Australia’s mining industry promises job opportunities and the highest wages of any sector in the country, with average wages of $2,388.20 and an average hourly rate of $52.30, according to the ABS Employee Earnings and Hours Report.
Yet, despite the job opportunity, despite the high wages, and despite the skills shortages that make the industry unlikely to turn away anyone who can provide the necessary expertise, women still make up less than 15% of Australia’s mining workforce.
A factory at half capacity
In a speech at his annual shareholder meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, none other than Warren Buffet (the expert on good investments) claimed that the world was overlooking the most valuable investment of all by not doing more to incorporate women into male-dominated industries.
Buffest described the current state of society as being akin to a factory operating at only 50% capacity, and said that he can only imagine what humanity could achieve without having one hand tied behind its back.
Historic stigmas within certain industries need to be overcome, and greater support needs to be provided in childcare, as studies show that the salary gap between men and women widens to about 40% ten to fifteen years into their careers, which is the point at which many women start taking time off to care for children.
Tim Toohey, the chief economist at Goldman Sachs, claimed that incorporating more women into the workforce could contribute a further AU$180 billion to the Australian economy. Although there has been progress over the past 30 years, when only one in three Australian workers were female, the rate of female participation in the workforce still stands at only 59%. The mining industry is one of many sectors that will benefit from efforts to increase that number.
Breaking down social barriers
The solution begins at a grassroots level, in the educational institutions, where greater effort needs to be made to encourage female participation in engineering and other technology-related courses.
Currently only 18.2% of Bachelor of Mining Engineering graduates are women, according to Graduate Careers Australia. They make up a small proportion of the 250 mining engineering graduates per year – a figure that needs to be more than doubled to meet the demand for skills.
So, what is it that prevents women from joining the mining workforce?
The industry may be eager to welcome women now, but the social effects of their historical exclusion from the industry still need to be undone. Then there is the fact that having children makes women reluctant to pursue careers which require them to work at remote locations.
Whatever the predominant issues, they need to be addressed. The Australian Women in Resources Alliance (AWRA) is an initiative established by the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA), which aims to do exactly that. Their aim is to increase female participation in the mining industry from 13.4% to at least 25% by 2020. Doing so will require measures to help them overcome both the social and economic obstacles.
Newmont Mining Corporation has taken steps towards this by encouraging female participation at their gold mine in Boddington. They invited local women to drive haul trucks while their children were at school and the truck drivers were taking their breaks. Of course, AWRA has higher aspirations for women in the industry then part-time truck driving, but it’s a means of at least encouraging female participation, and allowing women in the area to familiarize themselves with the mining working environment.
With 90,000 resource industry jobs estimated to be created by 2016, it’s necessary to address the issues brought about by the exclusion of women from the workforce if these industries are to achieve their full potential. These issues should have been addressed long before now, but perhaps having economic incentive to do so will make people more motivated to do something about it.
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Matthew Flax writes for Now Learning, a tertiary education portal that promotes TAFE courses in Western Australia (WA), as well as a variety of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, including mining engineering, throughout the country.