Women in Mining: Mining IQ Industry Update

Published: 21/06/2013

03/07/2012, By Jacquie Bran, Editor of Mining IQ (A Division of IQPC)

With International Women’s Day just around the corner on Thursday 8th March, Mining IQ decided to investigate the current status of women in the mining industry.

There are three women on the Mining IQ senior management team, so we feel pretty passionately about leveraging and understanding how women fare in the mining industry from a variety of standpoints.

So last week we put the word out that we were interested in interviewing women engaged in, or looking to be engaged in, the mining industry. And we were overwhelmed by the support and interest that our message received. This article is the culmination of that interest and an amalgamation of the commentary and perspectives that were shared with us.

Women in the mining industry remains a contentious, fascinating, challenging, heart-warming topic and one in which many of our members and readers have expressed great interest. This article embraces that interest and chooses to highlight stories, experience and commentary around the following areas:

  • Embarking on a career in mining as a woman
  • Challenges faced along the way
  • Current challenges as perceived by the individual
  • Contributions of women in mining
  • Advice and tips for other women
  • Skillsets and capabilities
  • Recruiting women into Mining

Embarking on a Career in Mining as a Woman: True Stories from Women in Mining
Let’s begin our story with some fantastic stories from women working in the mining industry who should be an inspiration to us all. These honest hard-working accounts indicate the variety of paths into the mining and resources industry available to women who wish to take that leap.

Ruth Jenkins, Director, Sina Safety Solutions

I lived in the coal mining area called the Highveld outside a town called Witbank in South Africa. I started off as a Temp on the switchboard at Duvha Opencast Mine in 1989, then in the typing pool. Finally, I got a job in the warehouse as a purchasing officer. One day I asked if I could do my shotfiring ticket. I was given the go ahead and became only the third women in South Africa to gain her surface blasting ticket. I became a Drill and Blast Foreman and then did my Underground Blasting ticket (first woman in RSA) so that I could study towards obtaining a Mine Manager’s ticket.

Rebecca O’Dea, Geologist, Xstrata Nickel

I started working in the mining industry through vacation work during my uni years studying mine geology. I would not have even thought about vacation work had it not been for my first year lecturer suggesting it, probably some of the best advice I ever received. Applications were through the mine sites themselves and I was lucky enough to get three months’ work in an underground gold mine. I had not even thought about working underground before then but that summer’s work was a great experience that got me hooked on underground geology.

Janine Lea-Barrett, Mine Electrical Engineer

My father was a coal miner; he didn’t want any of his children working ‘down the hole’. I started at seventeen. I completed a Pre-Vocational year at the local TAFE as an apprentice Electrical Fitter Mechanic – companies were reluctant to employ females into traditional male roles in the late 70s. After completing the one year course I was put on as one of three females at a coal loading facility; I am the only one who completed her trade.
I have worked in the resource industry since then with breaks away working in industrial retail, rewiring trawlers, construction, TAFE teaching and five summers in Antarctica. I have worked the hardrock and metalliferous areas of Kaolin in FNQLD; bauxite in NT; iron ore in Pilbara, WA; and lead, zinc, silver, copper and gold in Western NSW. During the thirty odd years since I gained my trade certificate I have completed three degrees, lost my left leg in a MVA, had three children and am on my third marriage.

Dellas Lynch, Project Manager

I was working in health as a Registered Nurse and my partner at the time was working in mining. The opportunity came up to make a career shift to Occupational Health and Safety. This was a field that interested me – the chance to prevent accidents rather than being on the receiving end and patching workers up after an event. So I took a deep breath and jumped from a hospital to a mine and I have never regretted it.

Challenges faced along the way

No-one said it was going to be easy. And there are some really specific challenges that women who work in this industry have faced, from a lack of facilities for women working underground to a cultural ‘slap in the face’ moving from one industry to mining. Let’s hear more about them…

Rebecca O’Dea, Geologist, Xstrata Nickel

My challenge was more personality based than in the workplace specific. However, I do believe that communication is still an issue for women entering the industry. How to ask for things like a pay rise or a promotion I find difficult and have sought advice from others in order to deal with it. I definitely recommend courses that deal with assertive communication if you don’t know how to go about them yourself. In addition, on any mine site, it is really about how well you ‘click’ with your crew. Geology itself is quite a mixed degree and workforce, but on a mine site, it is generally male dominated outside of the geology department. If you don’t get along well with the people you’re working with for weeks at a time, you won’t enjoy what you are doing. You need to be happy in your workplace otherwise it’s not worth being there.

Janine Lea-Barrett, Mine Electrical Engineer

Entering traditional male roles, into male dominated industries, having to do things smarter instead of using the males brute strength; having to perform better than males in the same role; being thick skinned – this was before harassment policies, usually the only female on an all-male site.Gaining the trust and respect of a crew who would follow where you led, input into discussions and offer their opinions freely without rancour. Also, it’s useful to become the ‘go to’ person with the experience to have or be able to gain the knowledge required for rectifying problems. The difference these days is that mines are willing to place females into roles that were previously only classified for males, child care is available, a family member is able to be called on or a partner on a different shift is able to cover the caring role. Seeing a female in underground orange work clothing, with a hard hat and cap lamp is an occurrence that is more common and is increasing; truck drivers, engineers, and tradespersons; if you know your business, the fact you are female is not a hindrance.

Dellas Lynch, Project Manager

Probably the largest challenge I faced was around having the confidence to move away from a job I knew well and was good at to go into a totally different field. I was 33 at the time and embarked on a steep learning curve and spent a couple of years filling my ‘tool box’ with new skills and tools. I undertook a number of development courses and completed a Grad Dip in OHS at university.

There was also the challenge of moving from a female dominated workplace to a male dominated one. The swearing took some getting used to! Mining has a language and you need to learn about the business and what the acronyms mean quickly. In general people are very willing to coach and guide you. I think sometimes as a female it is easier to say “I am not familiar with this – would you show me?” I always found the guys were very willing to help you out and show you the things you needed to know.

Anyone making a change in career will face the same challenges that I did. In order to further my career and to enable me to work on sites in Australia and then overseas I put my teenage children into boarding school. This gave me the freedom to follow my career path and ensured my children had a stable education. They still speak to me so the experience can’t have been too bad! In reality it made them self-sufficient and they had amazing overseas holidays and travel opportunities. The challenge of managing family and work will always exist for working women, you just have to be creative and find solutions that work for your situation.

What about the opportunities?

It’s always the darkest before the dawn, or so that saying goes. And it was certainly true in the mining industry. Dawn has definitely started to break and there are now many amazing opportunities evident for women who are interested, serious and motivated to work in this dynamic and challenging industry.

A story that really captured the attention of the Mining IQ team was this one from Rebecca Olsen, about an amazing initiative called the ‘Make Me a CEO’ project.

What is the project?

‘Make Me A CEO’ is the title of an exciting new program which aims to provide support, guidance, mentoring and networking opportunities to high-potential women to achieve and sustain higher levels of leadership in their current environments. They are coming to the end of the first year of the program which has been hugely successful. This program is for high potential women who are in senior management roles wanting to move into senior executive or CEO roles over two years. For example, for women who are in the mining industry, this means moving into a general management role or above and for women in the finance industry, this means moving into a partner role or above.

75% of the participants in the program have already been promoted into senior executive roles and almost all the rest are in negotiation with a few of the women actually changing organisations to achieve their goals. They have surveyed the participants and with their input are continuously improving the program to really support them through their journey.
Because of this success, the program will not only be continuing in 2012 but is heading interstate and internationally through the auspices of supporting organisations like BHP Billiton Nickel West and Rio Tinto. These companies have been so impressed with the program’s results that they have committed to financially supporting a number of women into the program for next year. During CHOGM the President of Tanzania met with AELC due to his interest in the program. AELC is currently in negotiation with potential implementation occurring in 2013.

What an astounding project. Rebecca continues further to cite opportunities available to women working in the mining industry saying, “With an aging mining workforce and a lack of skilled labour, the inclusion of diverse groups into the mining industry is going to be a huge factor in the success of the industry going forward. Women bring a different and unique set of qualities to management positions and as the workforce in the mining industry gets more diverse, there is more pressure on the management team to reflect this. To see more women in senior executive roles is our goal at Make Me a CEO and we are achieving this one program at a time.”

Many interviewed agreed that higher management areas of GMs, CCOs, CEOs, and Board Members is where the female presence is lacking in the resource industry – and the ‘Make me a CEO’ project could be a great initiative to start re-dressing this balance.

Dellas Lynch surmised this by saying, ‘There are endless opportunities across a huge range of professions for women in the mining industry, especially within the booming resources sector in WA. Opportunities exist to work in a dynamic and diverse business, in Australia and overseas, in a full time or part time capacity. I have worked in both the coal and metalliferous mining sectors and in addition to working in Australia, worked in PNG, the United States and Ghana in West Africa and have travelled extensively.

Gender diversity is important for a company to be well rounded and successful. Women bring a different way of thinking to the industry and in today’s challenging economic times women leaders can assist a company in having a competitive advantage. Personally I would like to see more women in leadership positions both in running the day to day business and as board members.’

Barbara Dischinger, an independent executive search consultant trading as Green Mining Company, also proferred her opinion about opportunities for women entering into the mining space.

Barbara believes that “the regulatory changes in all sectors of the economy including mining and its impact on women and the skills shortage are both going to result in more women entering the mining sector and improved work-life conditions to retain its existent female work force. There is accepted evidence that diversity makes for a strong business case by boosting profits and improving efficiency and safety. A lot is already happening in that regard. However, more women need to be included in senior promotions, seats on boards, be encouraged to take management positions, more training needs to be given to help them learn necessary skills be they leadership or management.

More women who are now in senior management and C-suite positions need to give back to the industry by mentoring younger ones, be active in women in mining groups or universities. Basically we need more female role models. Finally, more students need to be attracted into the sector by demystifying it and showcasing what careers can be achieved.”

What about recruiting women into the Mining Industry?

We have established that there are some challenges for women entering into the mining industry and also that there is a glut of women in senior management and executive positions in the mining industry.

Mining IQ spoke further to Barbara Dischinger about her experiences as a recruiter. Barbara is the founder of the WIM UK group in 2006 and Director until Dec 2011 as well as Founder & Director of WIM Community Portal since 2007, www.internationalwim.org. She is also the manager of the largest women in mining focused LinkedIn group, which is where we got in touch.

Barbara started by sharing that this topic has always been close to her heart and that she has always endeavoured to add female candidates to all shortlists she presents to clients saying “It is always a great pleasure when a woman is selected. One of my successes was that a quite large mining company selected my female candidate for the position of Civil Engineering Mining projects and she looks at the civil engineering aspect of their US$15bn capital projects pipeline and one year on still loves her job.”

Barbara went on to share some insights into the current state of the mining industry commenting that the mining sector is less affected by the downturn in the economy even if it has its ups and downs. This means that rather than redundancies there is a lot of recruitment. There are more vacancies than there are professionals to fill them and mining companies need to work harder than ever at retaining their staff. Salary levels are at their highest point ever and in most countries mining as well as oil & gas are the highest paying sectors. This is an opportunity for head-hunters as they can help companies successfully with their recruitment. It is an opportunity for professionals in the industry; there is no sign of major unemployment hitting the industry anytime soon and men and women working in the sector can even chose opportunities on many occasions. There is more movement of professionals across countries or it tended to be from certain countries i.e. Canada, Australia, USA, UK into South America, Africa, and Asia, etc. There are now more Brazilians for example working in Africa and Australia rather than just North America; it doesn’t matter where the skill comes from as long as the company is able to get its hand on it. She continues, “Mine projects are in more and more remote regions making recruitment very challenging discouraging women, and some men, from applying. The barriers include distance, relative isolation, rosters and working hours that make it hard to accommodate family life.”

Let’s talk more about skillsets and capabilities…

Mining IQ spoke earlier this week with Julie Sloan, Director of Strategy for Workforce Planning Australia, about the opportunities for women in the mining and resources industry from a skillsets perspective and Julie had some really interesting comments on this point.

Julie and Mining IQ spoke at length about workforce planning and its new emergence as a global discipline. There has been a lot of dialogue around where it actually sits within in a business and there is no blueprint at this stage. However, it seems that in mining firms it bounces between HR, Finance and executive leadership, depending on the firm. Julie argues that workforce planning should fit within leadership and governance from an executive standpoint as it is a strategic discipline. However, more often than not, it is pushed into HR, but without giving HR the influence to sit at the leadership table and make decisions as a business imperative for the benefit of the business. HR is predominantly a women’s space in the mining industry and therein lays an opportunity, as Julie sees it.

Best practice in workforce planning involves a company planning and tracking far ahead about how they are going to engage and retain the workforce that they need. As a career for women in mining, workforce planning exposes a real opportunity for women to develop their skills and to own this discipline and exert some influence at a leadership level.

Workforce planning is not a soft skill, it is a hard evidence based science and it could be the ticket women want to fast track their role at that senior management table.

How are you going to get there?

All of the women who participated in this ‘women in mining’ piece for Mining IQ had some fantastic advice and tips they wanted to share with the wider audience, based on their personal experiences and exposure to the industry.

Rebecca O’Dea, Geologist, Xstrata Nickel

My advice to women trying to get into mining is to keep an open mind and not be too ‘precious’. I am not sure that is the right word to use, but I cannot think of another one at this time. You have to be willing to get involved and help when the situation calls for it. Get your hands dirty if you need to. If you are not willing to leave the site office on a regular basis and go into the mine itself, this is not the place for you. Mining is a great lifestyle. You meet great people, it is good money, you get to see and work in wonderful places and in geology you can work all over the world (there are rocks everywhere, literally!). Give it a go, you don’t have to stay in mining forever and if it doesn’t suit you then you can at least say you tried.

Janine Lea-Barrett, Mine Electrical Engineer

Do the hard yards, the due diligence, learn your craft, gain experience in all avenues if you are looking to enter mining in the service crews, truck drivers, drillers; if in the engineering field concentrate on the shortfalls, currently in Mine, Geotechnical and Electrical. Do the research on the positions and mines before you apply for positions, if you have experience in other industries market those skills as transferrable, don’t make you resume overtly ‘girly’, fancy fonts, excessive personnel information. Answer questions with examples; take a moment to compose your answers, be concise and succinct, and elaborate only if asked.

Finally you are who you are – so make ‘you’ the best ‘you’ you can. Gain creditability and respect in all aspects of your life, work and private, and live to the full whatever stage you are in.

Dellas Lynch, Project Manager

Investigate your options and talk to women who are currently working in a similar role. I find women are always ready to share experiences and handy hints on how to balance work and family. Working in the resources sector has given me an interesting and challenging career with opportunities for self-development and travel and I would recommend it to other women.

Ruth Jenkins, Director, Sina Safety Solutions

Don’t swear to try and fit in! Be yourself and don’t take no for an answer.

Rebecca Olsen, Leadership Program Manager,‘Make me a CEO’ Project

The mining industry provides huge opportunities for women, especially here in WA. My advice for women is to take on as many learning and development opportunities as possible, step up into management opportunities when they are available and don’t be afraid to negotiate. We also recommend that women pick their organisations carefully – there are a number of organisations that are actively showing support for their women.

Barbara Dischinger, Independent executive search consultant trading as Green Mining Company

“My advice is for everyone, not just newcomers to the mining industry. Some things I wholeheartedly advise include:

* Network, network, network
* Join a local women in mining group
* Go on courses / continue your training
* Learn to communicate effectively and be assertive
* Negotiate
* Choose a mentor
* Get accreditation, belong to mining associations
* Remember that certain mining regions offer help at hand like Queensland, Western Australia, Quebec and other Canadian regions (go to government websites)
* And finally…voice at company level what your career objectives are and remind management about them

Mining IQ would like to thank all of the women who helped us along the path of creating this article. It was a really interesting journey to learn about your experiences and to hear your comments. It was a pleasure putting this article together and it wouldn’t have been possible without your genuine interest and commitment.We wish you all the very best in your chosen careers in mining.

A note about International Women’s day

Annually on 8 March, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate achievements. Many global corporations have also started to more actively support IWD by running their own internal events and through supporting external ones. Mining IQ supports international women’s day and we encourage you to make a difference, think globally and act locally!

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