If we really have hit, or are close to hitting, the beginning of the end of the mining boom, then women may have already missed out on much of the boom’s direct benefits around employment.
Because despite all the marketing that comes out from some of the sector’s largest employers depicting their female employees in the field, women are still significantly outnumbered across the industry.
And according to EOWA stats, mining has one of the largest industry pay gaps in Australia, at more than 26%, up from 21% in February 2011.
As Rio Tinto managing director David Peever said yesterday, a lack of women in mining may be due to perceptions that mining’s largely a “blokey business”. It’s difficult to pass up the image of the hardhat wearing bloke working in extreme conditions in remote Australia – particularly those that are part of the fly-in fly-out generation. And historically, in mining operations across the world, it’s been the case that men have dominated the jobs available.
But Rio Tinto has been making some progress. Women fill 14% of senior leadership roles at Rio (they’re aiming for a target of 15% by 2015), while 35% of the miner’s latest graduate intake was female ( 40% target by 2015). Women account for 14% of Rio’s board positions.
Small steps, but progress was always going to be slow in this business – especially given the realities of working in remote areas in what Peever described as often “hostile” environments.
So when Peever spoke about diversity in his business, it wasn’t so much the progress Rio Tinto was making against its targets that were particularly interesting, but rather some of the examples he gave about shifting attitudes to job design.
In particular, he mentioned how Rio has just appointed two women to a General Manager role in the Pilbara. They’re sharing the role. Flexible work, part time work and job sharing are seen as paramount for getting more women involved in the mining sector, as is offering direct childcare assistance. And mining may actually have an advantage over corporate Australia in this regard, given the sector has constantly had to innovate to ensure its job design options can attract the best possible talent.
Women may not have missed out on the mining boom, yet. But it’s up to employers to make sure the jobs available can cater to women just as well as they can cater to men. Then women can play their part in breaking down the stereotypes that exist around the industry. Before it’s too late.
Should more women explore mining careers? What more can be done to get women involved?