Lucy Donald, Director of the Mining Division – WRS Ltd
There is a well-documented lack of women participating in the mining industry, but what is the industry doing to combat the challenges of equality in the workforce?
We asked Vickey and Mike, two experienced mining industry peers, their thoughts on why this is a problem for the mining industry and what is being done to address the issues.
Interview with Vickey Puncheon, General Manager of Business Services in Mozambique for Syrah Resources
Vickey, has been in the commodities business since 2011, currently based in Mozambique with Syrah Resources, she is responsible for the management and leadership of non-mining services within the Pemba Business unit.
What attracted you to the mining industry?
I was attracted to the industry because it offered me the opportunity to work and explore remote parts of the world and it appealed to my sense of adventure. Initially working in the oil and gas industry, it seemed like a natural progression to move to the mining sector during the recent downturn in the energy market.
Have you seen a change in attitudes towards women in the workforce, since you began your career in the industry?
I feel like the mining market is certainly warming to women in the workforce and we are starting to see more women breaking through the glass ceiling and getting more senior roles. But clearly, there is still a long way to go, and I think that as an industry we need to understand more about the women who choose to work in the industry, for example, are they applying for roles in remote locations? Are they going for the more traditional roles due to obligations to their family? I don’t feel like we have a real handle on what would make mining a more attractive option for women.
“Being at a mine with a bunch of men, is not without its challenges, dependent on where your mine is. A remote camp in Mozambique is very different to being based in Kalgoorlie, in Australia, where you can go home to your family every night.”
How can we challenge perceptions and make women feel welcome in the industry?
I am the only ex-pat female against a ratio of around 55 male ex-pats. Looking at Mozambican nationals, we have one female manager and 4 male managers, with the other managers being male expats. As a woman in this industry, I would love to employ more women, but they must be the right candidate with the right skills. We want women to succeed in the industry, we can use that as a positive example and to gradually erode any negative opinions or concerns that women and men may have about women in the mining industry. Applications for roles are still heavily skewed towards males, so there is obviously a job to be done here, to make the industry appear more welcoming, before more women will change their mind-set about a potential career in mining.
How do we attract more women to apply for roles within the mining industry?
I think that women in business work hard to build their profiles and to prove their professional credibility in any profession. We need to demonstrate that a support system is in place to offer advice to help women navigate their way through the industry.
“I feel that we have an obligation to make sure that we invest in the women that we employ within our companies. Women can bring a different viewpoint and balance to the workplace. We need to embrace this as an industry.”
There are still more males applying for roles in the mining industry compared to women. Addressing this issue will rely on offering training and education. We are in the process of building a community-based training centre in our project area. We have worked closely with the government to set a quota of mandatory places for women. This training is designed to be vocational, so successful participants have the potential to be considered for employment post the training. This is a great example of how the industry is starting to invest in the opportunities needed to attract great people and to change the perception of the mining industry. By offering women the training needed to succeed in a very male dominated industry, I expect that we will see the number of women applying for roles continue to rise.
Will new technology help encourage more women to join the industry?
Not in the short-term. Investment in new technologies is likely to be gradual. Substantial changes to infrastructure would be required. I think most companies will be looking at early adopters of new technology, such as Rangold, to see evidence of a positive impact on core production and the bottom line, before emerging technology can offer new opportunities.
What advice would you give to women who may be considering joining the industry?
As a woman in a heavily male dominated industry it is easy to fall into the trap of being one of the boys. But, try to remember that women can bring a different level of emotional intelligence to their male colleagues and this can help to create a great balance across the business.
Interview with Michael Bourguignon, Project Director – Ironbark Zinc Limited
Michael has over 20 years’ experience in project management within the mining industry. He has been involved with projects for Syrah Resources, Tiger Resources and is currently working at Ironbark Zinc Ltd.
Have you seen a change in attitudes towards women in the workforce since you began your career in the industry?
There is obviously a very well-established culture of mining being a ‘man’s world’, despite this, I have been lucky enough to work with several talented individuals over the years, who also happened to be women. I know that they met, and dealt with, many challenges while working hard to progress their careers. I think that these ‘trailblazers’ have helped to change perceptions and I have definitely noticed an increase in the number of women applying for jobs in mining at graduate level in recent years.
A problem that I face, is that there are still a lower number of women applying for roles in the mining industry compared to their male counterparts. When I am recruiting, I am looking for the best talent and at what individuals can bring to the role, regardless of gender. If the best fit for the role is female, then I will by default, feel confident that that person will be capable of holding their own in this male dominated industry.
How can we challenge perceptions and make women feel welcome in the industry?
I think that there are more advocates for women to join the industry now. The old school mentality is diminishing because many companies recognise that they are limiting their potential talent pool by not encouraging female candidates to apply. Mining needs to attract great people to join the workforce, regardless of their gender. The key, is finding a person with the relevant skills and experience to fill a role. If you employ a woman simply because you need to fill an ‘equality strategy’ quota, that could damage the credibility of other female colleagues. It is important that each employee, regardless of gender, is given the support and training that they need to do their job and to fulfil their potential.
How do we encourage more women to apply for the roles within the mining industry?
The mining industry is often perceived as less than glamorous, regularly in remote locations, in dangerous parts of the world, it can be a very tough way of life. It is not for everybody and candidates must be honest with themselves about this being the type of lifestyle that they want.
Having time on-site is essential to learn how operations work from the ground up. This type of experience is invaluable to ensure a sustained career progression. Many employers are looking for this grass roots experience when recruiting for senior and board level roles.
Mining companies could look at investing in simple orientations, held as early as at high school level. We need to give women realistic information about what is required, to have a long and successful career in the mining industry, so that they can make an educated decision about their future.
What advice would you give to women who are thinking about joining or have recently joined the mining industry?
Identify a mentor early on, someone who you think is a good role model, learn as much as you can from them about how they operate. Don’t be afraid to question the status quo, because the more that happens, the more the culture will move towards equality.
In conclusion, there is still more work needed to make women feel that they have a future in the mining industry. Attitudes are changing but there is more training needed to encourage women who are thinking about entering the industry, and more mentoring opportunities for women already in the industry, to ensure vital skill and experience is retained. As a woman working in recruitment for the mining industry, I am encouraged by the growing number of female applicants for roles. It is heartening to see that both Vickey and Mike are truly invested in working to encourage and nurture female talent within the mining space.
If you would like to find out more about WRS please visit our website at www.worldwide-rs.com or contact the team at email@example.com.
Lucy Donald has been working in the mining industry for over 10 years and is currently Director of the WRS Mining Division, specialising in the recruitment, outsourcing and mobilisation of people working in both contract and permanent roles within the mining industry.