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Digging deep for women in mining

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Anna Reitman
Freelance journalist

Amid the rocks, equipment and resource estimates at the conferences I attend as a journalist for the mining industry, an interesting booth can be found – Women in Mining UK (WIMUK).

During one of their receptions in London, I met Amanda van Dyke, WIMUK’s executive chair. Originally a professional gemmologist in Toronto, Canada, her interest in business eventually landed her with an MBA in Europe, leading to her current role in mining specialist sales at Ocean Equities based in London.

In this interview with WVoN, she talks about the role WIMUK plays in helping women in the mining industry around the world and how journalists can tap into their expertise, her thoughts on the recent government report about women on boards by Lord Davies and how mining companies could do more to address women’s rights in rural areas.

WVoN: Can you tell us about the international structure of Women in Mining (WIM)? And how does WIMUK fit in? 

Amanda van Dyke: The biggest groups are in Canada, Australia, South Africa and the UK with smaller groups in Chile and Peru. The first three have robust mining operations, whilst London is more about mining finance and that is reflected in our membership.

We [WIM UK] helped set up WIM South Africa and we share a sponsor – Anglo American. However, in South Africa, they are more concerned about getting women hired in mines, safety in mines, equality in hiring in the actual mines themselves.

A significant proportion of our membership are lawyers, accountants, public relations people and consultants related to mining, as well as professionals engaged in managing the business interests of mining companies headquartered or listed in London, but not necessarily working in actual mines.

Whenever we visit their country or vice versa, WIM groups welcome each other and share our experiences. At the Indaba conference for mining in Cape Town, we invited members of WIM South Africa to our reception and used the opportunity to chat and try to understand the different issues the two groups were dealing with.

WVoN: What kind of international initiatives are you currently pursuing to strengthen those relationships? 

AvD: There are two areas that we are pursuing on an international basis, the first being the appointment of our WIM international liaison, who will keep up with what is going on in all the other major WIM jurisdictions.

The second is that we are commissioning a research report, covering all mining companies listed on major international exchanges to collect information on female employment as there are currently no definitive statistics.

Once completed we will be in a position to know where we are starting from, with regard to how and where women are employed in the industry, which will hopefully help us shape where we are going with our strategy, which is to promote and progress women’s development in mining, and to some extent start to give us a benchmark as to how companies perform.

WVoN: What concerns do you find women raise at meetings? 

AvD: In South Africa, they don’t have a huge membership base but there is a quota stipulating that 10 per cent of people employed by all companies need to be female and that includes mines.

That quota helps women get hired in South Africa and although there are different concerns in different WIM groups, we all know that mining is a predominantly male industry. It is, we believe, more than 95 per cent male, whether that is at the finance end or at the mine, so just having other women to talk to and chat to – knowing you aren’t the only ‘girl’ so to speak – is an important social and communal network to have.

Providing a network is one of the essential functions of WIM. Men have informal networks that have been set up for over a hundred years, but women are relatively new to the industry and are often left out of those networks that are often a key element of career progression and success.

Networking enables you to learn dynamics within your industry, establish your business contacts, get “plugged in” to your community and accelerate your professional development, by developing knowledge resources on all levels.

The WIM social network for women offers valuable support in terms of looking for jobs, knowing where the industry is at and keeping your name out there. More often than not, women don’t have all of those informal networks, so part of what WIM does is provide them. Our tagline is “to promote and progress women’s careers in mining’.

When the WIM South Africa and WIMUK group met in Indaba, we talked about the various projects we are on. I would say here in the UK, our issues are getting women into engineering and technical professions and women on boards, getting hired in management positions and up to the board level is a big focus, as highlighted by other organisations such as the 30% club.

WVoN: The promotion of women onto boards in the wake of the Lord Davies report in the UK is certainly a hot topic, is there an official WIM stance? 

AvD: If you look at the FTSE100 [the 100 largest most actively traded companies on the London Stock Exchange], major mining and resource companies are a huge component, yet they have the lowest representation of women on boards across any industry.

I find that shocking. Although as an organisation, we don’t support quotas, women in other industries have demonstrated that board diversity makes boards more effective.

The outcome of the Lord Davies report is that all companies are required to report and prove they have initiatives going forward to address inequality and we support that the industry has to slowly but steadily move towards increasing the numbers of women.

It isn’t going to happen overnight, and you can’t just put someone on a board, it means making sure women have a way to work their way up within organisations, to get to a point where they are qualified to sit on boards and that is a much larger issue than just putting women onto boards.

Helena Morrissey [CEO of Newton Investment Management] runs a group called the 30% Club and WIM (UK) as an organisation supports the methodology they employ for getting women onto boards. They are making positive progress and the very good work they are doing can be applied to the mining industry.

WVoN: City University London is also leading a 30% initiative to encourage broadcast outlets to increase the number of female experts interviewed on TV and radio. Can WIMUK connect journalists with experts in the mining industry? 

AvD:  Absolutely, this is one of the things we aim to facilitate, it can be hard and we do sometimes have issues with confidentiality, etc…but we do have a broad-based membership and increasingly more senior women, and I say that with a bit of pride.

Senior women have already made it and are on the ladder, they don’t need organisations like WIM necessarily to promote or progress their careers. But I find that the number of senior women that are willing to not only join our group but also donate their time and expertise to encourage young women in their careers to succeed is impressive.

Journalists can access experts, and through WIMUK, they can ask for an expert in a particular area and we are happy to facilitate where we can to write the email and make the call. Knowing that reporters are trying to diversify the kinds of experts they speak to, usually our membership will get back to you.

WVoN: One of the areas where the mining industry gets bad press is with human rights – how does WIM UK engage with the mining industry on that side of things? 

AvD: We have a number of CSR [corporate social responsibility] consultants and environmental consultants within our membership and a number of our educational development seminars address human rights issues and how to make the mining industry more socially responsible.

Mining companies generally are constantly striving to make that work because it makes good corporate as well as business sense. Though consultants are based here, they often deal with social, environmental issues on site and in-country, helping companies understand how they can best deal with implementing Equator Principles [a credit risk management framework for determining, assessing and managing environmental and social risk in project finance transactions].

The consensus seems to be that for any company starting CSR initiatives, they need to happen years earlier in the mining life cycle than previously thought.

It used to be that companies didn’t even start thinking about CSR until they were in production and knew there was going to be a mine. But it seems that the only successful way to have a social license to operate is to start the CSR initiatives at the early planning stages.

We ran a seminar by the World Bank on getting women employed onto mines and the World Bank and the Equator Principles would suggest that getting women involved early in mining is an essential way to find social acceptance because women are often the gateway to the community in rural areas.

Where you don’t have women and women’s issues addressed in the planning process, you don’t have community acceptance and mines don’t have a social license to operate.

You need to consider women in the community and make sure some of them are employed and that not just the male leaders of communities are consulted in the planning process because it will save you a world of pain later when things go wrong.

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