Women in Mining - Recruitment, Retention, and why it Matters

Given the trends we have observed over the past few months, women have faced greater economic and social fallout from Covid-19. In September, UN Women reported 40% of employed women work in hard-hit sectors such as hospitality, retail and entertainment, compared to 36.6% of employed men. An industry that has continued to show its resilience through Covid-19 is the mining sector and now more than ever, we need to be looking at how we are attracting female talent to the industry.

Numerous research initiatives have been undertaken to highlight the benefits of seeking out inclusive and balanced teams. As reported by the Responsible Mining Index, “research indicates that a more gender-balanced board and leadership team contributes to stronger environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance, which in turn, leads to better business performance. Higher female workforce participation can also raise attendance and retention rates as well as reduce organisational risks within businesses.”


Deshnee Naidoo

These benefits are echoed across the industry and with a key focus on Environmental Social Governance (ESG), I wanted to take a look at the initiatives companies are taking to achieve a gender diverse workforce and what considerations there needs to be moving forward. I also spoke with Deshnee Naidoo, the former CEO of Vedanta Zinc International and driver of the women in mining initiative for Minerals Council South Africa on the industry, attraction, retention and advancement of women on the subject.

How do we promote the industry?

We see educators, industry associations, women’s groups, researchers and many others united to encourage women to pursue opportunities in the mining industry. To promote a gender-balanced industry, employers must collaboratively work with governments, communities, educational systems, associations and other stakeholders to promote mining as the industry of choice.

As part of their commitment, we see mining operators providing access to education, which in turn is supplying jobs for the local community and adding to diversity as a whole. We also see support from non-profit organisations such as Women in Mining UK who is collaborating with Camborne School of Mines on internships and offering scholarships to aspiring female mining engineers who have received a place to study MSc Mining Engineering.

A huge movement we simply can’t ignore is the awareness and promotion throughout various operators and the investment into positive PR. Speaking to Deshnee on the subject she said,

“We are increasingly seeing the celebration of women in the industry, showcasing their career journeys to fast track the journeys of others is a great enabler.”

Not only are companies highlighting their innovation, but they are also celebrating women in different cultures and within global communities. They promote them as role models which in turn endorses the industry further.

two women in a mining envrionment

Initiatives such as the release of Women in Mining UK’s fourth edition of the “100 Global Inspirational Women in Mining” and inspiring interactive webinars hosted by the likes of Coeur Mining and WIM USA, FLSmidth, Vale Base Metals and Women in Mining South Africa on this subject continues to promote the mining industry as a career choice for all.

Sharing these success stories, experiences and conversations with individuals from diverse backgrounds will continue to foster greater inclusion and position mining as a career destination.

How do we retain women in the mining industry?

Retention of women in the industry is a core focus of companies and they need to redesign historic cultures, values and norms as part of sustainable development programs. This is needed to ensure there are programs and training in place that address challenges which women may face. With the impacts of Covid-19 on companies mining our world's minerals and other natural resources, this is more important than ever.

We are seeing companies make necessary changes to drive female participation throughout all positions. Appropriate PPE, daycare, maternity and paternity rights are evolving as part of gender equality efforts.

Covergalls Inc has driven this from their own experiences and created appropriate PPE for women across all industries. Newmont also opened its first nursing mothers’ rooms at the company’s Akyem mine in Ghana.

Others such as South32 has also focused on practical actions such as providing suitable facilities that could prevent women from working onsite. Other schemes such as investing heavily in mentoring programmes including reverse mentoring have also aided in the development of career goals and innovation. These initiatives coupled with work-life balance is important for inclusive company cultures moving forward.

a female ceo on the phone

Speaking to Deshnee further on what companies can do now to improve gender diversity, she said, “Employers must as a first step get some of the basics right. They must create an environment that a woman feels safe in and is adapted to her physiology. Listening to women in the organisation about their needs and creating the platform for their voices in the leadership and change management conversations to be heard is equally important. At Vedanta Zinc International, outside of the standard policies, we created flexible work arrangements for mothers of young children, specific practices for partners to work and offered a bespoke arrangement to retain talent. We needed to be open to risk-taking, tailoring and changing the standard mining recruitment and retention practices.”

Pre Covid-19, the industry as a whole began to adapt and we saw more flexibility in terms of working patterns with fly-in/fly-out rotations reconfigured to create a better work-life balance for parents and carers. With the impact of Covid-19, this has forced new ways of working and proven that there are no limits when it comes to redesigning the workplace.

The use of digital tools and remote working – where feasible – has created greater collaboration and knowledge sharing in workforces both locally and with overseas mining. Remote working and the questions surrounding the need for relocating will undoubtedly create new opportunities to increase the female talent pool.

What are the next steps to develop a gender diverse pipeline?

We acknowledge the proportion of women to men working in C-Suite, Senior Leadership, Operational Leadership positions and throughout the mine sites or in manufacturing plants remains low.

Insights such as BHP’s “4 Steps to Bring Gender Parity to a Male Dominated Industry” provide a great understanding of the role of culture as well as support from partners and suppliers in gender diversity. Companies throughout the global mining workforce need to be innovative when considering the recruitment of female candidates and we are working closely with our clients to redefine their talent approach.

When discussing diversity at leadership level, Deshnee had this to say, “To be successful; we need bold leadership commitments and new ways to attract, retain and advance women into what will become ‘mining for the future'. We need this to be hardwired from the top, with clear and transparent leadership targets, supported with consistent policies and practices. The drive for gender balance should be embedded in the culture and a natural initiative. This is what I drove as CEO.”

a diverse boadroom

We have challenged our clients where business leadership experience from adjacent markets can be considered. By looking at other industries where feasible, where individuals hold transferable skills and non-traditional mining background, organisations can ensure greater diversity of thought and drive a company forward.

Diversity in its entirety is all about pipeline. The development of a balanced talent pool allows our clients to identify individuals who can be placed into other roles with some additional training and development if required.

Unique among energy industry recruiters and mining recruitment companies, we have truly listened to the needs of the industry. Through the promotion of a 50:50 diverse candidate shortlist and ‘blind’ recruiting can ensure the process is as inclusive as possible whilst also providing those the confidence to consider new positions as unconscious bias and stereotyping is removed from the process.

Deshnee provided an interesting and insightful summary on promoting inclusion and the position of the sector currently, “We are at a critical point in the industry now. Mining is the backbone of many economies and has the potential to drive the post-COVID-19 build-back-better imperative. It is proven that gender-diverse organisations deliver better bottom-line performance. The pandemic has accelerated the use of alternate working arrangements and the need for increased digitalisation. The combination of all of this creates the opportune time to leverage gender diversity, to survive through the crises and set the industry to better thrive post it!

To make gender equality a reality, it needs to be a continued priority driven by the Board and Senior Leadership. Mining companies should be looking at their workforce and seeing how we drive this initiative forward without delay.

With this not only comes gender as an aspect but also as an individual’s culture, background, sexuality and perspectives, alongside an equal number of men who are similarly diverse. This is the ultimate goal to keep driving the industry forward and create an inclusive workforce.

join the change

Natural Resource Team


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