The goal of increasing women’s participation in the mining sector is increasingly moving onto the industry’s agenda. This is driven both by the recognition that a diverse workforce is an indispensable part of corporate social responsibility, and the need to attract and retain a broader demographic in order to address the current skills shortage.
As Chair of the Women in Mining Networking Committee for 2008, Donna Frater considers that the current climate presents a unique opportunity to drive cultural change and open up opportunities for women to participate in mining.
Having spent fifteen years in exploration and mining as a geologist, Frater is well aware both of the benefits and pitfalls of being a woman in a non traditional role.
“I have genuinely benefited from the mining and resources industry and I have enjoyed the challenges that I have encountered, yet I still see an industry that doesn’t always behave in a way which demonstrates an appreciation of diversity,” said Frater.
“This is apparent in the low participation rates. Women make up less than 7% of the technical workforce in mining, a figure that has remained relatively static in the last twenty years.”
Companies are keen to find ways to attract and retain more women, but there is no simple solution. As a critical mass of women who are technical professionals and have succeeded in the industry, the WIMNet presents a unique forum to assist industry in identifying and addressing the barriers.
WIMNet is a sub committee of The AusIMM.
In the past its initiatives have been primarily around the support functions of professional women’s networking groups, mentoring, and raising the visibility of women in the industry.
In the last few years WIMNet has stepped up its activities to include greater influence of key stakeholders in government, industry and the community.
“The gender pay gap that was identified in the recent AusIMM Remuneration Survey was a wake-up call that more needs to be done in the area of advocacy,” said Frater. “According to the Survey, there is an escalating gender pay gap in the industry that ranges from 5% difference per hour for a young professional to 20% per hour for a senior manager.”
“A key goal of WIMNet is to conduct further research to identify the causes behind this gap so that they can be communicated to individuals and companies, and then addressed,” said Frater.
“One of our KPIs is to eliminate the gap in time for the next Remuneration Survey in 2009. We believe that educating and publicising that the issue still exists, and encouraging women to discuss the issue, will help to resolve it.”
Peter McCarthy, President of the AusIMM, notes that the organisation strongly supports
WIMNet in addressing the gender pay gap, which has also been recognised in the engineering professions outside the minerals industry.
“In this and the other issues on WIMNet’s agenda we are keen to work with all stakeholders to drive cultural change” said McCarthy.
The WIMNet has also become a major advocate for Government support for more flexible child care options in regional areas, as the lack of appropriate child care has been cited in a recent industry study as a major reason women leave mining.
“The current rebate is limited to options that largely do not line up with the reality of mine rosters,” said Frater. “The WIMNet hopes that the Federal Government will work with the
States to deliver flexible and affordable child care that does not leave women priced out of the industry,” said Frater.
The key role for WIMNet, however, remains its support function: “For women who are new to the industry or have not grown up in a mining region, the towns that dominate it can be challenging and isolating environments,” said Frater.
“Those of us who have had the years to develop coping mechanisms are able to support and mentor other women at networking functions. We have an understanding of how they feel and can advise them of strategies to build a successful career.”
Frater expressed the view that preparing women to promote their own value and competence is a key to effecting real and lasting change:
“No one will change mining from the outside. It is up to the women in the mining industry to influence their work mates, peers, supervisors and management about their competence, aspirations and their value in the industry,” said Frater.
“We are keen to work with other organisations that have put women high on the agenda, such as Engineers Australia and the Queensland Resources Council to deliver training and workshops that will equip women with the skills they need to do that.”