In the male-dominated world of mining, women are slowly but surely digging their way to the top. While still sharply underrepresented in technical, engineering, and boardroom positions, women have made inroads into other jobs in the mining industry, such as truck operation.
“A known success story is that many mining companies now employ female truck operators as they take better care of the multi-million dollar equipment,” Barbara Dischinger, founder of Women in Mining (UK) (WIM UK) and director of the WIM Community Portal, told Resource Investing News in an interview. “There are less accidents, tire changes, and cost savings as a result.”
Dischinger said an increasing number of women are rising up the ranks, sitting on boards at mining companies and taking up more technical jobs. “In 20 years’ time, things are going to look very different. The changes will happen due to a change of attitudes and perception, the case being proven that having women in management makes sense from a business perspective, the skills shortage bringing more women into the mining workforce, more female students studying mining-related disciplines and the work of women in mining groups, to name but a few.”
Of course, some women have taken on executive roles, but they are few. Cynthia Carroll was tapped to head Anglo American (LSE:AAL) five years ago, and the world’s richest woman, Australian Gina Reinhart, presides over a multi-billion-dollar iron ore and coal empire.
On Australia’s Gold Coast, Reynolds Soil Technologies (RST) recently hired Melanie Seal as its Argentina-based country manager. The company said it has recorded an increase in the number of women in its dust control business in the fields of engineering, technical trades and environmental science.
“We have seen an increase of approximately 30 percent over the past few years of women moving into mining roles,” RST director Peter Parkinson said. “The work culture of mining is changing and we are seeing more females qualified or studying to enter into the mining industry. Though there is still a stigma around mining being a man’s job, this is beginning to shift as more and more talented women enter the workforce.”
Up-to-date statistics are not available, but a study published in 2010 shows that the representation of women in mining and exploration in Canada increased from less than 11 percent in 1996 to over 14 percent in 2006. Their representation in the overall workforce in 2006 in Canada was at 47.4 percent.
The study also shows that women in mining earn roughly 32 percent less than their male counterparts compared to the average Canadian gender-income gap of 21 percent.
In Australia, for example, while women represent 45 percent of the total workforce, only 16 percent of workers in the mining sector are women, the Australian Women in Resources Alliance (AWRA) reported in a newspaper article in April. AWRA wants to increase female participation to 25 percent of the resource, allied, and construction sectors by 2025.
Many companies are also actively helping to increase the participation of women in the mining industry. Anglo American (LSE:AAL) became the principal sponsor of WIM UK in 2010 to promote “the employment, retention and progress of women in the mining industry.”
Consulting company McKinsey & Co.’s 2012 Women Matter study, which examines the gender-diversity programs of 235 large European companies, shows that women’s representation on executive committees and corporate boards increased to 17 percent in 2011 from 10 percent in 2007.
“Despite the considerable efforts many companies have made, progress in many places is slow,” the report states. “At current rates of improvement, women will still account for under 20 percent of seats on Europe’s executive committees 10 years from now.”
In the mining sector, however, the only way for women seems to be upwards. “The male-dominated culture of mining is changing,” Dischinger said. “And it is evident in little details such as female changing areas in mines and the availability of safety gear – hard hats, harnesses – in colors like pink and purple.”
Time will tell whether these small changes will evolve into more substantive shifts, as more women take their place on minesites and in boardrooms.
Securities Disclosure: I, Karan Kumar, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.