The following letter was published in the Mining Journal issue of 26 November 2010, which was widely distributed during Mines and Money London 2010.
As a director of the UK network of Women in Mining, I would like to draw your readers’ attention to the fact that the representation of women in mining and exploration is among the lowest in primary-industry categories. Yet, as forecasts point to a re-emergence of skill shortages within the next decade, attracting and retaining women is one of the keys to sustainable growth in the mineral sector.
Despite being dynamic sectors which offer diverse and often lucrative career options, mining and exploration suffer from a negative perception in recruitment markets.
This is due in part to the work-life challenges inherent in some occupations and the image of a low-tech, difficult and dirty work environment.
This reputation, along with the effects of trends in educational choices and an ageing workforce, are some of the causes of the shortage of technical skills expected to impact mining in the coming decade.
According to a recent study conducted by Women in Mining Canada, challenges still faced by women in the mining sector relate primarily to a sometimes unsupportive work culture and the lack of visible female role models among senior executives.
A pay gap also remains in the sector and, in fact, recently widened in certain markets: the 2009 AusIMM Remuneration and Employment Survey showed a marked increase in the gender pay gap from previous years, demonstrating that women are more likely to be undervalued in a downturn.
Yet there are opportunities and women are seizing them, individually and collectively.
The growing number of women in the mining industry has facilitated the development of dedicated professional networks in a number of key jurisdictions including Canada, the US, Australia, South Africa and the UK.
Although they are operated independently, these groups are starting to build relationships, sharing information and best practices. They are also participating constructively in industry debate and proposing solutions to key issues such as the anticipated skills shortage or the gender pay gap.
Encouraging women to work in mining, and promoting female leaders is beneficial to mining-related businesses, where a critical mass of women at all levels, including senior management, has been linked to higher organisational performance and, for an industry which needs to continue to grow, to deliver the resources that fuel economic development.
UK WIM network director”