Attracting and Retaining Women in the Australian Resource Industry

Published: 21/06/2013

02/09/2012, By AMMA Mining Oil & Gas Jobs

Strength through workforce diversity

Last year AMMA introduced its members to the Australian Women in Resources Alliance (AWRA) – an initiative aimed at increasing female participation in the resources workforce. With 2012 well underway, AMMA director Minna Knight discusses AWRA’s message, objectives and how you can get involved.

AS the full employment and economic benefits from Australia’s heightening resources activities just get started, one significant challenge remains – where will the workers come from?

More major projects are ramping up and Australia’s tightening labour market coupled with low unemployment and an ultra-competitive recruitment landscape is rapidly leading to one scenario – a major skills shortage in the resource industry.

Industry reports indicate the shortage of professionals will double throughout 2012. Demand for trades and labour during construction activities will peak at 83,000 by 2013 and operational staff shortages are expected to reach 85,000 by 2016.

How prosperous this new age of resources activity will truly be depends upon one thing – how well the industry and governments address this skills shortage now.

Enter AWRA

The National Resource Sector Workforce Strategy (NRSWS) identified a number of key ways Australia’s resource industry can plug this skills gap. With these significant projects entering the critical phases that could define the industry for decades to come, the importance of developing demographics traditionally under-represented in resources employment has never been greater.

The Australian Women in Resources Alliance (AWRA) has been created to further develop and engage one of the greatest underutilised sources of talent – women.

The AWRA project was launched in late 2011 at AMMA’s West Coast Conference in Perth. In front of hundreds of key resource industry delegates, AWRA’s mission was outlined to rapturous response, strong interest and significant media coverage. The inaugural meeting of the AWRA Reference Group was attended by 22 key stakeholders representing 17 organisations.

The evidence that greater gender diversity results in a highly productive and dynamic workforce is compelling. Alongside the federal government, the Australian Human Rights Commission completed research involving the leaders of Australia’s largest companies – all of whom agreed gender diversity is an unparalleled source of workforce strength.

Similarly, economic reporting from Goldman Sachs draws an indisputable connection between increased female participation and boosted workplace productivity. AWRA will facilitate the increased attraction and retention of women in the resource and allied construction sectors and provide employers with a major competitive advantage – strength through workforce diversity.

Driven by AMMA in partnership with various stakeholders and representatives from industry, government and academia, AWRA will increase the number and proportion of females working in resources and greatly assist the industry to meet its increasing demand for skilled labour.

As highlighted by Recommendation 5.5 of the NRSWS – women have an essential role to play in this phenomenal resources activity and as an industry, we need to effectively attract and retain them.

Major Hurdles

Women currently represent 45% of the total Australian workforce, but in the mining sector, women represent only 16% of the workforce.

In order to support the skills shortage, simply increasing the number of female entrants through recruitment drives and marketing campaigns will not do. We also need to retain our skilled female workers within the industry.

AWRA’s key objective is not only to raise the representation of females in resources employment to 20% of the workforce by 2020 – but to continue an upward trend over the decades to come.

This will not be an easy task, particularly when the staff turnover rates for some roles in resources are already among the highest in the country. A concerted industry effort must be made to address the lack of women’s participation in the resource industry from all angles.

The mining, oil and gas and allied sectors must work on changing its image and engaging with more women to promote the industry as a viable, long-career path. Greater family-oriented infrastructure must be available near mine sites such as child care centres, schools and other support facilities – all of which promote greater flexibility in the industry and break down significant barriers.

Misconceptions about working in the resources must be addressed. The industry has evolved greatly in recent decades to offer a diverse range of career and lifestyle options.

And, most importantly of all, encouraging best practice workplace policies and procedures will facilitate the appropriate cultural shift towards a more diverse workforce and greatly bolster the industry’s talent pool for staff.

Objectives and activities

Facilitated by your national resource industry employer group AMMA, alongside key industry stakeholders on the AWRA Reference Group, this project will deliver on its objectives by:

1. Identifying gaps in policy and practices at worksites to improve the attraction and retention of women;
2. Identify, develop and disseminate tools and resources that will assist employers in the sector to attract and retain women;
3. Provide services and support to facilitate organisational change and overcome barriers that affect women’s participation such as cultural change, the liveability of regional worksites, flexible work practices, return to work issues and pay equity;
4. Build on available research and existing best practice in the resources, construction and other relevant sectors;
Establish and grow a network of top executive talent in the resource industry to provide oversight and coordination of AWRA;
5. Strategically unite the various women’s networks and major industry stakeholders across Australia to facilitate linkages between companies and existing programs, activities and stakeholder networks;
6. Engage, collaborate and strengthen the work of existing women’s networks, other industry bodies and state and federal government agencies; and
7. Share information and closely liaise with the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA).

Getting on board with AWRA

The AWRA Reference Group comprises key stakeholders from industry bodies, networks and companies representing the resource and allied construction sector.

With a common dedication to increasing the attraction and retention of women in the industry, they are leading the charge and providing oversight of the project. Furthermore, a leadership group of senior resource executives are invited as sponsors of the project and to be champions for change.

Both the AWRA ‘champions’ and Reference Group will actively become involved across various workforce development areas including attraction, retention and industry and organisational culture.

This national project thrives on the philosophy of cohesiveness, forward-thinking, inclusiveness and innovation. The right people are in place, the interest is there and the objectives agreed upon – now all we need is for the entire resource industry to get on board with AWRA.

Whether you are an industry association, a resource employer or another other type of organisation interested in supporting AWRA – you can become an instigator for positive industry change.

The first step to contributing to AWRA’s core objectives is to fully support and utilise the services this project will be providing directly to the resource industry’s employers and enterprises.

Each service and initiative will be activated at different stages of the AWRA project:

* Learn about how you can become an ‘accredited AWRA member’, proudly demonstrating that your organisation supports AWRA’s mission and complies with EOWA’s workforce best-practices and targets;
* Get involved in AMMA’s AWRA Special Interest Group, allowing you to find out what is happening with the project, provide feedback and have a direct say in how we can best achieve our goals;
* Support, distribute and utilise the AWRA fact sheets when they become available – outlining best practise in key special interest areas;
* Access the AWRA Employer Advice line and receive expert advice from our consultants about how you can increase the attraction and retention of female employees;
The AWRA project will measure its performance and results over the project duration. First and foremost – the end benefit will be to AMMA members and the entire resource industry.

Short-term, you will have access to a specialised advice line, a national group of workplace consultants and many subject matter experts through the various Special Interest Groups. All are available to assist with the implementation of AWRA values.

And long-term, it’s simple really – with your support of AWRA, the resource industry will have access to a greatly strengthened pool of skilled employees.

This will allow the mammoth investment in our resource industry to reach its true potential and its economic and societal benefits to flow-on to all Australians.

Get in contact with AMMA and find a local AWRA representative – the time to significantly evolve our resource industry workforce is now.