Contributed from Dana Bennett, President of the Nevada Mining Association.
March commemorates both International Women’s Day (March 8) and Women’s History Month. As such, it’s a good time to look back at the progress made by women in mining and to look toward a promising future.
In 1965, Newmont poured its first gold bar from the Carlin Trend operations, and Nevada mining entered a new era. As the industry has evolved over the past 50 years, so has its workforce. Nowhere is this more apparent than to consider the evolution of women’s participation in the mining workforce.
Also in 1965, the U.S. Women’s Bureau found that nearly half of Nevada women were employed, but few worked in mining. Nationally, women made up only 6% of the entire mining workforce. Women were legally barred from working in mining in 17 states. Nevada was not one of those, but it did restrict the hours that women could work, thus limiting their availability to accept shift work in mines.
Fast forward 50 years. Many of the laws that constrained women’s labor choices are now gone, but many of the notions about women’s abilities persist. The percentage of women employed in mining remains low, despite many studies demonstrating that businesses prosper when women are included among their hourly and executive employees.
Change has come but slowly. A recent study of Nevada Mining Association members found that only 14% of the mining workforce is female. Of the mining professionals (such as engineers and geologists), only 19% are women; of all field operations, only 11% are women. Another study discovered that women make up only 5% of all haul truck drivers.
But the commitment to change continues. Major mining companies sponsor programs to enhance opportunities for current and future female employees. International organizations centered on women in mining have thousands of members. In Nevada, Women Executives in the Natural Resource Industry focuses on identifying women ready to be appointed to boards of directors, and the Mackay School of Engineering and Earth Sciences diligently encourages female students in mine-related studies. The Nevada Mining Association will conduct related surveys this year, and its Workforce Development Committee has engaged on the issue.
A recent study in New South Wales found that 93% of women miners would urge other women to consider mining as a good career move. Women in mining are passionate about this industry, and their participation is a significant factor in mining’s success in the 21st century.
The industry only stands to gain from a diverse and inclusive workforce. With help from Newmont and the other major companies operating in Nevada, mining can continue to be a source for many exciting, challenging, and gainful opportunities for women in all aspects of the business.
A life-long Nevadan, Dana Bennett is the first woman to serve as President since this trade association was established in 1913. She holds a PhD in history with a focus on the Nevada Legislature.