Photo credit: Women in Mining Canada
Lessons Learned from the Mining Industry
Written by: Natalie Lim
Women in Mining Canada (WIMC) is a national, not-for-profit organization that is focused on supporting and advocating on behalf of women in Canada's mining industry. Although often overlooked, mining is an extremely important part of Canada's economy, and it has been under threat of a skilled labour shortage for some time now. According to the WIMC website, experts agree that "improving diversity within the mining workforce by attracting and retaining traditionally underrepresented groups such as women may be the best solution" to this shortage. However, women hold only 19% of Canada's professional and physical science jobs, and only 16% of jobs in the mining industry (NAP p. 6). In response to this, WIMC has produced a free National Action Plan (NAP) that outlines evidence-based and business-relevant strategies, tips and tools to support the implementation of gender inclusive practices. And although it was produced with the mining sector in mind, this guide shines valuable light on ways that you can encourage diversity in your field, no matter where you work.
Women in the Workforce Equals Better Business
The NAP provides several compelling arguments as to why more diversity and inclusivity in the workforce isn't just better for women - it's better for business, too. Any industry or company that actively promotes gender equality and an inclusive culture is going to naturally attract applicants from a wide range of backgrounds, and organizations that have diverse teams foster a culture of innovation, growth, and improved productivity (p. 5). Furthermore, women leaders frequently demonstrate behaviours such as intellectual stimulation, inspiration, and participative decision-making - all of which are considered to be effective in addressing global challenges (p. 6).
Women also bring a unique perspective to traditionally male-dominated fields, and a more gender-balanced field tends to create a safer workplace culture. The NAP outlines several studies that demonstrate how workers in "dangerous, male-dominated work settings," such as offshore drilling platforms and coal mines, will often try to appear infallible to impress coworkers and bosses - and shows that adding women to the mix helps to reduce these tendencies (p. 7). Gender-balanced workplaces are also better for employees' mental health, as they create workplace cultures that are linked to lower absenteeism, less health-damaging stress, more teamwork, and lower turnover rates (p. 7).
A more diverse workforce has also been shown to increase profitability and performance - research done by The Peterson Institute for International Economics studied almost 22,000 firms and concluded that "a company with 30% women leaders can add up to 6 percentage points to its net margin, compared to other companies in the same industry" (p. 8). Many other studies have backed up this information, with a general consensus that a board made up of 30% women has measurable positive impacts on company performance. For more information, check out our White Paper on the business case for gender diversity.
Five Systemic Strategies
WIMC has outlined five categories of gender-inclusive practices in their National Action Plan, which we will go over briefly here. There is no easy way to create a gender-inclusive culture within the workplace - it takes perseverance, collaboration, and an honest desire to change the way things work. That being said, these five strategies are a great starting point, especially when implemented together.
1) Signs and Symbols of Gender Inclusion in the Workplace Culture: When beginning to implement gender-inclusive practices, one of the best places to start is analyzing the current workplace culture for terminology, images, facilities, and policies that were created with men in mind. Especially in fields that have traditionally been male-dominated, these aspects of workplace culture shape the way that organizations work and act as "subtle but powerful signals about...who is 'in' and who is 'out'" (p. 10) within the workforce.
2) Respectful Workplaces: Research by the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) showed that women in the industry still perceive mining as an "old boys' club," and experience a series of microaggressions on a daily basis (p. 12). Of course, it's not just the mining industry that faces these problems - women make up only 22% of Canadians currently working in STEM fields. Fostering respectful workplaces where women feel safe and welcome can be achieved by creating comprehensive education and action plans for workplace harassment, bullying, and violence, and by developing positive workplace relationships through training and communication about inclusion.
3) Ability to Reconcile Work with Personal Commitments: Gender-inclusive organizations recognize the value in helping employees find fulfillment in their personal lives as well as in the workplace. Implementing policies that support balanced work-life commitments lead to "reduced absenteeism, improved employee engagement, less stress and improved health" (p. 12). Some of these policies could include programs related to flex time or working from home, and placing limitations on business contact outside of scheduled working hours.
4) Inclusive Practices for Career Opportunities: Organizations need to ensure that they are "uncovering and addressing...systemic barriers" (p. 13) to women's progress by intentionally creating hiring and advancement systems that keep inclusivity in mind. For example, they could provide access to programs that help women build job-specific skills (such as our workshops with the WinSETT Centre), encourage mentoring relationships within the organization, and ensure that short lists for hiring and promotion include a diverse list of qualified candidates.
5) An Industry that is a Magnet for Talent: The Canadian mining industry is currently having issues attracting women to mining-related post-secondary programs. An MiHR survey of 1500 women job seekers revealed the majority would not consider mining as a career because they thought the field didn't "employ people like me" or "offer jobs that interest me." The solution to this problem requires collaboration between employers, outreach groups, and educational institutions - exposure to and experience with the industry early in life has shown to be a crucial step in attracting more women to mining, and more broadly, to all STEM fields. Employers can partner with outreach groups, offer work placements, and promote their industry at career fairs; universities can provide career advising that covers a comprehensive range of possibilities. And no matter who you are, you can always donate time and money to groups that are advocating for women in STEM or women in trades - for example, you could volunteer with Women in Mining Canada, or become a mentor with Make Possible.
Steps for Implementing Change
Some of the changes we've discussed here today seem small, and easy to implement, but surface changes will be ultimately ineffective if they're not paired with a comprehensive plan aimed at fostering a culture of inclusivity. Therefore, the National Action Plan outline a three-phase approach to creating "change that sticks," which we will outline briefly here:
Phase 1: Creating the Strategy - This is the planning stage, where the objectives of your proposal are identified and a strategy is developed to carry it out. This stage also involves confirming the active support of people within the organization who are willing to commit to the proposal and take responsibility for carrying it out in the day-to-day workplace.
Phase 2: Implementing the Strategy - In this stage, the proposal will be introduced to the organization. It will need to be supported through communication efforts, training, and addressing any resistance.
Phase 3: Reinforcing the Strategy - Finally, the strategy needs to be reinforced. The NAP suggests regularly measuring the ongoing progress of your initiative, celebrating successes and making adjustments as necessary.
We hope that through this article, you have learend a lot about the mining field, its importance to our economy, and the struggles it is currently facing. Most of all, though, we hope you come away with a better grasp on why gender-inclusive policies are so important in the workplace, and how you can help to make your workplace more inclusive. There's no doubt about it: everyone benefits when we work to create workplaces that are diverse, respectful, and inclusive to all.