This year’s Women in Mining Canada (WIM) plenary, held at the 2012 CIM Convention in Edmonton in May, took a fresh approach to engaging women in the industry’s challenges by running a forum structured like a focus group to encourage attendees to share their views and experiences on how to attract, retain and advance women in mining.
“We wanted to take the conversation to the audience,” says Catherine Shaw, chair of the WIM Canada forum. “The forum was an opportunity to ask participants how they would address the three key challenges faced by employers in the areas of attraction, retention and advancement of women.” WIM plenary attendees were split into four focus groups to explore these issues and were overseen by an expert panel of mining HR representatives, geologists, engineers and diversity experts.
Currently, women in the Canadian mining industry represent 14 per cent of the workforce – the lowest among primary industry categories and far less than the national average of 47.4 per cent. The mining industry will need over 100,000 new workers in the next decade. If women are truly an untapped resource, how can women and industry work together and attract bright minds for the future?
Participants who were part of the discussion group that focused on attraction began by examining how they themselves had entered the industry. Most agreed that they had fallen into a mining career, as opposed to making an intentional choice to learn about the industry. They felt a large-scale promotional campaign would attract more women to the mining industry. They also suggested employers target women in the classroom more aggressively; synergies could be achieved if companies collaborated in their approach.
The discussion of retention focused on reducing mid-career attrition of women. Retention through innovative retention programs was first recommended in a WIM research study, 2010 Ramp-UP: A Study on the Status of Women in Canada’s Mining and Exploration Sector. Members of the focus group agreed with the study’s recommendations, suggesting employers could improve retention by implementing truly flexible work arrangements, and child care and parental leave practices. Participants stressed the importance of these arrangements for women in roles where travel to remote sites is part of the job.
Discussions on advancement began with an alarming statistic: the Canadian mining, and oil and gas industries have less than 1.4 per cent of CEO roles occupied by females. Only 5.9 per cent of board positions and 12.3 per cent of senior roles are occupied by female staff. Leadership and mentoring quickly emerged as a possible solution to advancing women in the industry. In general, women in the group were not concerned about their mentors’ gender but indicated it was important for women to be given the tools and the opportunity to develop their own leadership style. Also, participants indicated a woman’s leadership style is different from the traditional masculine idea of leadership.
If you are an employer reading this, what can you do to attract, retain and advance more females in your organization? “To be successful, organizations need the full engagement and commitment of their entire workforce – both women and men,” expressed Leanne Hall, Noront Resources’ human resources vice-president, who moderated the WIM forum. “The executive learning elements of these HR focus groups is meant to speed up that process. Together we can create practical solutions to the challenges many of our organizations face.”
Women in Mining Canada would like to thank CIM for its support and BHP Billiton for sponsoring the event. For more information on WIM Canada and resources like the Ramp-UP study, please visit www.wimcanada.org.
Alana Kennedy, director of marketing and communications at the Mining Industry Human Resources Council
, is responsible for promoting MiHR solutions and products through stakeholder communications. Alana was formerly head of marketing for a group of accountants in the UK. She is a Chartered Marketer (UK) with more than 14 years of experience.