Strength in Numbers – Building gender diversity in mining

MiHR’s latest national labour market report details that in 2016 women accounted for 17 per cent of the Canadian mining workforce – only a slight increase from the 14 per cent noted over 10 years ago and substantially below the overall Canadian workforce at 48 per cent. We can see things are changing, but when we look at the overall representation the impacts are fairly minimal.

This slow pace of change isn’t consistent across all jobs, in fact the mining industry faces broad underrepresentation of women layered over specific occupational gaps. When we compare the representation of women in occupational categories in mining, to the representation in all industries – we see that gender gaps are prevalent across occupational categories in the sector. Even in occupations that traditionally have low female representation, such as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)-related professions; the mining industry has not attracted a representative proportion of women into the sector.

The underrepresentation of women has been causing increasing levels of alarm in and out of the sector – a developing appetite for addressing gender equity in mining has resulted in an upswing of activity, research, conference panels and initiatives joining the chorus of those working on the issues at hand.

Recently, MiHR published a national study on gender in mining, Strengthening Mining’s Talent Alloy: Exploring Gender Inclusion, which looked at the experiences of women and men in mining and provides insights on the challenges and solutions that are available to foster greater inclusion. Key findings include:

Mining workplaces are perceived and experienced differently by men and women: In general, the respondents to this study indicated that their mining workplaces were characterized as respectful. However, women had less positive experiences than men were more likely to report seeing put-downs, harassment and a lack of team atmosphere.

Work-life integration is a challenge for everyone: The ability to integrate work with personal and family demands continues to be a challenge for women – particularly in remote locations and FIFO assignments. However, there is a growing recognition that these issues are not “women’s issues” as men are taking larger family responsibilities outside of work and millennials have greater expectations around flexibility.

Workplace culture perceptions impact recruitment and retention: The women in this research were more likely than men to expect to leave the sector within the next five years. Not surprisingly, survey respondents who were less comfortable in their current mining workplace were more likely to leave the sector within the next five years.

Accessing mining networks remains a barrier to greater workforce diversity: Finding out about job openings and career opportunities in mining is a continued challenge. Having a personal network appears to be critically important – yet women highlighted that it is difficult for them access these networks.

Workplace harassment is harming mining workers: Overall, the survey results indicated that in many workplaces, harassment incidents are infrequent – more than half of the survey respondents reported – that they “never” or “almost never” see harassment, bullying, or violence in their workplace. Nonetheless, one in five “see” it once a month or more, and one in eight “experienced” it once month or more. Almost a third of women respondents (32 per cent) said that they have experienced harassment, bullying, or violence in their workplace in the last five years; less than half as many men (16 per cent) said the same.

It has taken time, effort, and some challenging conversations, but the voices and message of industry diversity champions, researchers and critical advocacy work by groups is being heard.  Many mining companies are digging into the root causes of these unintended barriers and committing to making real change. MiHR’s Gender Equity in Mining (GEM) initiative has engaged Champions who have committed to making changes in their companies including revising recruiting polices, diversifying hiring panels, considering the unique needs of Indigenous women, and using inclusive language in their job postings to name a few. Helen Francis, chair of the GEM Taskforce and Vale’s general manager of Business Effectiveness believes, “it is both an obligation and in my best interest to Champion Gender Diversity. I want to work in an industry and company that will make the best decisions for today and for future generations to come – we won’t have the best if we only attract a certain homogeneous sector of society.”

Need for continued insights and action 

MiHR’s recent gender and inclusion activities have revealed that many companies are at different points on their journey towards gender inclusion. There are still many topics that we do not fully understand including – the gender pay gap, the need for targeted solutions, the impacts of mid-career attrition and intersections between race/ethnicity/disability and gender. And those insights we have captured in our research still require collaborative action from a variety of industry stakeholders.

This involves all of us asking some tough questions– and ultimately determining how we would define success. What collectively, are our gender equity goals?  What are we working towards?  What actions are most likely to get us there? If you are interested in being part of this discussion, MiHR is currently developing a national strategy and research agenda on diversity and inclusion and launched a diversity in mining online community in October 2016. Add your voice to the conversation, and your conviction to actions that will impact equity in mining.

By Sarah Gauen, manager, Diversity Initiatives and Courtnay Hughes, manager, Manager of HR Research, for Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) Connect with Courtnay Hughes, Manager of HR Research (  or Sarah Gauen, Manager of Diversity Initiatives ( for further information. Suggested call out box if space allows:


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January 16, 2017

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