The mining sector offers a mass of career opportunities and comes with the draw card of on the whole above average pay, so why aren’t there more women jumping on board?
The Australian government and various industry groups have made it well known women are both welcome and needed in the resources sector, yet females make up less than 15 per cent of the country’s mining workforce.
Previously the lack of girl power in the sector has been attributed to long hours, strenuous physical work, and living away from families in remote locations.
Realising these issues, there have been a number of projects put into play in an effort to entice women into the industry.
Newmont’s Boddington gold mine in Western Australia is one site that is turning the tables on gender equality.
Newmont’s forward thinking strategies aim to achieve gender equality; these have been a key point of difference at the Boddington mine.
Late last year Australian Mining spoke to Brian Watt, director of communications and public affairs at Newmont, he explained the company has actively strived to alter the stereotypical masculine culture of a mine site to become more inclusive of women, increasing the number of women working across the project, and becoming an integral part of the community.
“If you look at equality in all of its forms you can manufacture it, or the other way is to look at creative ways to create opportunities for everyone, and that’s what our Boddington folk have done,” Watt said.
In particular, the team at Boddington saw an opportunity to keep trucks moving by inviting women from the local area to come and drive a truck whilst their children are at school.
“Danny Foley, one of our mining superintendents saw an opportunity between crib breaks when the drivers stop driving haul trucks, to keep those trucks moving.
“He saw the opportunity to invite women in the local area, after they’ve dropped their kids off at school to drive a truck.
“Between dropping the kids off and picking them up in the afternoon there’s five hours of productive time, if you want to, come and drive a truck,” Watt said.
Creating a work/life balance through steady rosters and providing vital community services has been another key achievement for the Boddington Mine, with the benefit of a long life mine predicted to be more than 30 years, Newmont has implemented facilities in the community after recognising the area had limited or no family focused facilities or respite care.
“We have in Boddington a true gift, it’s going to be a long life mine at least another 30 years of mine life, so that gives us the opportunity to grow a sustainable business and part of that is to live locally and work at the mine,” Watt said.
Newmont's Boddington mine has also achieved a family focus through the development of a 'Long Day Care', which it identified as part of its feasibility studies in 2005.
Fighting for gender equality in mining is the Australian Women in Resources Alliance (AWRA), a project initiative by The Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA,) which aims to improve the numbers of women in the mining industry.
The AWRA actively promotes the industry to women and works to retain female employees across the entire resources sector.
"It's forecasted that 90,000 resource industry jobs will be created by 2016 and women have an essential role to play in ensuring these mining, oil and gas projects get off the ground and prosper," AMMA executive director, Minna Knight told Women’s Agenda.
"Through a number of key projects, AWRA is working hard to lift the participation of women in the industry from the current 13.4 per cent to 25 per cent by 2020."
The ABS Employee Earnings and Hours Report showed that the mining industry continues to pay the highest wages in the country, with average take home earnings sitting at $2,388.20 as of May 2012.
The average hourly rate in the sector was reported to be $52.30.
“In the Mining industry, 63 per cent of full-time adult non-managerial employees earned weekly total cash earnings of more than $2,000 per week,” ABS director of labour employer surveys, Mike Scott said at the time.
In comparison the lowest weekly earnings are reported to be sales workers ($607), community and personal service workers ($707), and labourers ($779), Scott added.
So statistically the money in mining is good.
Joelene Watts, an open cut operator with Xstrata's operation in Mount Isa, told Women's Agenda that with no prior training or background in mining, if you are keen you can progress.
"No matter what gender you are, provided you show skill and interest you can progress in other fields," Watts stated
Watts added that the most challenging part of her job is living in a remote area away from family.
"Where I'm currently working they require you to live residentially. Although this is great for families living here, I find that being young and having no family here makes it challenging. Since this is a mining town, flights in and out are expensive, making it harder to visit," she said.
Knight agreed this was an issue but said steps are being taken to help employers identify gaps in policies and practices at worksites.
AWRA provides practical support to facilitate organisational changes and have developed and distributed the AWRA Way Forward Guides especially for mining employers.
"There are a number of ways resource employers can build on their female workforce, from introducing flexible work practices, to ensuring work villages are built to accommodate women and actively engaging with schools and universities to promote resource industry careers to female students."
While some progress has been made on a few sites, there is still a long way to go to rebrand mining as a female friendly industry.
Recent figures from Graduate Careers Australia show that women make up only 18.2 per cent of Bachelor of Mining Engineering graduates.
The Minerals Council of Australia workforce skills assistant director, Chris James said that there are critical skills shortages in roles like geology and mining engineering.
"As an example, there are currently around 250 mining engineering graduates per year – this needs to be doubled," James said.
Stereotypical generalisations need to be left to the wayside, and mining needs a gender-neutral rebrand.
Most roles can be done by either sex and work needs to be done for management and prospective employees to realise these jobs are open to anyone with the right skill-set and attitude, regardless of age, gender, sex, race or religion.
Mirtsopoulos told Australian Mining that since making the switch she hasn't looked back, and has gone from strength to strength after starting work as a dump truck operator.
She now works at Boddington gold mine, and has developed a small following after launching Dump Truck Discovery, a book telling non-mining types what they need to do to find work in the industry.
Attracting women into mining is good business, and the industry knows it.
"The more women we can attract into the industry, the more the industry will change to accommodate us. It's not political correctness, it is a good business – and that is exactly what the mining industry is," NSW Minerals Council spokesperson, Lindsay Hermes said.