Building gender-balanced businesses in the minerals industry – by Catharine Shaw

The Canadian Mining Journal is Canada’s first mining publication. This column is from the magazine’s May, 2011 issue. Catharine Shaw is Business Services Manager, Mining Sector, Golder Associates and WIM Canada, Secretary.

Canadian women working in mining and exploration represent a human resource which is highly talented and yet their skills remain largely untapped. It could be said that there is some familiarity between career lifecy¬cles of women and the cyclical nature of a commodities business. For example, as the value of earnings fluctuate widely according to variations in the economy prompted by global supply and demand, often the career path of professional women in mining are impacted by the uncertainty to invest in female talent (equitable supply) and consistent long-term availability of this resource (demand).

The historical boom and bust nature of the mining industry poses additional challenges for short-tenure employees, such as women entering child-bearing years, who make choices during up- trending markets only to lose opportunities more heavily during the down turns. With that being said, every employer and employee is touched regardless of gender by booms and busts, however, the career path or lifecycles for women are unique when considering all choices that have to be made. Of course, not all professional women are alike when making career choices.

There is a plethora of discussion around striking a balance between career and family for females — a topic that is not exclusive to the mining and explora¬tion industry due to global social percep¬tions that still place women on the front lines as caregivers not only for children but for aging parents. However, there is a growing pool of technically innovative and business-savvy women who don’t feel attached to social stigmas and focus primarily on careers, making similar concessions traditionally made by men to seek leadership positions and ascend the corporate ladder. But no matter what the personal choices reveal in terms of demographics, statistics show that increasing the representation of women across all occupational areas and levels will improve business performance and ensure that the minerals sector has the flexibility, adaptability and focus to meet the needs of tomorrow in a highly-com-petitive global industry.

In 2009, Women in Mining (WIM) Canada incorporated as a not-for-profit organization with a mandate to strength¬en policy and practice to increase women’s recruitment, retention and advancement in the minerals industry in Canada. With support from the mining community and partners in the project, Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR), WIM Canada launched a gender study entitled; “Ramp-UP: A Study on the Status of Women in Canada’s Mining and Exploration Sector.” The study included surveying four key stakeholders, Female Employees, Employers, Female Students and Educators — to gather statistical data and establish a baseline for measuring improvements on the representation of women. Full particulars of the survey can be viewed on the WIM Canada website,

Key findings WIM Canada discov¬ered through Ramp-UP had already been known anecdotally: women are an experienced workforce prepared for long-term engagement and have a will¬ingness to participate fully in the broad spectrum of employment opportunities, from the office to the laboratory, to heavy equipment operators and remote exploration camps, as well as at manage¬ment, executive and boardroom levels. Nevertheless, the representation of women in mining and exploration is the lowest among primary industry catego¬ries, sitting at only 14 percent in Canada. Subtle yet intriguing integration and retention tactics can successfully break down barriers, including prevailing images of a strong masculine industry, to lift our current industry ranking.

A diverse workforce is essential and an integral component of business planning in today’s global marketplace. There is growing evidence that integrating women in business results in making the work¬force of such companies much stronger, more productive and efficient and more profitable. Many companies in the resource sector are beginning to under¬stand the importance and the challenges of sustainable female integration.

To match this momentum, women in mining networks have gained tremen¬dous support and continue to flourish across Canada and internationally. WIM Canada is enthusiastically ready to dig deeper into the findings of Ramp-UP and collaborate with industry to continue the research needed to keep an equitable sup¬ply of women in mining thereby mini¬mizing the risk of losing a valuable talent resource to other industries. Closing the gap on gender is a rewarding initiative for the mining and exploration industry in Canada — integral to growing long-term economic success in the dynamic com¬munities where we live and work.