to year, depending on the building. “Ideally, [the door] would be open and be able to be locked from the inside,” said Melissa Cummiskey, the GSA’s senior director of meetings and events, referring to Vaughn Cleland’s experience. “But it depends on the facility, every convention centre is so different in trying to find a space.” Safety is also a consideration.

The annual GSA meeting draws in about 7,000 attendees, according to Cummiskey, and GSA has had subsidized childcare for US$9 an hour per child since 2001, through a company called KiddieCorp.

“As a parent you still want to be able to go and present your research, and network, and to do all the things you need to do for your job, but also to take care of your family,” said Cummiskey. “So it is really important for us to provide that.” GSA also has a junior geologist program at the meeting.

“So many times we find both parents are at the meeting ... and so it's just very difficult,” said Cummiskey. “We want to make sure we're as supportive as possible.”


As a mother herself, Cummiskey said she understands that taking care of a family and a career can be a balancing act. “It's not easy, but it's great to be able to have a family and to also be able to continue with your profession. It is really important.”

Liability and insurance are the hurdles that keep the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada from offering childcare at its annual convention, which hosted more than 25,000 participants this year from 120 countries.

“From an event planning standpoint and from an association standpoint, there are significant liabilities that are connected with caring for the children of others,” said Lisa McDonald, PDAC’s interim executive director. “That is not a liability that we, as an association, would like to take on; it is quite challenging in that area.”

PDAC has two permanent nursing stations at its event, private meeting rooms available, and free entrance for youths 16 and under. It has also formed a diversity and inclusion group that will create guidance to foster more inclusive and diverse workplaces.

That importance of conferences as a means for new mothers to network and stay connected to the industry is not lost on McDonald, who nursed her second daughter at a PDAC board meeting. “It is important that we continue to make some advances in these kinds of accommodations, and to make it known that it is welcomed, not just accommodated.”

Related: Liane Boyer turned to prospecting for the flexibility to raise a family, and the thrill of the chase

McDonald said that PDAC would continue to look into providing childcare, but does not see those liability challenges going away in the near term.

From the perspective of the conference service provider, it’s still not the norm to receive requests for childcare from an association. Though, according to Françoise Guilluy, a senior project manager with International Conference Services Ltd., the demand is slowly increasing, thanks to a changing demographic among the attendees. “There are a lot more younger women attending conferences, so we have some demands, but this is not something that is provided on the regular basis,” she said. “Some conferences are very male-dominated and then the client doesn’t even think of that.”

Nursing stations or quiet rooms are almost the standard for International Conference Services, Guilluy said.

Patricia Pearson, managing partner of CanPlan Event and Conference Services, has found it less requested from her clients. One client cancelled childcare at their conference after a few years because there was so little uptake. “It gets quite expensive,” she said.

The challenges involved with offering childcare can be costly, including licensing, the ratio of staff to children and even the age of the children. “It’s not something simple,” said Guilluy. “The challenge is to get the information early enough so you can provide a proper service.”    

The increase is something that Guilluy sees as a good thing. “It can be difficult if you are a young professional with a family,” she said. “I know when my kids were younger it was difficult to juggle travel and the kid’s daycare if I didn’t have the support of my partner.”

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