How are the national Women in Mining groups aligned and what role does the Women in Mining International Portal play?
Barbara Dischinger (BD): Even if there is a shared vision, each Women in Mining (WIM) group is an independent entity. Each entity is managed and financed differently depending on its location, it will have fewer or more members and the composition of its members will differ depending on how close or how far it is to mining operations. Mostly groups start at the initiative of one individual and are shaped over time. The oldest WIM group was formed in Denver in 1972 and became a national organisation in 1981 and now counts six chapters. Many have sprung up over the past 10 years.
WIM International Portal was initiated end of 2007 to be a web based community integrating all existing groups as well as non-affiliated female professionals. Its purpose is to inform and discuss as well as to promote networking.
Amanda van Dyke (AvD): As each group progresses, knowledge and experience is shared, allowing other groups to progress or implement new initiatives while avoiding a painful learning curve. Women in Mining UK (WIM UK), for example, coordinated with Women in Mining South Africa (WiMSA) to facilitate WiMSA’s first sponsorship from Anglo American, which was already a WIM (UK) sponsor. WIM (UK) also shared the knowhow and experience of creating a website, as well as contacts that could be relevant to both groups.
Do you believe mining is still perceived as a male dominated industry?
BD: Yes, it is. An often negative perception of the industry and a lack of awareness – even by women employed in mining – of career opportunities within mining and exploration deter young women and students from choosing the industry as a career destination. More awareness programmes need to be put in place at secondary and undergraduate education levels. Mining is actually a vibrant, ever changing, global industry that offers many challenges and opportunities for those working in it.
AvD: Yes, without a doubt. And it is not a perception, but a reality. The statistics vary and remain difficult to compare because of the different circumstances in each country and sub-sector of the industry, but across professions and businesses the overwhelming majority of employment within the global industry is male, and that only increases in management and leadership roles.
How have perceptions towards women in the mining industry changed in recent years?
AvD: In countries where mining is a key industry, like Australia and Canada, the general shortage of people has caused businesses to hire more women out of necessity, and out of that was borne a realisation that in some capacities women were actually better than men. One famous example concerns truck driving, where women have proven more efficient, using less fuel and causing less expensive wear and tear on the machinery. That realisation has spread across the industry and, where available, women are being hired more and more to drive trucks.
The Equator Principles and the growing trend of community stakeholder involvement in mining projects globally have required miners to consider female employment not only in terms of workforce, but also from a stakeholder engagement point of view: women make up 50% or more of mining-affected communities and often wield power in those communities that can influence companies' social licence to operate.
These factors and others have slowly but surely changed the perception of the industry towards women, and at the very least made it clear that the employment, retention and promotion of women at all levels of businesses was both an issue that needs to be addressed and an opportunity for the mining sector to address other issues.
BD: There is more encouragement of women to join the industry, companies are placing more focus on improving maternity leave conditions and they're making it easier for women to come back after having a baby. Both the gender pay gap and the Women on Boards issues have been acknowledged. Also, the need to have more women at management and leadership level has not only been acknowledged but has started to be addressed.
This is highly influenced by current mining economics. The Minerals Council of Australia forecasts that by 2020, and at present rates of productivity, the Australian mining industry will need to increase employment by 68% or 83,000 new positions. Other mining jurisdictions facing similar situations, therefore, women are now seen as the untapped resource and will be a big percentage of the new employees taken in to bridge the existing skills shortage.
What do you consider to be the most significant obstacles in attracting women into the industry?
AvD: The general perception is that mining is a male, rough and tumble industry with operations in the barren hinterlands and scary countries, run by cave men doing something environmentally questionable. That might be an archaic and incorrect point of view, but it does persist. Also, despite the size of the global mining business, there isn’t actually that much employment in it, so people aren’t generally exposed directly to the mining industry and miners. Mining needs to do a few things as an industry to increase public awareness of the importance and nature of the modern mining industry.
Secondly, for women at least, there are not a lot of role models. With the distinct exception of Cynthia Carroll, there are very few prominent, well known women within the industry to carry the flag and show women that it is an industry where not only are they welcome but that they can thrive.
How can businesses overcome these obstacles and make mining a more attractive career proposition for women?
BD: Once women have chosen mining and exploration as a career destination more effort needs to be placed on retention. However, efforts often concentrate only on women as a whole workforce rather than separate them into groups. For example, young women at the beginning of their careers will have different retention issues and won’t be looking at work-life balance yet.
More women need to be included in senior promotions, seats on boards and be encouraged to take management positions. More training needs to be given to help them learn necessary skills be they leadership or management.
Linley Lord, a leading academic on women in resources at Curtin University in Australia, believes miners can boost the amount of women they employ to 25% if they're serious about making changes to their practices. She says there are plenty of good initiatives but few are resulting in big jumps in the proportion of women in the workforce. She therefore questions whether the policies many companies have implemented are actually being put into practice and is currently investigating this on behalf of the Mineral's Council of Australia.
AvD: Education to change internal resistance and show both miners and management the benefits of diversity in terms of efficiency, safety and profits, thereby boosting the acceptance and respect for women within the industry.
Jobs that provide security and benefits that support a female lifestyle, i.e. maternity leave and flexible working hours. That doesn’t necessarily mean that women should get extra benefits, but rather that the industry needs to be a bit more flexible if it wants to attract and retain female personnel – and possibly also men who are not yet requesting such flexibility but may not choose mining as a career because it is lacking.
Are some geographies making quicker progress than others when it comes to recruiting and retaining female employees?
AvD: Yes, Australia Canada. Both countries have a large mining industry as well as very modern societies that consider gender equality of national importance, and have groups at every level that have encouraged the industry to push the boundaries. It is important to note that both of these countries generally have greater gender employment equality across all industries, and legal systems that promote and protect gender equality generally, not just within the mining industry. That being said, given their dominance as mining countries, they are to some extent leading the way when it comes to promoting diversity within the industry.
Have the Women in Mining groups set any official or unofficial targets to help increase the number of females in the mining industry over the next 3-5 years?
AvD: WIM UK has not set out such targets, but of course we would like to see steady progress.
We have noted with great interest the initiatives and progress of the 30% Club, a group of Chairmen (of which Anglo American’s Sir John Parker is a member) voluntarily committed to bringing more women onto UK corporate boards. 30% seems a reasonable objective in the short to medium term, though it would be false progress if this were implemented artificially – the number of women needs to increase at all levels of leadership and management, with more women allowed and encouraged to progress throughout their career through to the most senior management and decision-making positions.
Fundamental changes to an industry don’t happen overnight - but that cannot be an excuse for complacency.