The push for more women in the mining industry isn’t just a fairness argument; it’s a necessity.
According to Ernst & Young, accelerating women’s advancement in the workplace not only increases economic growth, but it also improves prosperity and stronger communities. In fact, evidence points to women in leadership roles such as executive or board members have a positive effect on profit margins.
While the ratio of women in the mining sector is nowhere near where it should be, organizations around the world are striving to make a bigger impact. The call to action is growing stronger, and beaming louder, than ever before.
By simply looking at the numbers, the mining industry is still largely run by men.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports only 13 percent of the mining industry is occupied by females, while only 17 percent of the sector’s workforce in Canada is female. According to a recent study by Women In Mining (UK) (co-authored with PwC), the mining sector had the worst number of women on boards of any industry group in the world. Women only occupy eight percent of all board seats in the top 100 mining companies, with only four female executive directors in this group.
Historically, women have shied away from careers in mining because of inflexible work arrangements or an unwelcoming workplace culture.
"There are a lot of barriers caused by my gender," says Wilhemina Manaso, a mine manager at BHP Billiton in South Africa. "As a woman, if you’re doing well in a male-dominated industry they think you’re having an affair with one of the senior managers. Every time I was promoted, they would say: ‘How come you promoted her? Is she having a relationship with you?’"
Despite the disappointing statistics, the mining industry is striving to change.
According to Helen Conway, Director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the mining industry has clearly demonstrated an acceptance of the business benefits of gender diversity.
“A lot of sectors have been able to duck the gender equality issue, but talent shortages in this fast growing industry have ensured gender equality is a burning platform. As a result, we are seeing some great initiatives come out of the mining sector, designed to broaden the talent pool and improve gender diversity,” Conway said.
Out of all industries, mining is experiencing the fastest rate of job growth in the last decade, fueling demand for very skilled occupations such as engineers, mining professionals and engineers.
“Mining companies can’t get enough men to fill certain jobs so they’d be crazy not to look beyond the traditional talent pool and try to attract suitably qualified women,” Conway said.
As baby boomers retire, many experts believe more women could soften the blow if companies dedicated more resources to recruiting and retaining them. Whether or not those resources become available, many women-dedicated organizations are stepping up to the plate to reinforce their presence and make their voices be heard.
The WIM, which is a national not-for-profit organization formed in 2009, works to advance the interests of women in the minerals exploration and mining sector in Canada.
“Our organization encourages peers to engage in focal issues through mentorship, networking, research, educational forums, advocacy, sharing knowledge, best practices and personal and professional development,” says Cynthia Le Sueur-Aquin, president of Laurion Mineral Exploration Inc.
Along with working to develop programs and policies aimed at increasing women’s advancement within companies, WIM strives to empower women by eliminating barriers of various career positions; provide equity in pay structure and gender advance; and create a flexible environment which aids the balance of work, community life and home.
In 2014, WIM Canada awarded a grant from Status of Women Canada to develop a National Action Plan for the attraction and retention of women in the skilled trades and executive level positions in the mining sector.
Another organization making a difference is the Women Mining Coalition. Since 1993, WMC has been cracking away at the glass ceiling, giving women a voice to speak up against political regulations as well as educating legislators the value of a healthy mining industry in the United States.
“The Women Mining Coalition is a diversified organization of miners, vendors and suppliers, and engineering firms that make up this domestic industry,” says Ann Carpenter, president and CEO of Remote Energy Solutions. “We want to find as many women from those sectors as we can to illustrate how diversified and competent the mining industry is. Mining isn’t a just a man’s job, and we want to make sure legislators understand that.
The group utilizes grassroot initiatives including organizing an annual Women’s Mining Coalition Fly-in to Washington, D.C. The purpose of the fly in is to speak with members of congress and educate them on the state of the mining industry, as well as possibly influence how some of the details of bills are crafted.
Carpenter, who served as president of WMC in the early years, recalls her first experience with the fly-in.
“On my very first trip to D.C. a member of congress came up to me and asked, ‘Are you the wife of a miner?’ I responded, ‘No, I am the miner!’
They couldn’t believe a woman worked in the mining industry. I knew immediately we could have an impact on their field of view and they would potentially listen differently.”
Over the years, the outreach efforts to D.C. have garnered steam. Last year, equipment manufacturer Caterpillar sent 20 women to the fly-in event to better understand the process.
“Every single woman from Caterpillar was so impressed with what we’re doing and how we add value to our members. It’s one of the many ways we work to empower women and create a network to interact with a wide spectrum of industries,” says Lynne Volpi, coordinator for WMC.
Even organizations in Africa are empowering women. With over 1,000 members, WiMSA (Women in Mining South Africa) aims to provide a forum for support and guidance for personal growth, leadership and career development for women.
“A big challenge many women in South Africa’s mining industry feel is a lack of guidance and role models,” says Noleen Paul, chairman for WiMSA.
“More than half of the WiMSA 2014 South African Industry Survey respondents feel that there is a lack of career development guidance relevant to them. Respondents also feel a lack of access to relevant role models and mentors makes getting ahead a challenge.”
With the help of these organizations, women are able to receive the guidance and support needed to develop and growth within the mining industry. They also serve to inspire women in networking and building relationships throughout the sector.
Changing of the guard
In recent years, mining companies have made a big push to change stereotypes and encourage more women to enter the sector which has seen female participation levels increase. Companies like Rio Tinto, Newmont Mining, and Goldcorp have all implemented recruitment programs to enlist more women into operations.