Women in Mining in Canada Changing the Mining Industry

Published: 05/09/2015

by Dick DeStefano, Executive Director, SAMSSA
One of most current issues in the mining community is the growing population of professional women who are actively participating in the mining work force globally.
I recently wrote an article entitled, “What Would We Do Without Women in Mining?” describing an organization recently reconstructed and reorganized into an association called Modern Mining & Technology Sudbury. This association introduces a week-long event outlining the importance of mining to over 1000 elementary and high school students.
It has become increasingly obvious as the association grows in size and structure that professional women in mining are not only leading the way in their daily mining responsibilities but specifically the 14 women on the 21 member committee are developing educational awareness on the importance of the industry through multiple interactive activities at this event. The association is hoping to target more young women considering a profession in a growing and important sector. These 14 women brought their daily experience to the Modern Mining & Technology Sudbury event.
Sudbury is seen as the most “mining literate” center in North America. Much of this is due to the role women play in the industry.
It hasn’t always been that way in the mining field.
Courtnay Meaghan Hughes has written an insightful thesis for her Master’s Degree at Simon Fraser University entitled, A Study of the Career Advancement and Retention of Highly Qualified Women in the Canadian Mining Industry, 2012.
In 1890 the Ontario Mining Act included in the legislation “the prohibition of any girl or women in or about any mine.”
Amendments to the Act in 1912-13 allowed companies to hire women in a technical, clerical or domestic capacity.
Visits from Royalty to Sudbury’s Frood Mine occurred in 1939, when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Sudbury and in 1959 when Queen Elizabeth 11 and Prince Phillip visited Frood Mine
The gender divide within mining employment remained in place except for a temporary lift of the ban during the Second World War and the Queens’ visits.
Historical records show 17 females were hired during the war years. Finally in 1960, the 1935 Act was ratified and further included the forbidding of employment of women in any mine except women who were employed in health and welfare services and other non-manual underground work.
A project documenting experiences at INCO Sudbury operations is one of the only accounts of first generation women entering blue collar Canadian job. Between 1974-76, INCO hired 100 women for hourly rated jobs at the company’s surface operations in Sudbury. In 1978 women were finally allowed underground in Ontario.
The change in legislation and attitude has been slow because at 14.4% – 16.4% the representation of women working in the Canadian mining industry is the lowest among primary industry categories.
Despite a perception that more women are involved in the mining industry today, the number of women in mining remains relatively unchanged since 2001 except for a few managerial opportunities and corporate leadership roles.
Another major study recently released by the Mining Association of Canada Facts & Figures 2013 spends little time on the issue of Women in Mining. Mining now employs 418,115 Canadians but the study indicates that in the mining industry women represent less than 5% of positions in trades, production, services and management. However most clerical and support roles (95%) and corporate services positions (60%) are in held by women.
The introduction of WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) in 1998 and expanding Chapters of WIM (Women in Mining), a national not for profit organization formed in 2009, focuses on advancing the interests of women in the mineral and mining community across Canada. The inauguration of a chapter of WIM for Northern Ontario took place January 30, 2014 in Sudbury.
Nicole Tardif, Program Coordinator, Goodman School of Mines, is a new Director of WIM and former Chair of Modern Mining & Technology Sudbury. She attended and addressed the Inaugural reception, “We have a unique opportunity in Northern Ontario to show others the diversity in mining-related careers because we are surrounded by the history and the future of mining”.
The creation and expansion of two associations dedicated to growing the numbers of women in mining in Canada is a plus factor. One of key factors to attract and retain women in this industry is the well documented need for mentors and these new initiatives should provide the necessary relationships required for the future .