Photo by Lenie Lucci

Last year CIM’s Elle Crosby spoke with Marilyn Spink, a materials engineer and mining industry veteran who had plenty to say about the sector’s disappointing lack of diversity. Spink, who has since gone on to be one of CIM’s distinguished lecturers, recounted her own experiences of discrimination in the industry and said she wanted men to start seeing diversity and inclusion as not just women’s problem.

It was, in my estimation, a great conversation. But not everyone saw it that way.

Negative reactions to the Q&A and the question we posed in the title — “Why are there still so few women in mining?” — made it clear that old thinking dies hard. “Women don’t like mining. Same reason there are few males working [in] nail salons,” one man wrote. “Women are not built for harsh work!” another replied. “Mining is one of the few remaining industries that hasn’t been polluted by [social justice warriors]. Please, can we keep it that way?” someone else implored.

But among those comments were other women in the sector agreeing with Spink’s points and recounting their own experiences of sexism. Whether readers loved the story or hated it, it had struck a chord.

We Are Mining was born from that article. It became an opportunity to present the experiences of minority groups in mining — women, Indigenous people, people of colour and others — and add their stories to our understanding of what the culture of mining is, what it can potentially become and the obstacles still in the way.

While the series has a somewhat disheartening origin story, the picture it has painted over the course of 2018 is of an industry that includes individuals and companies working to make it a more welcoming place for people who aren’t part of the majority. Mining engineer Theresa Nyabeze has become a role model for young girls, and women of colour within mining. Covergalls founder Alicia Woods started her company to make personal protective equipment that fit women’s bodies — something seemingly small that shows women they do belong in a mine. After experiencing sexism and sexual harassment over her 30-year career in mining, Susan Lomas started Me Too Mining to advocate for a culture change that will make the industry more welcoming to women.

At the company level, too, changes are afoot. We spoke with industry conference organizers that are attempting to keep up with the needs of new parents, and mining and consulting companies that are adopting flexible work policies to help retain their female employees after they give birth.

Related: Over a decades-long career, Barbara Caelles advocated for gender equity and developed strong networks for women in British Columbia’s mining industry

As encouraging as those examples are — and there are many more than I’ve mentioned here — the industry still has so far to go. At a presentation I attended at the CIM 2018 Convention in May, Holly Burton, a leadership coach for women in male-dominated industries, cited a Social Forces study that showed 15 per cent of working women leave their careers within 20 years — but in the same time period, 60 per cent of women in STEM careers do. That is an eye-opening number, and there are myriad reasons for it.

University of Saskatchewan masters student Jocelyn Peltier-Huntley, who is researching diversity and inclusion in the mining industry, speculated in October that much of it has to do with a culture that is not welcoming. Me Too Mining’s Lomas would likely agree — as she told me earlier this year, while many companies have policies in place to deal with harassment and sexual violence, they are often not made readily available, leaving people who have been harmed unsure of how to proceed. And in the last year alone, several stories of sexual harassment in the Canadian mining sector have made the national news. As we reported in November, mentorship programs, long touted as a way to better recruit and retain diverse candidates, are simply not enough to bridge such a wide gap.

A lot more work needs to be done to make this industry welcoming to its minority populations — but as Peltier-Huntley points out, it is a culture change that isn’t impossible, and could mirror mining’s shift toward a safety-first mentality. That took a lot of work, but has become one of the industry’s major points of pride.

We Are Mining was an experiment for CIM Magazine, so a review of how we did is in order. We took on a very broad mandate, so it was almost natural there were stories that we would miss or be unable to cover. We skewed heavily toward reporting on gender inequity, and I would have liked to see more Indigenous people and people of colour, as well as gender and sexual minorities represented in our work. But I was thrilled to read responses from people who appreciated seeing themselves reflected in these stories, and who cared about the series. It’s something we will keep in mind for our future reporting.

In 2019, we’ll take on a new series called Future Prospects, headed up by my colleague Tom DiNardo, focusing on mining’s young professionals. The mining workplace is changing, so we’ll cover the strategies and skills students and new grads will need in order to build themselves a career in the digital mining industry.

To read the complete We Are Mining series, click here.