How to bring more women into min­ing

Only 17% of the min­ing in­dus­try glob­ally com­prises of fe­male em­ploy­ees, with South Africa fac­ing par­tic­u­lar chal­lenges in in­creas­ing fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion in the sec­tor. But can this change?

Finweek English Edition - - In Brief In The News -

of the many per­cep­tion bat­tles the world’s min­ing in­dus­try is com­bat­ing, the role of women in the sec­tor is among the most press­ing. Roughly 17% of the min­ing in­dus­try glob­ally com­prises fe­male em­ploy­ees, a sur­pris­ingly low num­ber con­sid­er­ing half the world’s pop­u­la­tion is women. This is not­with­stand­ing the wide ar­ray of op­por­tu­ni­ties that ex­ist in the sec­tor if one only scratched be­neath the sur­face.

The fact is that not all min­ing is deep un­der­ground and stren­u­ous, al­though there is an ar­gu­ment to be made as to why more women are not em­ployed in such ca­pac­i­ties any­way.

The prob­lem is, how­ever, that so few women bother to ex­plore ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties in min­ing – which still shapes in the mod­ern con­scious­ness as mono­lith­i­cally for­bid­ding, in­tim­i­dat­ingly toil­some and dirty.

Ac­cord­ing to Ni­c­hole McCul­loch, who heads up the UK Chap­ter of Women in Min­ing (WIM), an ad­vo­cacy group, there’s first the chal­lenge of at­tract­ing fe­male skills to the min­ing sec­tor, and then the job of re­tain­ing them.

It is boys who are pushed into the stem skills that feed min­ing, says McCul­loch. As for the women who make it into the ranks of min­ing, it’s some­times hard for them to see how ca­reer pro­gres­sion is pos­si­ble, es­pe­cially as so many men oc­cupy the se­nior seats “above them”.

It was only in 2014 that Glen­core – one of the world’s largest min­ing com­pa­nies – ap­pointed a woman to its board in the per­son of Cana­dian vet­eran Pa­trice Mer­rin (which was fol­lowed by Glen­core’s ap­point­ment of Gill Mar­cus, a South African, to its board in 2017).

Where women do make an im­pact, it is of­ten unique and im­por­tant. Cyn­thia Car­roll, CEO of An­glo Amer­i­can from 2006 to 2012, is fa­mously re­mem­bered for putting lives be­fore com­merce, fol­low­ing a series of un­der­ground fa­tal­i­ties in SA’s plat­inum mines. Clos­ing a shaft in the event of a fa­tal­ity is now stan­dard prac­tice, but it was not when Car­roll was fac­ing down her male coun­ter­parts.

A new edi­tion of a book pub­lished ev­ery two years by WIM is on re­lease now. Ti­tled

100 In­spi­ra­tional Women in Min­ing, it seeks to tell the sto­ries of women from a di­verse ar­ray of tech­ni­cal and pro­fes­sional fields across all min­ing ju­ris­dic­tions and job lev­els – from board di­rec­tors to ge­ol­o­gists in the field. One of the take­aways is how the no­tion of moth­er­hood is un­seated as the sin­gle largest ca­reer in­hibitor. Sev­eral women speak of par­tic­i­pat­ing and com­pet­ing in the min­ing in­dus­try while rais­ing chil­dren; and any­way – says McCul­loch – rais­ing a fam­ily is more of a shared duty be­tween the gen­ders than ever be­fore. From a South African per­spec­tive, there are some par­tic­u­lar chal­lenges in in­creas­ing the level of fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion in min­ing. One is the pre­pon­der­ance of un­der­ground mines, which can present haz­ards for women – al­though that is largely to do with safety of a very dif­fer­ent ilk.

“I think en­sur­ing women are safe in places such as SA is a key chal­lenge,” says McCul­loch. “It’s a dif­fi­cult sub­ject to talk about, but sex­ual as­sault is a prob­lem where it is preva­lent not just in the min­ing sec­tor but across so­ci­ety as a whole,” she says.

The Min­er­als Coun­cil said in a March pub­li­ca­tion that its mem­bers were mak­ing sure women em­ployed un­der­ground worked in closer prox­im­ity to one an­other than be­fore, and had bet­ter ac­cess to toi­lets and chang­ing fa­cil­i­ties, and that equip­ment – in­clud­ing pro­tec­tive cloth­ing – was cus­tom­made rather than hav­ing to cope with the one-size-fits-all ap­proach of the in­dus­try in the past.

That’s an im­por­tant ad­vance. SA’s min­ing sec­tor is shift­ing to in­creased mech­a­ni­sa­tion, and away from ex­pen­sive un­der­ground min­ing, how­ever, there is still some 22% of the to­tal 53 100 women em­ployed in the sec­tor work­ing in plat­inum and gold, most of which is found un­der­ground. ■ ed­i­to­[email protected]­week.co.za In­de­pen­dent non-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at Glen­core By David McKay

Gill Mar­cus

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