February 2015

The diversity challenge

  • By Alice Clark FAusIMM(CP), Director CdeK Geological & Mining Services, AusIMM President 2011-12

Greater workforce diversity offers opportunities the minerals industry is yet to fully embrace

When I took the role of AusIMM President in 2011, many people were focused on the fact that it was the first time a woman had held this role.

I said at the time that almost every professional will come to a place in their career or will experience an event where they are the first person to do something.

While it is a good feeling to achieve that in your career it doesn’t define you and it shouldn’t be your main focus.

At the time some expressed disappointment in me for not taking a vocal stance on issues that were important to them where they believed gender was a deciding factor. The role of President was, and still is, more broad than any single issue.

My comments then reflected a belief that I’ve held throughout my career and that is that I am not here because I’m female – I’m here because I really like working in this industry. And I want to do the best job that I can.

I’ve gone to different events that talk about gender in our industry over many years and I know that there are still considerable issues facing women who work in the minerals sector.

The gender pay gap remains a sad reality. The 2014 AusIMM Professional Employment Survey showed the gender pay gap for minerals professionals to be at an unacceptable 27.1 per cent.

Female minerals professionals are receiving lower wages than their male peers for the same work and have less access to career progression.

There are still not enough options for women entering the workforce who are also the primary care givers for children.

There are still Boards and executive management teams bereft of female members despite the attempts of governments and regulators. The situation seems to ignore the plethora of highly suitable female candidates.

These are real issues and I support the work of the AusIMM Women in Mining Network (WIMnet) because this group remains an important and worthwhile endeavour for the Institute.

To many women in the industry it may seem that we still have far to go but I think we have come a very long way – even in the short time of my career.

However, I’ve come to the conclusion that these issues are not limited to women in our industry. These issues are faced by many minority groups existing within established industries like ours.

The need for greater diversity

The discussion should be how we encourage and benefit from a diverse workforce. For example, the issue of indigenous participation in our industry is an important one.

Many companies talk about their indigenous employment programs. Some report the numbers of indigenous workers that are employed in their operations. Many will highlight how many indigenous truck drivers are working in the operation.

I think we need to broaden our conversations and talk about the need for diversity in the professional ranks of the minerals industry

Real progress is reflected in those companies reporting the number of indigenous trades people they have sponsored in their company or have
been employed in other companies or other industries as a result of the training they received.

These outcomes are encouraging, but real change, sustainable change, will have been achieved when we can report women, indigenous Australians and other minorities are equally participating in the minerals sector’s professional roles and in our Institute.

Developing strong communities

We talk about the benefits that our operations bring to local communities.
If we are truly contributing to a sustainable future in these communities then we should be able to talk about the number of people from the local community – of whatever background – who have gained skills that make them employable outside of the operation and in the broader community.

A company that brings wealth to a community for the duration of their operation has not fulfilled their broader role in developing the society.

A company that brings wealth to a community for the duration of their operation and enables willing members of that community to learn new skills – transferable skills that can be used in other industries and readies them for employment after the mine is finished – understands its broader role. And they understand what sustainability is really about. They leave a legacy that increases community support for the minerals industry and that benefits all of us who want to work in this sector.

Engaging in broader discussions

I think we need to broaden our conversations and start to talk about the need for diversity in the professional ranks of the minerals industry. A workplace that has men and women from different cultures and backgrounds is a richer place to work.

Kate Sommerville, a previous AusIMM Board member, made the observation that the paths that many women take in their careers may not be as straight as those trodden by the many men who have gone before them, but those paths are no less valid.

This statement will increasingly apply to a broader group than females as people from different backgrounds make their way through the industry.

As employers, managers and colleagues we need to recognise the wealth of talent that exists and reward achievement appropriately.

Conclusion

Having completed two years as AusIMM’s Immediate Past President, I have now finished a seven year stint on the AusIMM Board. It is pleasing to see that we have a Board for 2015 that is committed to supporting all minerals professionals.

Our 2015 President, Rex Berthelsen is a member of the WIMnet Committee and a vocal champion for gender equity in our sector. Two of the three newly elected Board members for 2015–17 are women, and the AusIMM Board is 40 per cent female. This is greatly encouraging: the AusIMM needs to ‘walk the talk’ in our own journey to encourage equitable access for all to the wonderful careers that we enjoy as minerals professionals. If the Institute cannot lead the change we want to see throughout the industry then we have no credibility when we try to raise awareness of the gender pay-gap and other concerns about equality of opportunity in the sector

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  • Katie Yamaguchi
    23 Feb 2015 at 3.13pm

    Nice article Alice. I must admit, perhaps rather un-PC, that my eyes often glaze over when articles around women’s equality in mining come by. I’m glad you didn’t use your first female presidential position in the AUSIMM to continually fly the women’s equality flag, as it’s my personal belief that more ground is gained through” doing the job” rather than campaigning.
    I’m the only female superintendent/manager at our underground site (outside of administration) and that fact only comes onto my radar when visitors or students to site make a comment around the lack of female leaders. Surely the best advertising for women’s equality into leadership roles is demonstration of proficiency in the role.
    What mostly caught my attention in your article was the reference to indigenous Australians in professional roles. Whole heartedly agree.
    If I’m quiet on the gender equality, I’m even more quiet on the racial equality. Having worked with you in Mount Isa, I’m not sure if you knew but I’ve got a mixed race background with family from remote NW and Gulf Queensland of aboriginal heritage. Again, with the same principles of “succeed by doing the job” I’ve not purposely flown that flag during my career, yet it is an area where there is a definite disparity between the entry level operator level and the staff in the professional ranks.
    I hope your article generates some discussion!

    Katie Yamaguchi (MAusimm, WIMNet, Geology Superintentent Broken Hill)