When it comes to women in mining, the percentage of men to women ratio leaves a lot of room for improvement.
In New South Wales only a meagre 9 per cent of full-time workers in the mining industry are women.
A new survey has called for a big push to increase female roles in the mining and resource sector.
The survey of women in the NSW mining industry, the first of its kind in the state, also discovered that less than 1 per cent of board members or executive management staff are female.
That’s a shocking statistic and one that needs to be addressed.
Hoping to alter those statistics and be among the next generation of women groomed for higher positions in the male-dominated industry is 27 year old Pearl Harding. Pearl has trained as an engineer and moved through the Rio Tinto ranks where she cut her teeth as a graduate.
Mining not just the domain of men
Ms Harding is of the firm belief that mining was not just the domain of men, rather the reality was quite different, with loads of opportunities and flexible working rosters available for females.
Take the classic story of the Boddington “Hot Seaters”, regular WA mums who between them formed a group that was employed as haul truck drivers.
“women behind the wheel of herculean-sized dump trucks”
The reason they were called ‘Hot Seaters’ is because they would be there, ready and waiting to take control of huge 500 tonne haul trucks as soon as the regular shift finished. The mums would get their kids off to school and get to the mine site around 9.30am, have their morning safety meeting and then it was on site behind the wheel of herculean-sized dump trucks.
“women can help solve a lot of mining problems”
This is a perfect example of how a mining company saw an opportunity to solve a lot of its operational problems – but at the same time, created much needed jobs for the local community. Haul truck driving jobs can often lead to other roles within the mining industry for women, such as Training and Assessment and WHS roles.
More woman are needed in the mining industry
With these types of opportunities for career advancement, more and more women are needed in the mining industry to help balance the gender ratio, creating a more natural work environment where male and female perspectives on life complement one another.
Conducted by the NSW Minerals Council, this survey reveals that 93 per cent of women working in NSW mining would actively encourage other women to start careers in the mining industry, including in roles operating heavy vehicles and machinery.
“more could be done to attract women into mining”
Ms Harding, who is a nominee in the rising star category of the Women in Mining Awards, said more could be done to attract women into the NSW mining industry.
- “We don’t have high numbers of women in the industry but I think we have the processes in place that we can really drive the change,” she said.
- “We need to educate people more about what is available in mining because there are more opportunities than anyone can imagine when you come into a mine.
“worked her way up the ladder”
Ms Harding joined Rio Tinto’s Hunter Valley coal operations in 2008, starting out as a drill and blast engineer and scheduler. Since then she has worked her way up the ladder where she now holds the position of senior strategic engineer, however at the moment she is on secondment and is acting in a road crew supervisory role.
New pathways needed to allow more women in mining jobs
The survey also discovered that the biggest proportion (more than 30 per cent) of women in mining were employed as machinery operators or drivers. Which once again affirms the success of the Boddington ‘Hot Seaters’ and can be expected to be repeated Australia-wide.
Calls went out for more people to respond to the survey and offer suggestions on a wide range of solutions to increase the number of women in mining careers.
“mining companies offering flexible working rosters for women”
NSW Minerals Council chief executive Stephen Galilee said some of the measures were being implemented already, with 90 per cent of the companies surveyed offering flexible working rosters.
More than 72 per cent of companies surveyed offered paid parental leave schemes.
Rio Tinto’s chief executive of energy, Harry Kenyon-Slaney, said it’s good business sense to encourage more women to join its workforce.”Not only do women gain opportunities to pursue exciting and rewarding career paths, but the approach, experience and diversity of skills that they bring leads to a richer debate and better business decisions,” he said.
For women stepping into a mining operation where hardened and experienced men are prevalent can be a challenging transition. This was true for Ms Harding, however she said, “When I stepped into that role as a supervisor, I was supervising a group of men who are quite a bit older than me. I was warned that there could be some issues”
“I was ready for them to throw their worst at me”
“I was ready for them to throw their worst at me and I’ve got nothing but their best.”
Jobs for women in mining are available for those people who want to have a crack at a mining career. Mining jobs can offer a wide range of working conditions and favourable rosters.
Many women start their mining careers at the entry-level, by taking on jobs such as hospitality, food preparation, housekeeping, administration, machinery operation and as advisors to training and work health and safety programs.
“women can work their way to the top, just as men can”
A smaller number will enter the mining workforce as graduate engineers and mine site managers and work their way to the top from this base.
Julie Shuttleworth’s inspiring women in mining story
An excellent example of this is Julie Shuttleworth, who started her mining career at the ground-level and worked her way up to the prestigious role mine site General Manager. Julie works for Fortescue Metals Group, managing their Cloudbreak iron ore mine in the remote Pilbara region of Western Australia.
Her story is one of hard work and astounding success, which should serve as a positive reminder that women in mining can create fantastic careers in the industry.
Read more about Julie Shuttleworth’s ‘women in mining’ story
Further reading for women looking for inspiration on how to get into the mining industry
iMINCO suggests every woman looking for ideas and tips on how to understand the mining industry from a female perspective could learn a lot by downloading the following e-books. They are in PDF format and can be read on PC and Mac as well as most hand held devices like the iPAD and tablet – and they’re all free.