Challenges For Women In Mining And In Executive Roles Generally

There's no doubt that the challenges for executives generally in the mining industry are on the increase. Advancing technology for instance is completely changing the way mines, and mining companies, need to operate if they're to remain viable in the industry as it advances. Environmental and social issues are other areas where mining executives need to be thinking on their feet in order to stay within increasingly complex legislative requirements, red tape and on good terms with the communities within which they operate.

Women in leadership roles in mining companies though face additional challenges. Not only do they have to deal with all the same pressures as their male colleagues, they also have to contend with a well known albeit generally 'unacknowledged' hurdle. This is of course the infamous 'glass ceiling', a problem that minorities and women often face when it comes to professional advancement. What it means is that in many cases women have to work twice as hard to prove themselves and even then there are often pay inequalities.

The gender pay gap in one of the world's leading mining economies

This Australian government report found that when it comes to full time employment there are gender pay gaps in favour of men across every profession and occupation in the country, including mining. However, the mining industry can take some comfort in the fact that their gender pay gap is about 7% lower than other Australian industries!*

The above mentioned report also notes that these pay inequalities generally get wider the higher up the corporate ladder a person progresses. This is largely because in the lower levels of employment national awards and various work place policies dictate rates of pay and these are generally not discriminatory.

That Not So Transparent Glass Ceiling

The glass ceiling and pay inequalities aren't the only barriers women encounter in their quests to become leaders and C-suite executives. This McKinsey & Company report found that whilst women are just as prepared as men to put their hands up when it comes to promotion, women generally are less confident of receiving those promotions. And with good reason it seems because McKinsey's latest report on gender equality found that when it comes to getting their foot on the first rung of the corporate executive ladder, men are 18% more likely to be given the promotional nod than their female counterparts. Interestingly though it seems that women generally are not quite as interested in working their way to the top as men are! Quite why this is has yet to be determined. They also aren't as assertive when it comes to tooting their own horn or pushing their own barrows either.**

Women Still, After All This Time, Shoulder The Bulk Of Household Responsibilities

It's also a fact that on the home front women in general take on more responsibility for household chores than men. A decade ago McKinsey & Company found that women spent twice as much time doing household chores than men and recent research suggests this situation hasn't changed much in the intervening years. Over half of the women in the survey said they do all the household chores, or a fair chunk of them at least. When you combine domestic responsibilities with the fact that many women also say they feel they need to 'prove' they're serious about a career by making themselves available any time and anywhere, you can see why so many decide it's simply too much pressure. And subsequently why women are under represented at corporate level in many industries. Having said that though there is also a correlation between lower career aspirations and a willingness to take on more responsibility for household and other domestic responsibilities **. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that either – being a full time parent is one of the most honourable careers there is! 

Traditional Biases And Women In Mining

There are also long standing biases and assumptions that undermine the career successes of women. One of these is the performance evaluation bias – women tend to be assessed more on their accomplishments to date than on their potential. For men it's the other way around**. Another common assumption that undermines women is that they can't be a good mother AND be committed to having a successful career at the same time. Indeed it would be interesting to know just how many women have been passed over for promotion or denied leadership opportunities due to this one bias alone! In an industry like mining, where remote work places and FIFO is so much a part of the job, at least on the lower levels of the corporate rung, it's easy to see why it's become so male dominated.

So what can be done about advancing gender equality in the work place, particularly in mining so that women are better placed to climb the corporate ladder and contribute to making companies more profitable***! Here are a few thoughts:

  • There is a definite need to determine just where women are getting 'stuck' in the system. And why. Are they reaching a point where they decide it's all just 'too hard' and why do they feel that way? Are there factors at play in the work environment/culture that are blocking them from progressing any further and if so, how can these be addressed and removed?
  • Reduce the bias – bias-training courses could help those tasked with the promotion processes recognise when bias creeps into their thinking and decision-making, and to understand the implications of traditional biases and how they can undermine the career aspirations of women.
  • Ensuring that fair unbiased recruiting, performance and promotion processes exist for both men and women.
  • Set up support systems that help employees balance home and work lives – childcare support, flexible working conditions, extended parental leave and so on. 

Setting Targets, Tracking, Measuring And Ensuring Accountability The Only Way To Progress

Ultimately though even the best intentions won't get a company, or an industry, very far without several key things happening. First of all there needs to be a way progress with respect to gender equality can be tracked and measured. Quota systems are working in those countries where it's now mandatory to have a certain % of females on company boards because there is a tangible figure in place that has be met. It's very noticeable though that where there are no mandated quotas, women still lag a long way behind in terms of representation (executive committees are a classic case in point).

Where there are no quota systems in place, which is most of the world, diversity must be goal posted, tracked and measured. Responsibility for ensuring that it does happen must also be allocated and those tasked with that responsibility held accountable for making it happen. When any or all of these things don't happen, progress remains painfully slow. McKinsey & Company's latest report found that 85% of those companies surveyed do have a record of how many women there are in each level of the corporate rung. However, when it comes to actually setting targets and then holding those responsible accountable for meeting those targets, the figures are nowhere near as impressive.

Leaders Need To Do More Than Just Pay Lip Service To The Notion Of Gender Equality

Again, this report notes that whilst an impressive 90% of companies state that they're committed to gender equality, the reality seems to be far from promising! Those responsible for making these types of commitments on behalf of these companies are not ensuring the message seeps down loud and clear through their management hierarchy to where many such policies are implemented. Therefore, the perception amongst at least half the employees surveyed is that despite what upper management says, their companies are not particularly committed to gender equality at all and that those who should be ensuring it happens are likewise not truly committed to doing so. Until all this changes, gender equality across the corporate world is likely to remain inequitable, at least for the foreseeable future.

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Tuesday, 20 April 2021
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