Women in Mining (WIM) Canada is a non-profit, industry-led group tasked with advancing the interests of women in the metals and minerals sectors. WIM Canada seeks to provide Employers, Employees, and Educators with tools and resources to break down barriers to employment, improve advancement opportunities, and ultimately increase the representation of Women in leadership positions. www.wimcanada.org
Canadian women in mining and exploration represent a highly-skilled talent pool in a range of occupations, from CEOs, engineers, and geologists, to heavy equipment operators, and related industry workers. Recognizing the value of this resource to the sector, and concerned about women’s under-representation and underemployment, Women in Mining (WIM) Canada initiated the Ramp-UP study. Its purpose is to gather data on the issue and establish a baseline for measuring improvements.
The study gathered baseline statistical data on the representation of women as well as the perspectives of four key stakeholders, Female Employees, Employers, Female Students, and Educators on issues such as:
• working conditions and retention
• work–life support
• opportunities for advancement
• school-to-work transition
• degree of awareness and long-term appeal of mineral sector career opportunities
Key messages emerged from the study, which will elevate the priority of issues related to women in the mineral sector, and provide direction on industry practices that will make a difference:
• At 14.4 per cent, the representation of women in mining and exploration is the lowest among primary industry categories in Canada. Steady improvements over the last decade have closed the gap, but this percentage remains well below the overall labour force average of 47.4 per cent. The wage gap between men and women is well above the national average.
• A critical mass of women at all levels of an organization including senior management has been linked to higher organizational performance. With business forecasts pointing to a re-emergence of skill shortages and building towards generalized labour shortages by 2017, attracting and retaining under-utilized sources of talent, including women, will enhance performance of the mineral sector.
• Numerous barriers to career success were identified by two-thirds of Women working or previously employed in the sector and by one-third of industry Employers. Barriers reported by Employers as ‘most critical’ were also noted by Women respondents. However women differed about which barriers were most critical.
• Flexible work practices were identified by Women respondents as a primary working condition that needed to be addressed. Provided they receive sufficient flexibility and support, women are ready, able, and willing to fulfill the rigorous demands of mining and exploration occupations.
• Work culture was the second-ranked challenging work condition for Women respondents, but was identified by only 3 out of 67 Employers. For women, the “male-dominated” environment was also identified as the foremost issue at all phases of their career, from their successful transition to careers in the sector through to their career development and advancement.
• Gender-specific challenges to career advancement were identified as a barrier by two-thirds of Women respondents. Less than 30 per cent of Employer respondents agreed. Women reported that career advancement was most difficult in technical occupations, skilled trades and senior leadership roles. They also reported that having female executive role models helped.
• The number of women choosing to enter into exploration and mining remains low. Fewer women are entering new careers in the sector. Students who intended pursuing careers in the sector indicated they were influenced by career opportunities and competitive pay and benefits.
Based on this study and WIM Canada’s experience the following recommendations are provided:
• Training and career development of women within mineral organizations should have stronger emphasis. Industry associations could assist employers to access available funds, including programs for Outreach, Training, Mentorship and Career and Leadership Development.
• More flexibility and time is needed for all employees to arrange remote/international assignments.
• Eliminating assumptions about women’s ability to manage field work is vital. In addition there is a need to address practices that collectively contribute to perceptions of a male-dominated culture, including awareness training, closing the wage gap, and implementing mentorship programs.
• Reporting diversity measures in organizations’ sustainability/ annual reports should be encouraged.
• Encouraging women to pursue careers in the sector. Post-secondary alumni groups, women’s networks and industry associations should be supported to build awareness of the sector among mature skilled women and Aboriginal women, and to help organize work placement of youth and post-secondary students.
• Promoting a positive image of the sector is essential. Women’s professional associations should be encouraged to advocate for the exploration and mining industry through testimonials and to speak to groups to heighten awareness and dispel public misconceptions about the sector.
• Industry’s sponsorship of awards programs will enhance profile and celebrate progress. Such events recognize and encourage world class practices, and identify and applaud organizations’ milestone achievements, while promoting women’s accomplishments from operational and trades levels to senior leadership.
Tackling gender diversity provides the mining and exploration sector with an opportunity to show leadership on a pressing social and economic issue. Increasing the representation of women across all occupational areas and levels will improve business performance and ensure that the mineral sector has the flexibility, adaptability, and focus to meet the needs of tomorrow in a highly-competitive global industry.