Women account for only 14.4 per cent of the mining industry workforce — the lowest representation among primary industry categories in Canada according to a recent study released by Women in Mining (WIM) Canada in partnership with MiHR.
The two organizations have joined forces to launch “Ramp-UP: A Study on the Status of Women in Canada’s Mining and Exploration Sector” to help employers achieve gender diversity in the workplace and to help create more career opportunities for women in the mining sector. The study surveyed female employees and students, employers and educators on issues such as working conditions and retention, work-life support, opportunities for advancement, school-to-work transition, and level of awareness and long-term appeal of mineral sector career opportunities.
MaryAnn Mihychuk, president of Women in Mining Canada, says there was a real need for this type of study to establish a baseline to measure progress and to “address the dichotomy between industry perception and women’s needs.”
Ramp-UP revealed a marked difference in the perspectives of women, sector employers and educators. One-third of educators and employers believe that working conditions need to be addressed. With the exception of the need for flexible work arrangements, employers were more likely to report that no female-specific barriers exist in the sector. By contrast, nearly two-thirds of female employees believe that some working conditions need to be addressed for women to succeed in the industry.
Heather Bruce-Veitch, HR general manager at the Iron Ore Company of Canada and Ramp-UP steering committee member, says she was surprised to learn that employers believe they have gone further in the progress of female participation, while women in the sector disagree. “This disconnect sends a message to keep the momentum going,” she adds. “Employers are demonstrating progress but employees are saying there is still far more work to be done to get to where we need to be.”
The major issue identified was inflexible work arrangements. The second most important challenge reported by women participants was workplace culture, which was closely followed by the need to travel and work in remote locations. The issue was not that women cannot travel, but rather about receiving ample notice of assignments. Providing scheduling flexibility was also identified as something that would assist female workers in coordinating home and work responsibilities.
MiHR’s partnership with WIM Canada on the study builds upon the Council’s continued commitment to making workforce diversification an industry priority. An important aspect of Ramp-UP focuses on post-secondary students to make them aware of the opportunities in the minerals sector. “Explore for More,” the mining industry’s career brand, promotes mining as a career of choice, and targets under-represented groups, including women.
Industry is invited to become involved by participating in the Virtual MineMentor Program, Speakers Bureau or by sponsoring these programs to ensure career outreach continues.
An increase in women’s participation in the sector offers many potential benefits, including solutions for a looming skills shortage, increased innovation potential and enhanced productivity, as well as increased workforce retention. And women are up to the challenge.
“Women are ready and willing to accept any and every challenge in this industry, from operations to the boardroom,” says Mihychuk. She adds that it is important for employers to have a close look at their workforce and boardroom to see if there is an opportunity for improvement and to try a new diversity strategy.
Going forward, it is also important for employers to set specific, measureable goals in their diversity strategy, such as acquiring safety equipment in women’s sizes, and to “keep learning from each other to ensure women’s issues are heard by all mining companies, regardless of size,” adds Bruce-Veitch, who is confident the industry is moving in the right direction towards creating a diverse workforce.
As marketing and communications coordinator, Lindsay Forcellini is responsible for supporting MiHR’s communications and online media initiatives, and coordinating the production of marketing and communications materials. Formerly a writer for Natural Resources Canada, she holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Carleton University.