Gender Equality in our industry

From my position as an old white male I have always believed that as an industry we are making great strides in diversifying our workforce and embracing equality. Recently, Eleanor Hawkins made a presentation as part of the Women in Mining day at the Mining Investment Asia conference in Singapore. Eleanor’s research and presentation shook my complacent view that the gender matter was a resolved issue.

A 2015 University of Queensland survey showed that despite the workforce engaged in metalliferous mining having doubled over the decade to 2014, the proportion of that workforce that was female remained more or less constant at about 15%. More women entered the workplace but the ratio remained at a stubborn 5.5 men to 1 woman. This contradicted my belief that we had made significant progress towards gender diversity. A quick check on things locally showed that AMC is hardly any better than the industry norms when it comes to the gender split, with only 17% of our consultants being women.

Why are we failing so badly? I do not believe that AMC or the industry at large are discriminatory to the extent these results would suggest. Whilst there is a lot more that can be done to encourage and develop women already in our industry, we first need to get increased female participation in the mining industry.

Data from the Camborne School of Mines in the UK shows that, despite a gradual increase in the number of applications from women, the proportion of female applicants is still less than 30%. This suggests that mining related courses are not attracting young women considering their university options. These trends are not unique to the UK, with a recent OECD report showing that globally in 2012 only 14% of young women who entered universities chose a science-related subject compared to 39% of young men. This is the case despite girls overperforming boys at schools everywhere in the OECD except Liechtenstein, and women earning more university degrees than men since the 1960’s.

The issue is therefore not that women are not going to university. It is in the courses that they select. The OECD survey also looked at the expectation of the 15-year-old girls and boys. In all cases, there is a far higher proportion of boys who anticipate a career in engineering or computing than girls, only in Montenegro does the expectation approach equality. By comparison if we look at the health sector, the proportion of girls who see this as a career is far higher than that of boys across the board.

So, whilst we must renew our efforts to encourage and develop the women in our industry we will never achieve the degree of gender diversity we seek unless we can increase the number of women entering the science and engineering fields. It is too late if we wait to receive university graduates. We need to encouraging primary and secondary school aged children, both girls and boys, out of the perception that there are gender-specific roles. This is important in schools but should begin in society and the home. My granddaughters have dolls, a doctor’s set, and a toy bulldozer.

To achieve gender diversity, we must empower children make their own choices as to the path they want to follow. To do that they need to grow up knowing there are no limits. This must begin long before university and the workplace.

Martin Staples
Director / Principal Mining Engineer
[email protected]
OECD (2015), The ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence. OECD Publishing: Paris.

Pattenden, C.A. and D. Brereton, (2015) Women in Australian Mining 1997 to 2013 – a generation of change. The University of Queensland: Brisbane, Australia.