There are a great many women in the mining industry whom I admire. But still, I wish there were more.
A lot has changed in the eleven years since I became a mining journalist. There are far more women in the industry now and in positions of leadership then when I began, and I think it’s no coincidence given the rise of digitisation.
Digital technologies have not only made roles that were once too physical accessible to women, they have also attracted a large number of diversified firms into the sector, firms that bring knowledge and experience from industries where women are not so vastly outnumbered. Their standards are driving change within this age-old sector and are pushing more traditional companies to up their game when it comes to workforce diversity.
The rise of digitisation has also created a niche in the mining business; an opportunity for smaller companies specialising in nascent subjects such as artificial intelligence, cryptocurrency and data science to shine. And I’ve noticed that quite a few of these are run by women. Where traditional firms have not provided roles, women have created their own.
I strongly believe that it’s hard to become what you cannot see. And so, over the coming weeks, I have asked some of the most inspirational women I know to share their stories and opinions with you.
If we don’t talk about change, then it won’t happen, and I’m keen to keep the conversation going when it comes to diversity and opportunities for women in mining.
While writing questions for my interview subjects, I realised that mining wasn’t presented to me as a potential career path when I was training as a geologist. Like so many people, I found my own way into the sector and stayed.
I thought it worthwhile laying my cards on the table and sharing my thoughts on the topic. So here goes…
How did you come to work in the mining industry?
I studied geography and geology for my undergrad degree at the University of Brighton in the UK. At the time, Earth history was the only topic I could think of that would hold my interest for three years.
I graduated just before the global financial crash and, at that point, no one was hiring geologists so I had to get creative. I’ve always loved writing and when I saw a job opening at Mining Magazine as their assistant editor I jumped at the opportunity.
I wrote for several other Aspermont publications including World Tunelling and GeoDrilling International before being offered the editor’s job at Mining Mag in 2011. I stayed there until April 2019 when I went freelance and launched The Intelligent Miner.
What do you love most about working in mining? And which aspects do you dislike?
I love that I learn something new every single day. Mining is such a broad industry and there are so many interesting projects going on and topics to write about.
I also like the people that I work with. In general, the mining community is incredibly generous and supportive; most people are very willing to share their time and expertise, and to collaborate.
I dislike the rate of change on important issues such as diversity, and the lack of transparency in others such as tailings management. That said, things are changing and if miners want to keep their social license to operate and compete on the global stage then they’re going to have to pick up their pace.
The mining industry gets a bad rap in the mainstream media for its impact on the environment and on local communities, but it also does a lot of positive work. Firms in this sector do not shout loudly enough about their sustainability, conservation and community support projects.
The sector as a whole needs to up its PR game.
Which other women in mining do you look up to and why?
There are so many!
I attended a great talk at the Women in Mining breakfast at the annual SME meeting in February by Fortescue Mining’s Julie Shuttleworth. She talked about some of the challenges that she has faced during her career and how she dealt with them by holding her head high and letting the quality of her work do the talking. I respect her ethos and the fact that she has made her role as deputy CEO her own.
I admire Michelle Ash (who doesn’t!?). She seems to think outside of the box and is always two steps ahead of everyone else. I think we need more people like her challenging the norm as the mining industry continues to reinvent itself.
I also love working with Dr Penny Stewart from PETRA DataScience. Penny really has her finger on the pulse of all things digital in mining. She is incredibly knowledgeable and, more importantly, always willing to share her knowledge. PETRA has gone from strength to strength in recent years, and I admire her leadership.
What do you think the mining industry could do to help attract more female talent into STEM roles?
At the most basic level: TALK ABOUT IT! Talk about it online, at events, as part of educational courses…
As I said earlier, the mining industry really undersells itself on the global stage, and that includes its potential as an employer. If companies in this sector want to attract the best and brightest talent, regardless of age, gender or race, then they need to start promoting themselves properly, and talking more openly about the business and its challenges. It’s going to be a slow process, but I think it’s an important one.
Likewise, if we don’t continue to talk openly about opportunities for women within the industry and highlight the fantastic efforts of organisations such as the Women in Mining network, then it can seem like quite a daunting and archaic place to new recruits.
I’d like to see more funding for these types of initiatives and more recruitment programmes focused outside of the mining space. We need to start looking outwards for talent instead of inwards.
What are your thoughts on opportunities for women within the mining sector? And which women in mining do you admire the most and why? Answers below please
My thoughts on opportunities for women within the mining sector reflect a life lived in mining communities since 1947 when only 2 years old, though my memories don’t go back quite that far. That was in Queenstown Tasmania, where our father was a mining engineer who had completed his studies in Adelaide after taking time out to fight in WW2.
He was quite anxious when he learnt that our daughter his grand-daughter decided she would study to become a mining engineer. One of her reasons for choosing mining was that she had also lived in mining communities, as I was also a mining engineer! While the discrimination that concerned her grandfather and I proved very real when she visited and worked at mines, she, like so many women like her, persevered and proved the sexists wrong.
More importantly, as Carly shares their stories I expect that more and more women will become the sort of worker and leaders needed to tackle the internationally low reputation of mining and it’s traditional workers leaders created. As much of that low reputation reflects the industry’s behaviour during mining’s “boom and bust” cycles, I hope women will help find ways to counter and reduce the harm still being done, particularly in less developed countries.