Interview with The Future Economy.ca
Elena Mayer, President & CEO of Women Who Rock interviewed by The Future Economy.ca on Incentives and Disclosure for Greater Gender Balance in Mining.
Elena Mayer is the President and CEO of Women Who Rock and a director of client relationships with the mining industry at PwC Canada. After graduating with a law degree from the University of Windsor, Mayer went to the Schulich School of Business to complete her MBA, specializing in the global mining management program. In 2015, she was named one of the Top 100 Global Inspirational Women in Mining.
Women Who Rock is a Toronto-based non-profit established to attract women to the mining industry and retain them. The foundation creates mentorship opportunities for women in mining and promotes gender diversity both inside and outside the mining sector.
1- Encouraging more women to go into mining will provide the industry with more skilled labour at a time when the sector is facing significant labour shortages.
2- Through collaboration with other groups, the mining industry can effectively communicate the positive impact it makes towards the global and Canadian economies, and the fact that we are all end users of its products.
3- The establishment of guidelines to require mining companies to report how they are trying to recruit more women into the industry could help make gender parity a bigger priority for the sector.
Ottawa and the provinces need to create financial incentives to encourage mining companies to hire more women and raise their participation in the sector from 17% of the workforce to 30% by 2030 through programs and initiatives. This would almost double the participation of women in the Canadian mining industry in roughly a decade.
Why it important to have more women in Canada’s mining industry and how would increased gender balance better position the industry to address its challenges?
The mining industry is facing a labour shortage so we need to reach out to under-represented, skilled labour. Women are a big part of that. Right now, women comprise only 17% of the Canadian mining industry’s labour force compared to 48% in other industries. Bringing more women to the mining sector would give us access to a whole new talent pool.
Mining is also becoming an increasingly complex business. It is no longer what people imagine: going somewhere remote and digging a hole. Nowadays, in addition to technical skills, there are a lot of skills that are attributed to women and are needed in the industry, including negotiation, mediation and team building. Men and women possess different types of skills and it is the combination of those skills that brings the best results. Men are universally known as being solution-oriented and a lot of times they can miss the importance of the process itself. Women tend to listen more to the intricacies and details, such as how something would translate into a community setting.
“Women comprise only 17% of the Canadian mining industry’s labour force compared to 48% in other industries. Bringing more women to the mining sector would give us access to a whole new talent pool.”
Canadian mining companies that operate abroad will often go to remote communities and offer up a list of things they are prepared to provide, such as infrastructure and hospitals. Often, though, a closer consultation, where people go house to house and ask about the community’s needs, can be more fruitful than simply building a million-dollar hospital. Women are well suited to such community-focused work.
Ultimately, if we just want to look at what increased diversity will do to a company’s bottom line, there have been numerous studies that show that having more than 30% women leaders in any organization adds to the bottom line – whether it is mining or another business. So, simply put, having more women in mining is good for business.
Why are women still under-represented in mining?
In some developing countries, the causes are historical. For example, in Latin America, having women on a mine site was historically seen as a sign of bad luck. This was not just a superstition; if something tragic happened at the mine, it was the women who would come collect the injured or dead. So, if you saw a woman on a mine site, people thought something bad had happened because that was often the case.
Even in Canada, for a long time mining was something that required physical strength. Before the arrival of modern technologies, the majority of tasks that had to be performed in remote locations required physical strength. Women were not seen as being as strong as men, so they faced obstacles in integrating into the industry. Mining still has those tasks that require strength but much of the physical challenges for women have been removed.
“The moment women decide to have a family and children their lives becomes very incompatible with working in remote locations, so the more technical segment of the industry is off-limits to them.”
One of the things that I find mining still struggles with – and for which, frankly, I do not have a solution – is that there are two bubbles in the mining world. There is the corporate mining world where there are accountants, lawyers, business and finance people who service the mining industry. But then there is also a core of geologists and engineers who must work in remote locations. The moment women decide to have a family and children their lives becomes very incompatible with working in remote locations, so the more technical segment of the industry is off-limits to them.Some individuals will still do it but I think mining companies continue to grapple with how to make working in remote locations family-friendly.
How can industry leaders, governments and academia ensure that we are preparing the right kind of leaders for the mining industry of tomorrow?
The core professions like engineering and geology, those who are actually at the mine sites, are math-oriented and sometimes are not as versed in soft skills. They see technical solutions to problems but often do not see the whole picture.
Let’s say you have a very talented geologist. A geologist sees what is in the ground and the potential of getting this commodity out, but they do not usually envisage what the objections might be from the community or what the current government implications might be. So, it would be good to add some kind of soft-skill curriculum to the technical training to have more rounded professionals, so they can see the nuances of their projects and the possible soft implications to their hard solutions.
“Giving soft skills, negotiation or communication skills to technical people and bringing in non-traditional professionals to mining can break down silos and help mining companies operate more efficiently.”
Mining company departments tend to work in silos, with each one thinking their objective is the most important. But collaboration and communication between the different departments is very important. Giving soft skills, negotiation or communication skills to technical people and bringing in non-traditional professionals to mining can break down silos and help mining companies operate more efficiently.
What do you think the industry’s communication outreach should look like in terms of inspiring more women to choose careers in mining?
When something bad happens in the mining industry – whether it’s a spill or accident on a mine site – the media picks up on it really quickly. No matter where it is in the world, you will see it front and center of every newspaper.
However, nobody speaks about Canadian mining’s positive contributions to these developing countries’ economies, environments and educational opportunities. Even in Canada, the mining industry is doing a poor job of communicating those positive stories to the general public.
In 2014, the Argentine government collaborated with its mining association. In downtown Buenos Aires, they had huge billboards featuring a photograph of a little girl holding a cellphone and a mine pit with the message: “If you want to have one, you need to have the other.”
“I went to an anti-mining protest a couple of years ago and the lady who was speaking was holding a cellphone and wearing jewelry. Both of these are products that are only possible because of the mining industry.”
The general public doesn’t realize that the majority of things we use come from the mining industry. I went to an anti-mining protest a couple of years ago and the lady who was speaking was holding a cellphone and wearing jewelry. Both of these are products that are only possible because of the mining industry.There is a disconnect between what the mining industry does and the end products that stem from that work. We always say that mining does not have clients, so it does not have an end service, but this is not true because we are all the end consumers.
At Women Who Rock, we have three pillars: connect, communicate and collaborate. So, in 2015, we partnered with the Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards and we held the Hard Hats and High Heels event at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Geologists and engineers from various mining companies dressed up in Canadian fashions and walked the runway. A panel of speakers, two from the fashion industry and two from the mining industry, tried to find some similarities for our audience of 350 people, including 150 from the fashion industry. It was an eye-opener for them. They said they had no idea about the connections between their industry and mining, and also that there were so many mining professionals living in Toronto or that mining was such a lucrative business.
What does and doesn’t work when looking to get more women into the mining industry?
I’ve done quite a bit of research on quota systems used in other countries and I do not support that approach. After more than a decade, Norway’s experiment with quotas has not been successful for them for many reasons. Quotas are counterproductive because the current pool of female candidates for board positions is very limited. What we have is the “golden skirt” phenomenon: companies or recruiters reach out to the same limited pool of women and nobody looks at the generation right under them.
We need to develop potential board members earlier to start feeding the pipeline so we can expand the pool of candidates. It is a necessity for mining companies and other industries to prepare mid-management to think about board positions way ahead of the time when their employees qualify to be on them. There should be programs to give women experience in running boards so that they can later be ready to sit at the board table. That is missing in the mining industry and it’s something that we potentially might work towards with the University of Toronto because they have great board-preparation courses.
“Although quotas don’t work, there is a softer role for government to play and it is to establish guidelines.”
Although quotas don’t work, there is a softer role for government to play and it is to establish guidelines. For example, we have been closely watching the Ontario Securities Commission’s disclosure requirements – this is an approach I am really in favour of. It has started the dialogue around requiring the leadership of public mining companies to report their decision-making regarding women on the boards and management.
At the end of the day, we need to have decision makers who can move the dial on board but they have many things on their plates. If they are not reminded to think about gender balance and diversity, then it may simply be pushed down to the bottom of the list. Disclosure requirements and consultations, help give this issue a higher priority.
“I would urge Ottawa and the provinces to create financial incentives to encourage mining companies to hire more women and raise their participation in the sector from 17% of the workforce to 30% by 2030 through programs and initiatives.”
Ultimately, if we want to achieve 30% participation for women in mining by 2030, we need to take practical steps to motivate the industry’s leaders to move the dial and actually put programs in place within their companies and organizations. I would urge Ottawa and the provinces to create financial incentives to encourage mining companies to hire more women and raise their participation in the sector from 17% of the workforce to 30% by 2030 through programs and initiatives. This would almost double the participation of women in the Canadian mining industry in roughly a decade.
Another crucial aspect, and one the Canadian Mineral and Metals Plan (CMMP) touches on is increasing the public’s mineral literacy. This means increasing exposure to what the mining industry actually does and contributes to the Canadian economy, as well as the possibilities it offers in terms of careers and compensation, which is much higher in the mining industry than in any other. Finding different and better ways to do that would be really important in attracting greater gender and overall diversity to Canada’s mining sector.