Monthly Profile Feature
Julia Baxter, Head of Mining, Oil & Gas at Adam Smith International (ASI) says she stumbled into mining early on in her career but she’s now hooked on the sector because of the huge impact it has on people’s lives. She thrives on the opportunities to be creative and rethink how governments and companies can address the challenges and issues facing the industry. She’s inspired watching diverging viewpoints create new and innovative solutions and believes many different heads are always better than one! Concerned that gender issues have not traditionally been prioritised, she says change has been occurring, but slowly. Most policy and legislation tend to be drafted without a specific consideration to women’s needs, which is something she and her colleagues at ASI are trying to redress. She thinks it’s essential to make the business case for gender equality, as we know that supporting women is not only the right thing to do but it’s also the smart and profitable thing to do. There needs to be recognition that women and men experience the mining industry differently and that those institutions responsible for mining are designed and equipped to respond to it. By Camila Reed
How did mining come to you? How did you choose mining as a career?
I stumbled into mining pretty early on in my career. I was working for a strategic communications consultancy when I found myself in Conakry, Guinea getting stuck in on a fairly significant mining project.
The opportunities and the challenges faced by the project meant that I became schooled in mining and all of its colour, fast. I find mining is an addictive sector – the impact it has on people’s lives is so significant, that the pressure to get it right is always on. There is no room for a bad day in the mining sector.
What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector?
I’ve often thought about capturing my experiences somehow, given the variety. I don’t want to forget any of it! My journey in the sector has consisted mainly of working with people who believe, as I do, in the value of partnership, fairness and trust. This has meant that my overall experience has been very positive and fulfilling.
I’ve particularly enjoyed when I’ve been afforded opportunities to be creative and rethink how governments and companies can address the challenges and issues that we see again and again in the sector. I’ve found that most successful people I’ve come across in the industry have a genuine commitment to making mining a sector that can catalyse positive change.
There have also been moments of challenge and frustration however. For anyone, in any situation, to be judged based on a characteristic outside of your control is unfair, but I’ve realised it’s these moments that can be the most career defining. I enjoy what I do, and I do it well, and so I hope that’s what speaks most loudly.
What are you passionate about in your work?
Bringing new ideas to the table. As a team we spend much of our time in different countries, working on different issues. When we come together to share our experiences and discuss these challenges it’s always inspiring to watch how often diverging viewpoints eventually contribute to the creation of new and innovative solutions.
Many (different) heads are always better than one!
Why is gender proactive legislation important?
Women make up approximately 10% of the global large-scale mining industry workforce. At all levels, the mining sector remains a male domain. Gender issues have not traditionally been prioritised and therefore change has been occurring, but slowly.
Most policy and legislation tend to be drafted without a specific consideration to women’s needs. This is particularly prevalent in male-dominated sectors, such as mining and where there is a cultural bias against women. Some assume this means the impact of policy is gender-neutral. This is rarely the case.
Proactive mining policy and legislation provides all stakeholders with a stronger mandate to push for progress. Coupled with policy and legislation, the focus should be on advocacy, education and communication, i.e. creating demand for and acceptance of such policies and legislation.
But I think it’s also important to look at wider legislation. Increasingly evidence shows that if we really want to support and empower women, a more comprehensive approach is needed.
In terms of legislation, we should look at incentives to work (many tax regimes favour men, no provision of childcare, provision for leave to look after sick family members etc.) and protecting women from violence and harassment at work.
Since the report was written a year ago what changes have you seen?
The report attracted a lot of interest, and since its release we’ve had some positive discussions with organisations including the African Legal Support Facility about how governments can seek to include provisions focussed on increasing the role of women in the sector into current or planned law drafting efforts.
At the Mining Indaba in February, we joined forces with them again to further discuss the 15 primary recommendations with a wider audience, including members of Women in Mining organisations from across Africa. There is so much more work to be done, but we’re grateful for the small steps we’re able to make.
What are the major challenges for women in mining in Africa?
Access to employment, social norms related to the role of women, mine site accessibility (mining sites are not always set up to be accessible for women, lacking the right equipment, changing facilities or childcare facilities), and access to benefits are some of the key challenges women face in the mining sector, according to the many women and men we spoke to as part of the research.
How difficult is it to get good data about women in mining?
It’s surprisingly difficult to establish what is really going on, largely due to the inadequate primary and quantitative data available, concerning the number of women involved in mining. Even in Malawi, for example, where the mining sector is small it is difficult to quantify the number of women working in mining, and in which roles.
There is an opportunity here for companies, who in most cases are required to collect and disclose different data as part of their commitment to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) to go one step further and disaggregate the data by gender.
Only with reliable data can we articulate the full challenge and develop the right solutions.
Where are the drivers coming from for change at an institutional level?
There needs to be recognition that women and men experience the mining industry differently and that those institutions responsible for mining are designed and equipped to respond to it. This could include ensuring there is enough capacity and understanding of the issues affecting women in relation to mining, and that decision-makers are trained in the gender dimensions of the mining sector, gender mainstreaming and gender sensitive policy making.
Gender considerations need to be incorporated in day to day functioning of those institutions, including championing and empowering individuals within them.
What is your view on quotas for getting women into mining and onto boards?
I see that quotas can catalyse change, but they need to be smart. For example, putting in place quotas for women at board level without any other initiatives to ensure women make it through the talent pipeline could have little effect.
My experience is that most women want to be in their roles on merit. The willingness of companies to be proactive and show initiative in setting targets to achieve each year should become the norm, and quotas should ideally be a last resort.
If you need a legislation to force companies to recruit more women, there are clear red flags.
What do you see as the priorities for empowering and increasing the number of women working in mining?
I think it’s essential to make the business case for gender equality. We all know that supporting women is the right thing to do but it’s also the smart and profitable thing to do.
A McKinsey study showed that advancing gender equality could add $12trillian to global growth. Companies with a higher representation of women at board level perform better.
Additionally, continuing to build strong networks that provide a forum where women can share information, advice and their experiences will ensure that the importance of the issues stay high on the industry’s agenda.
Is legislation and policy to advance the position of women in mining enough to generate change?
Changing the written rules, policy or legislation, is an important step but on its own not sufficient. It can help kick start change, as happened in South Africa with the mining charter quota.
But each country has its own context-specific social norms – what is appropriate and what is typical – that affects gender equality. For example, if legislation incentivises women’s uptake for work but it’s culturally unacceptable for women to work in certain sectors, legislation on its own will do little to change this mindset.
Strategies that have proved successful in changing social norms, include working with women’s groups and activists, engaging men (community leaders, leading business figures etc.) and role models.
What difficulties or opposition may arise from the introduction of gender proactive legislation and policy? Are those objections reasonable and how can they be addressed?
I’m not really sure on what grounds gender proactive policy and legislation can reasonably and rationally be opposed, but healthy debate about new legislation is important, otherwise implementation will fall down.
How have you consciously applied a gender lens through your work?
There has been growing momentum across the spectrum of stakeholders in the extractive industries to recognise and respond to gender issues. At ASI, we’ve developed a Gender Framework specific to the sector. The objective of this framework is to provide an informed and practical guide for project teams to integrate gender issues into their projects and to ensure gender remains central to the decision-making process of the project.
Julia is a strategic communications and stakeholder engagement expert. She has extensive experience advising industry executives and ministers to identify opportunity, manage risk and overcome highly sensitive strategic challenges in the mining sector. Latterly she has advised on these areas for several multinational mining companies, including Rio Tinto and AngloGold Ashanti, and public institutions including the Ministry of Mines Malawi, Ministry of Mining Kenya, and the EITI Secretariat in Mongolia.
Julia is responsible for ASI’s mining and energy portfolio and has led programmes on behalf of the World Bank, DFID and the Australian Government. Julia holds an MSc in Global Governance and Ethics from University College London and is currently studying for an MBA in International Mineral Resource Management at the Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy (CEPMLP), University of Dundee.
If you would like to be interviewed, or want to nominate someone, please contact IWiM’s Head of Social Media, Camila Reed, email@example.com