More Women Needed in the Mining Sector

Women in Mining Panel - OMA Photo by Peter McBride

This article was provided by the Ontario Mining Association (OMA), an organization that was established in 1920 to represent the mining industry of the province.

Four female employees from Hemlo Mines brought their unique perspective to a recent Ontario Mining Association conference session “How to make the mining workplace more feminine friendly.”

Aileen Pajunen, Employee Relations Superintendent; Geraldine Colbourne, a level-one production miner with 11 years experience working underground; Deborah Hanson, who has worked underground in the shaft and services area for 18 years; and, Allison Craig, a mining engineer currently working as an underground supervisor; all shared their work experiences, ambitions, frustrations, successes and long term goals with participants in the OMA “Demographics, Global Markets and Future Workforce” conference.

The panel session was preceded by OMA President Chris Hodgson and Ryan Montpellier, Executive Director of the Mining Industry Human Resource Council (MiHR). Hodgson reminded the group that, on the national level, mining is looking for an estimated 92,000 new employees over the next decade. He outlined the characteristics of four target groups — immigrants, First Nations residents, urban Canadians and females — where many of these new prospective employees are likely to originate, with an emphasis on the progress that could be made with a little better gender balance. Montpellier reminded the group that while female participation in the national workforce stands at 46.9 per cent, in the mining workforce it is only 13.1 per cent. He provided examples of best practices being employed by a number of companies to attract and retain workers from all of the categories.

Ingrid Hann, Vice President Human Resources for De Beers Canada, acted as moderator for the four-woman panel.

She reminded the audience that gender inequities are not unique to mining. In order to provide a benchmark of progress which has been made, she noted that until September 30, 1979, women (with a couple of exceptions such as a medical practitioner) were not permitted by law to work underground in a mine.

“Progress has been made since 1979 … women in mining now have good employment opportunities, high pay, decent benefits and exciting career paths,” she said.

“We are all aware that mining has made great technological progress, let´s see if we can make the same progress in human resources.”

Following the panel discussion with Aileen Pajunen, Geraldine Colbourne, Debora Hanson and Allison Craig, there were four break-out groups, which carried on with further discussion and the development of constructive ideas.

Suggestions on how to make the mining workplace more feminine friendly ranged from making female-sized gear and personal protective equipment and facilities, improving the awareness of mining, a higher profile for the industry in high schools, recruitment based on female demographics, more female trainers, greater use of mentors, day care policies, targeted recruiting, more flexible human resource policies, greater use of female role models and the building of a respectful and tolerant work environment.

These suggestions and ideas will move forward through the OMA, MiHR and other industry organizations and companies. The consensus from the session felt that improving the female participation rate in the industry is not only the right thing to do but that it could be a major supporting pillar to help the sector meet its anticipated human resource needs in the future.

“With today´s technology, there is no job in the mining industry that a woman cannot do as well as a man,” said Pajunen. “I think that sometimes obstacles in the workplace are self-created.” In summing things up on behalf of her colleagues, she urged the industry to erase the stigma of mining (bring the image up to date with the reality of the sector), to market the industry and the career opportunities it offers and to seek out women for mining jobs. “It is up to us to make it happen,” added Pajunen. “Mining workplaces must support a culture of respect regardless of gender.”