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Breaking mining’s ‘rock ceiling’ for women

By the numbers, the mining industry still looks very much like a boys club.

Just 17 per cent of the sector’s workforce in Canada is female, according to Mining Association of Canada statistics. Industry leaders know they need to raise that number over the long term if the sector expects to maintain a sustainable pool of applicants to fill jobs in its rapidly aging workforce.

The industry has also launched programs to recruit more minority groups and First Nations, which has proved a particularly successful strategy in northern B.C.

Vancouver-headquartered Goldcorp Inc. has adopted its own edge in recruiting by expanding Creating Choices, its internal training and mentorship program for women.

The program is “becoming one of the tools” attracting potential recruits, said Anna Trudela, Goldcorp’s vice-president of regulatory and corporate affairs and the program’s creator.

“In the mining industry, we’re lacking the (future) workforce,” Trudela said. “We will have to attract more women,” as well as workers from diverse backgrounds.

Trudela knows one recent hire in the company’s corporate social responsibility department who chose Goldcorp over other offers specifically because of Creating Choices. And after putting some 1,200 women through the course in its first five years, she is hearing more stories about women advancing within the company.

The program’s focus is goal-setting, leadership, networking and better managing a work/life balance.

It is broken up into six modules, Trudela added: how to build self-esteem, how to “dream about where you want to go” in setting goals, how to take the initiative, how to “unlock the power of your voice” and how to create a “leader script” — so when an employee does seize the initiative, she can communicate that effectively.

The final module, she added, is how to “achieve the persona of a leader.”

“These are tools to help individuals fulfil leadership potential, and not necessarily to be used in your professional role but also in your personal life,” Trudela said.

In a news release, Goldcorp engineer Boi Linh Van credited the program with encouraging her to “speak up and go after the career I want.”

Kaeli Gattens, a Vancouver-based Goldcorp IT coordinator, and Creating Choices facilitator, added that “it has been inspiring” to see how it has helped women start conversations and give them a supportive network for advancement.

Trudela said they’ve now launched its next phase, a four-module course called Growing Choices, which builds on aspects of branding oneself as a leader. It pairs graduates of the program with mentors, who play more of a key role. Without enough female mentors (Trudela said about 10 per cent of Goldcorp’s workforce are women), men are stepping in.

The inaugural course was launched in February at Goldcorp’s Porcupine gold mine in Ontario.

“The tone at the top also makes a difference,” Trudela said. “Our CEO Chuck Jeannes has been very, very supportive from the beginning, and the board of directors is completely in support as well.”

The program is open to all women in the company, from the executive suite down to the production line, and across all its divisions — from the Vancouver head office to its mines in Canada, Mexico and across Central and South America.

It is also an example of what some companies are doing well to address the gender imbalance in mining, according to Mafalda Arias, chairwoman of the B.C. chapter of Women in Mining.

“There should be 50 Goldcorps,” Arias said.

Canada has had some famous exceptions. They include B.C.’s Eira Thomas, who is now CEO of junior firm Kaminak Gold but as a young geologist led the field exploration team that discovered the Diavik diamond mine in Northwest Territories.

Canada’s mining industry has also improved on its ability to attract women and First Nations recruits, according to research by the Mining Industry Human Resources Council. Between 1996 and 2011, mining increased the participation rate of women by 70 per cent, putting it ahead of even the forest industry.

But at 17 per cent, the industry lags behind women’s 48-per-cent representation in Canada’s overall workforce.

Arias said studies show that the biggest barrier to women in mining is an “exclusive” workplace culture, which men don’t recognize.

Even where mine workplaces were “respectful (to women), that was not enough to balance the dominant culture,” Arias said.

An example of something that would be inadvertently exclusive, Arias said, would be an off-work fishing trip that wouldn’t appeal to a lot of women, who lose out on a networking opportunity and a chance to build relationships outside of work.

“So there are barriers where men don’t know there are barriers,” Arias added.

Vancouver Sun

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