Evening Up The Odds

Evening Up The Odds

miningWomen currently make up only about 16% of the mining workforce with less than 1% in part time, casual or flexible positions. When you compare these numbers with the greater Australian population (50% female representation with approximately 60% in flexible positions) these aren’t great statistics. That said, women working in the industry are passionate about what they do and want to promote our industry to young STEMminists (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) as a rewarding and fulfilling career path.

When I offered to write a blog post about gender equality in the industry, I didn’t realise how difficult the topic would be to write about, even though I am a woman working in the mining industry. There are so many reasons why we are under-represented in mining; starting at the ground level with the lack of girls studying STEM subjects in school, not enough exposure to positive female role models, and poor retention of experienced female professionals due to remote and FIFO work that does not lend itself to raising a family. It is an extremely complex issue with no easy answers.

Given the complexity I am sure people will have many different views.  So what I have written is simply my personal experience and perspective.  A positive experience which I hope will provide an example of how one small consultancy, in my view, is getting things right.

Here at Orway Mineral Consultants (OMC), we have an amazing, socially and gender diverse work environment with a culture of inclusion that would be difficult to find in any industry, not just in mining. We defy the odds, with 40% of our metallurgists being women. So how is it that we are beating the odds and achieving such an even gender balance?

For a start, the culture at OMC is one of empowerment rather than enforcement. There is little in the way of hierarchical control and an emphasis on technical growth and having a common goal; providing quality, specialist advice on extractive metallurgy and particularly comminution. We all have responsibility and we all have the same purpose regardless of experience. There is an openness of communication between senior and junior staff that encourages learning and technical development of all staff rather than a more traditional ladder climbing, competitive environment of career progression.  This type of culture is positive, not just for female engineers, but all employees.

The key to gender diversity at OMC has also been flexibility, not just in work hours but also in demographic. At OMC, we have a very flexible workforce. We have a range of full time and part time employees located across Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Many of our consultants are juggling work and young families and we all recognise the need to be able to be flexible in order to attain some form of work-life balance whilst still meeting the needs of the business and our clients.

Flexibility within the workplace allows people to positively contribute to an organisation within the limits of their personal circumstances. It also takes lifestyle constraints and unconscious bias out of the employment equation because it allows an employee to be selected for their specific skill set and fit for the team rather than whether they fit into the square peg that is traditional full time employment in a single location.

Providing flexibility doesn’t just benefit women it helps workforce equality as a whole as we hopefully shift towards a better work life balance within society with more equal sharing of parental responsibility, caring of the elderly and other similar needs that become important to individuals over the span of their careers. Unfortunately there are many aspects of our industry where flexible workforces are not suited. FIFO and many remote mine sites do not lend themselves to flexibility in the workplace. However there are many professional mining jobs that are city based, or project based, and it is these types of roles that can greatly benefit from a flexible workforce.

True flexibility requires a fundamental shift in the way we think about work. Managers need to be able to select their employees based on confidence in their ability to work independently and have trust in a workforce that may not necessarily be under their constant supervision. Effort needs to be directed towards managing collaboration and teamwork remotely and keeping people working remotely or on limited hours in the communication loop.  Flexibility also needs to be a two way street with employees committed to the needs of the business and the business committed to the needs of the employee.

Selecting the right people for the job and providing an environment that promotes flexibility is in my view rewarded by high productivity and loyalty. And with loyalty, comes a wealth of experience and knowledge that can not be replicated in a high turnover workforce. This is what we have at OMC.

I am a metallurgist and have worked for OMC for 17 years. I love being part of this organisation. I am however also a mother of two teenage boys and so I do what every other working parent does and spend considerable time juggling my career and my family. I work not only flexible hours, but also remotely and this puts me squarely in the minority for the industry. Over the years, the management team at OMC has consistently implemented strategies that have adapted with my circumstances to ensure that I could stay with the company, even after two interstate moves.

Working remotely isn’t always easy and it takes a diligent effort to maintain links with the Perth team. I Skype into weekly project meetings and call my colleagues and clients on the phone regularly. I talk to the directors every day and travel over to Perth to spend time in the office as often as is practical. Being a working mum, an eight hour day for me doesn’t necessarily mean a typical nine to five. Because I have flexibility, I can Skype with clients on the other side of the world at nine pm, and sometimes I start work at five am or work at night to meet a deadline but then I am also able to meet my responsibilities as a parent, for example, a reduced workload during school holidays.

From my point of view, the flexibility and support offered through my workplace has encouraged me to stay in an industry that I may not have remained in otherwise.  From OMC’s perspective, they invest heavily in the development of their people and doing what it takes to retain them just makes good business sense.

I hope that our experience at OMC will act as an example on how flexibility in the workplace can be beneficial not only to employees, but is rewarded with productivity, loyalty and a genuine culture of diversity that we so desperately need.