May 2014

HR Outlook

Women in leadership – good for mining and good for business

By Courtnay Hughes and Ryan Montpellier

The results are in: having women on boards and in senior leadership roles is good for business. Specifically, studies conducted by Catalyst, PwC, Credit Suisse, and the Conference Board of Canada have indicated that organizations with women at the board table had greater returns on equity, returns on investment, returns on sales, and share performance, and were better with risk management and attracting top talent. And the list goes on. Further, Catalyst found that organizations with three or more women board members also showed better financial performance than organizations with only one woman on their board.

Despite all of the advantages correlated with gender diverse leadership, women continue to be significantly under-represented. Of the top 100 companies (ranked by market cap) listed on the TSX/TSXv, women hold only 10 per cent of board positions and of the Canadian mining companies found on this list, women hold only five per cent of board seats. The Mining Industry Human Resources Council’s (MiHR) research shows that the number of women in the Canadian mining sector has increased from 10 per cent in 1996 to 16 per cent today, but more research is needed to determine what percentage of women hold leadership roles. Although the proportional increase of women may underwhelm, the number of women in the sector has actually increased by 60 per cent, indicating that momentum is building. Case in point, for the first time, a woman, Zoe Yujnovich, was elected chair of the Mining Association of Canada. At the same time, Women in Mining Canada continues to grow, and between May and June of this year, a series of CEO round tables across Canada will examine how to grow the number of women in the industry.

But why is the mining sector still lagging behind other sectors like oil and gas? One answer may be that the sector as a whole has not grasped the magnitude of the challenge it faces: a lack of women in leadership roles, a gendered wage gap, and the need to eliminate assumptions about women’s abilities are all barriers to advancement. Yet one of the most insidious barriers holding back greater gender diversity is the exclusionary workplace culture, often referred to as mining’s “male-dominated culture.”

Although overt acts of gender discrimination are less prevalent in mining work environments today, implicit biases do persist. These biases often result in differing opportunities offered to men and women throughout their careers, and women find themselves passed over for career advancing work assignments. Women have reported they were not offered field work simply because they have children or were thought to be planning to have children, as it is assumed that field and operational roles conflict with a mother’s parenting responsibilities. This creates a secondary career path for women, as field experience is seen as essential in the development of many senior roles. Exclusionary workplace culture can also be reinforced outside of the workplace, as women often report being objectified at industry events, and shut out of after-work activities like fishing trips and golf outings, where informal mentoring and career-building networks are often established.

Ideally, employers would choose to work on greater gender inclusion and advancement before it becomes mandatory. The recent proposed amendment by the Ontario Securities Commission would require TSX-listed issuers to disclose annually the number of women on their boards and in executive officer positions, and increase the transparency of selection practices. If approved, this amendment presents an opportunity for mining organizations that have diversified their leadership to leverage this differentiation. For organizations that have not addressed gender diversity, this proposed amendment is a strong indicator that the issue of increasing the number of women engaged in the industry is firmly in the spotlight.

However, the amendment has been met with mixed opinions. For employers, the proposed amendment would increase their administrative and reporting burden. For some, the amendment is not strong enough as it does not include representation quotas, and therefore may not entice organizations to undertake activities that result in any significant change. Equally, women want to obtain leadership roles based on their skills and experience, not because of external pressure, perceived or otherwise, that would come from such reporting.

If you are an employer committed to building a gender diversity strategy, where do you start? From MiHR’s previous experience with industry partners, organizations that have developed a gender diversity strategy have had the most impact when they set and align clear objectives with business and HR priorities. Organizations can benefit from ensuring their diversity goals are measurable, tracking progress through solid metrics, as well as collaborating with others in the industry. Using this approach, we have seen one mining organization boost the number of women executives by two in 18 months, and women’s representation in specific management categories by three per cent – surpassing the organization’s initial diversity goal.

By challenging current practices within our organizations, developing a strategy and working collaboratively, the Canadian mining industry will benefit from greater gender diverse leadership as it becomes more competitive and socially responsible.


Courtnay_HughesRyan Montpellier is the executive director of MiHR. He is a recognized expert and sought-after speaker on HR issues impacting the Canadian mining sector today.

Courtnay Hughes, research analyst with MiHR, leads strategic HR management research initiatives in workforce planning, education-industry partnerships, and workforce diversity.


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