In the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM) 2020 Women in Mining Survey, more than half of female respondents reported that they did not perceive the industry as diverse. Salomae Haselgrove investigates why.
Despite an alarming 62 per cent of female survey respondents not viewing the mining industry as a gender diverse industry, five times as many participants believe their own workplaces are diverse in comparison with the industry as a whole.
If this is the case, what is the gap between individual workplaces and the wider industry?
Sara Prendergast, the AusIMM Council for Diversity and Inclusion Chair, tells Australian Mining that in order for employees to perceive the sector as a diverse one, effective external communication is the first thing that needs to be examined.
“The interesting thing is that female workers perceived the industry as non-diverse in contrast to what their own workforce looks like,” Prendergast tells Australian Mining.
“A lot of this is to do with media representation, you still see a lot of imagery that is of fully-abled white males and our industry has progressed considerably from those images.
“The thing that hasn’t changed is our industry representatives. The representatives that speak in the media quite frequently are still largely that traditional image of the industry.”
This is considered by AusIMM to be a key part of their role, to drive conversations and actions to influence positive change within the sector ensuring all mining professionals feel welcome in the industry.
As Prendergast explains, while the external view of the industry is an important issue that needs addressing, there are crucial challenges for females internally that need to be addressed urgently first.
One of the key issues brought up in the survey by female FIFO workers was the availability of toilet facilities for their gender.
About 20 per cent of survey respondents listed toilet access as being an issue for them on site, something generally taken for granted by their counterparts working in a corporate office.
“I think executive management would be horrified to find out that a lot of female workers don’t have access to toilets, but it probably hasn’t occurred to a lot of them as they are mostly men,” Prendergast says.
In her role as the Council for Diversity and Inclusion chair, Prendergast still receives concerning feedback about women feeling unsafe around camp accommodation sites, particularly for female fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers.
“We still get reports of safety as an issue around camp sites, particularly being mindful about where females, about where they’re situated within a camp,” she explains.
“This includes contract workers, not just direct employees of mining companies.”
During the next year, Prendergast says taking a more detailed approach to industry toilet facilities is going to be a huge focus for the AusIMM Council for Diversity & Inclusion, ensuring that all workers on site have comfortable access to this basic amenity, whether they work for a large or junior mining company.
The other key focus areas identified from the survey responses were equal employment opportunities, flexible workplaces and industry leadership.
With these all intertwining, prioritising these areas can help to change the perception of the industry, both internally for the experiences female employees have at work and externally, for how others view the mining industry.
Things like technology and automation are already making a positive difference to mining in terms of productivity and safety. According to Prendergast, they can also be used to make workplaces more flexible, therefore helping to tackle diversity issues as a ripple effect.
“There needs to be more cooperation between mining companies, contractors and the mining equipment, technology and services (METS) sector to collaborate to find solutions,” Prendergast says.
“Contract terms can sometimes mean contractors and mining suppliers are obliged to adhere to terms which can be prohibitive to implementing flexible work for everybody in the industry.”
With remote operations now a reality thanks to technology, more flexible working options within the sector are only set to continue.
The other important area that is becoming more prominent within the sector is to not only create more inclusive facilities for female workers, but also make them more inclusive for every employee.
“Sadly, a lot of people within the LGBTIQ+ community for instance do not always feel safe to bring their whole self to work,” Prendergast says.
“So, we are looking at how we can influence and normalise this so all people feel safe to be themselves and bring their best self to work.”
Part of AusIMM’s plan to promote a more diverse industry is through its events, such as its recent International Women’s Day series.
This event had more than 1500 people attend in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, focussing on both women and people who identify as female.
The event celebrated women and female-identifying people within the industry and used more inclusive language to do so, highlighting what the industry has achieved as a whole.
“We do need to reflect on how far we have come as an industry,” Prendergast says. “When we were an industry that legally prohibited women from working in underground mines until the late 1980s in some states and now BHP has declared its mission for 50/50 representation. That’s a monumental shift within a generation.”
The International Women’s Day series also provided a safe and progressive space to discuss what else the resources sector still needs to accomplish to create a truly diverse industry.
With a feeling of unity in the room from attendees reflecting on what has been done and what is still to come, Prendergast is looking forward to next year’s AusIMM International Women’s Day series.
“The thing I want to see next year is more men attending the events,” Prendergast says. “I think International Women’s Day events are seen as a get together exclusively for women and it’s much bigger than that.
“It’s about celebrating the input and how we’ve contributed to the success of the industry and men showing that they’re behind that and learning the struggles is essential.
“The event assists male leaders to listen, learn and understand the perspective of female professionals in the industry. It is also so it is important for male leaders to celebrate the contributions women make to the industry and to show support. I really encourage people to be more deliberate about bringing men along in 2021.”
This article also appears in the May edition of Australian Mining.