Diversity of opinions at Women in Mining forum

WIM Forum 2013

More than 100 participants engaged in this year’s thought-provoking Women in Mining forum. Discussions touched on female employment gaps in mining, specifically in non-traditional and senior management roles, along with company strategies for encouraging and increasing diversity and a philosophical and sociological dissection of gender.

Mining Industry Human Resources Council director Melanie Sturk spoke about the organization’s “Take Action for Diversity” project, designed to help companies share successful diversity plans and put together goals and strategies to recruit and retain underrepresented groups.

Factive Pty Ltd.’s senior director and consultant Dean Laplonge said the current view of gender diversity is flawed, as it looks too strictly at numbers of women in the workplace. He said reports follow the same pattern – repetition, stagnation and failure. Over the last 20 years they have used the same methodology, provided the same recommendations and “still, we don’t have enough women working in mining,” he underlined. “We need to rethink what we mean by gender.”

Laplonge began his presentation, “Gender in a man’s workplace… more than meets the eye,” with a story about meeting a group of men at a mine site, who told him that women were not capable of operating a large hose. “They couldn’t stop talking about how heavy and big this hose was, and that no woman could cope with carrying this hose,” he said. “In my mind, I was thinking, ‘Freud is having a field day.’” He added that the men asked him to carry the hose and he thought it was too difficult.

“I said to them, ‘Why hasn’t somebody designed a lighter hose?’ and their faces just went blank and they looked at me as some kind of traitor,” he remembers. Laplonge explained that the excuse the men had given for women not being able to use the machine was not based on gender but on a piece of machinery to which they had assigned a gender. “You gendered that piece of machinery. You could actually design out that inequity to allow women to work alongside you,” he said.

“We have a continued fear of femininity in the industry,” he said, adding that human resources, training and communications are called “soft skills” for this reason. “We have a fear of recognizing the vital importance of those skills in any workplace,” he went on to say.

Laplonge said shifting our understanding of gender will also encourage men with different attitudes to get involved. “It will have an effect on the whole business of mining, which will affect the reputation of the industry and will solve issues around gender equity, skills shortages, stagnation of ideas and lack of innovation.”

For her part, Tina Markovic, BHP’s senior project manager, operations readiness, said the company’s Jansen potash project, in development, is hoping to increase diversity. “Our intention is a diverse and inclusive workplace and workforce,” she said. “We want people to bring their full selves to work so they can focus on what is of value and make meaningful contributions while being authentic.”

Richard Ross, the former CEO of Inmet Mining, said, boards need to move away from tokenism for diversity’s sake. Sylvia Apostolidis, senior director and consultant with Catalyst Canada, spoke about how advancing women makes good business sense, while Claire Beckton, executive director of Carleton University’s Centre for Women in Politics and Public Leadership, later moderated a discussion, with the panel fielding audience questions. Catharine Shaw, mining client program manager with Golder Associates, chaired the event. The forum was followed by a reception.