Mining and gender balance are not two terms that go hand in hand. According to the FT, mining remains one of the industries where women are least represented and organisations have, in the past, been accused of setting lots of targets but taking little action.
The Hampton Alexander Review looks at the proportion of female leaders in FTSE companies. It ranks companies on various criteria, including on progress made in diversifying leadership teams. In the 2018 edition, mining companies accounted for 3 of the top 10 which had made the least progress.
So, the situation could be better. However, that’s not to say that mining is a lost cause. Some companies, like Rio Tinto and Randgold Resources have made real progress when it comes to appointing female board members and there are numerous industry bodies working on issues like these.
One such body is the Association for Mineral Exploration (AME). They’re the lead association for the mineral exploration and development industry based in the mining hotbed of British Columbia.
For the next installment of our #womeninindustrial series, I spoke with both Tracey Sexton, Director of Communications & Corporate Affairs and Edie Thome, President & CEO of AME about how they, BC-based companies and the wider industry, are trying to tackle mining’s diversity problem.
Attracting More Women to Mineral Exploration and Mining
“I think in general millennials might be thinking that mining is a sunset industry and it is certainly not”.
A reoccurring theme throughout our conversations was about mining’s image. If we’re trying to balance the gender scales out in the mining sector, then a change in perception of the industry is needed.
That’s not just at an adult, or working age, either. At the entry level, it’s about creating pipelines by attracting more females into STEM-focused programmes of study and careers which would have the effect of seeing more women entering the mining and engineering sectors. That talent pipeline issue is one that won’t be solved immediately, but change is happening. Tracey also spoke of how important it is for companies to encourage diversity through culture and values. AME themselves have done this with their own 25-strong board. Having identified underrepresented groups, they simply sought out new members. A task that was “actually a really easy problem to solve” according to Edie.
“Once we consider the ways that we have been attracting and recruiting employees, and whether we employ people that may not be like us or like our other employees, then we encourage an open culture that's promoting inclusiveness and diversity, that goes a long way too.”
For some smaller companies, hiring strategies may not be a priority, or may be non-existent. For them, the main thing is getting the right person for the job, regardless of their gender. If the number of female candidates out there with the required skills are finite, employed elsewhere or unavailable, there’s not much they can do. That’s why the work that’s going into diversifying pipelines and helping women get into the industry is so important, although that’s only half the battle.
Keeping More Women in Mineral Exploration and Mining
The other half is keeping women that have chosen mineral exploration and mining as a career, in mining. The demanding nature of the sector, particularly in terms of travel, can prompt some established professionals to leave the industry. A point that Edie raised was that travel is a difficult part of the job to cope with, but that “it is [not] necessarily a challenge for women more than men, it’s just a challenge”. Edie noted that companies need to “start utilizing existing technology and accept that we don’t need to all be in the same place at the same time to complete the work we need to do”. Flexible working practices could unlock the potential of the industry, whilst at the same time locking more mid-career professionals in.
AME have created a mentorship programme to address issues like these, and other organisations also exist like Women in Mining, who hold regular events and reward companies that promote a diverse and inclusive culture. It’s not as simple as just saying nothing can be done because ‘women don’t like leaving their family’. And that’s a point being proved by AME and Women in Mining.
“One of the things we work hard on is improving the image of the industry at large. We’ve been working on a program to help communicate the fact that the industry is very innovative and progressive and is technology focused, attracting a broader group of people into the industry.”
One point both Edie and Tracey mentioned was that the industry needs to celebrate success more than it does currently. For example, Edie made repeated references to the phenomenal technological capabilities of the modern mining business, but when do we see mineral exploration or mining advances in the mainstream press?
There’s a huge amount of creativity, innovation and excitement in the industry. If the messaging is handled correctly, that’s also sure to attract many more employees of a range of diverse groups.
Another thing Edie noticed on entering the industry two years ago was the “graciousness and generosity of the people” in the sector. Again, this ‘team spirit’ and togetherness that the mining community has is rarely celebrated but should be. It’s a big selling point.
“I think that there is an understanding now that diverse teams make better decisions. Some companies are equating gender balance and diversity with profits, which is a helpful business case”.
There’s also a very real financial incentive for businesses to further diversify. As Tracey said, there’s been a lot of research done into the fact that more balanced and diverse teams make better business decisions overall. And better decisions mean bigger profits.
As a sector, we’re not perfect and there’s still work to do. However, the impression I’ve been given is that there are so many more simple, easy steps companies could take to attract more women into mining. Celebrating the wins, shouting about the technology and communicating with a younger audience could all have a huge impact.
How do we achieve this? Well, advocacy groups like those I’ve mentioned can certainly help. But embracing social media, video conferencing and other tech could also have a huge impact to help eliminate the excuses made previously for women not sticking with the industry.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Progress won’t be immediate and, if 90% of the workforce was male 20 years ago, it’s natural to assume that 90% of the boardrooms today will be. But as we see more diversity, more variety and more invention at the top, middle and bottom of that hiring funnel, things are definitely changing for the better.
With the help of organisations like AME, Women in Mining and others, the industry is moving in the right direction.
The interview for this article took place in May 2019. Since June 13 2019, Kendra Johnston has taken over from Edie Thome as President & CEO.
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