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Mining and quarrying for gender equality

First publishedon www.AggBusiness.com
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Jo Hankinson, HR business partner at Aggregate Industries, says the need for a female talent injection in the mining and quarrying sectors has never been greater, as the sectors continue to face a severe skills shortage, not just in the UK but globally
As we commemorate 100 years of the female vote in the UK, the reality remains that the gender equality plight is far from over – particularly when it comes to the inherently male-dominated mining and quarrying sectors. Here, Jo Hankinson, HR business partner at Aggregate Industries, one of Britain’s biggest building materials suppliers, advises on why it’s time to get women into the sectors and how an increase in female workers could help bridge the current skills deficit

Despite a substantial number of national and international measures that have been taken over the past decades, the unfortunate reality is that gender inequality is still a very real issue in modern society. Women are typically paid less than their male work equivalents, are on less company boards and take up less seats in Parliament.

One area where male domination is most severe of all, however is, the inherently male-dominated mining and quarrying sectors. According to the most recent 'Mining for Talent' study conducted by Women in Mining (Wim) UK and PwC1, women occupy a mere eight percent of all board seats in the world’s top 100 mining companies, with only four female executive directors in this group. Overall, this places the mining sector as the worst industry group in the world in terms of the ratio of women at board level. The report also estimates that just 5-10 percent of the mining workforce is female depending on country and company.

But why is this still the case? A common belief is that the lack of available women to staff these sorts of positions starts in the classroom, with girls traditionally discouraged from entering what are perceived to be more ‘manly’ physical occupations and therefore less inclined to enrol in Science, Engineering, Technology and Maths (STEM) subjects. While this is slowly changing, with more girls taking STEM A-levels than ever before last year2, it has limited the amount of female talent available to the industry thus far.

Also, there’s still a widespread misconception that mining is limited to just quarry work when it actually offers a multitude of exciting career options and possibilities. From engineers who are vital to the efficient running and safety of mining operations, consultants who oversee mine design, planning and remediation and geologists who will investigate the earth material and extractions, through to more office-based marketing, financial, HR roles and more – the options are endless. More so, lots of larger companies, such as the group we operate within, LafargeHolcim, can offer global mobility.

Finally, a perhaps even bigger problem, however, is the ‘Big Boys Club’ culture which still thrives in pockets of the industry, often acting as a deterrent for women. This is demonstrated by the fact that the number of women entering the sector has dwindled consistently, resulting in the sparse female working population we have today.

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Breaking down gender barriers is vital to safeguarding the future of the industry, argues Jo Hankinson, HR business partner at Aggregate Industries
Yet, the need for a female talent injection has never been greater. The mining and quarrying sectors continue to face a severe skills shortage, not just in the UK but globally, meaning that the female half of the working population could prove to be a much needed untapped resourced. More so, research shows that having a more diverse and inclusive workforce can help achieve a higher return on equity and better financial performance. This is because it can strengthen an organisation’s intellectual capacity, breeding the ability to innovate and adapt in our fast-changing environment. In fact, the same ‘Mining for Talent’ study showed that having a critical mass of women in senior positions can have the maximum positive impact on a mining company’s performance.

Clearly then, breaking down gender barriers is vital to safeguarding the future of the industry – and all companies have a part to play in encouraging women into their workforce.

At Aggregate Industries, for example, we are investing heavily in our diversity and inclusion programme as a business over the next few years in order to ensure we have a more balanced workforce – with a particular focus on attracting more women.

Currently, as is typical with most traditionally male-dominated trade sectors, our workforce population is made up of 84 per cent males and 16 per cent females. However, as part of a wider diversity and inclusion strategy, we’re committed to achieving a 20 per cent gender balance by 2020 and a 30 per cent gender balance by 2030 – a move, which we feel is incremental if our industry is to see its full potential.

As part of this, we have continued to actively try to increase female intake for our graduate and higher apprenticeship schemes over recent years. As a result a quarter (25%) of all graduates taken on in 2015 and 2016 were female and a third (33%) of higher apprentices employed were female – covering the full spectrum of corporate and operational roles.

To help with the challenges some women may face working in a male-orientated environment, we recently set up a female mentor programme specifically for female graduates. We’ll also be running a series of short videos to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the women’s right to work, as well as a campaign around International Women’s Day, as part of a wider communications push on the importance of equality to our business – and have lots more in the pipeline.

For us though, it ultimately isn’t just about attracting women but breeding a culture which welcomes people of all genders, ethnicities, backgrounds, religions and circumstances, in order create a truly diverse and inclusive workplace for all – and that’s not just confined to the  mining, quarrying or construction industry, but the working world as whole.

Times are changing and ensuring equal opportunities for women is becoming an ever more prominent issue for any type of business. Thus, the modern mining and quarrying industries must take decisive action to attract a new female talent base if it is to remain innovative, buoyant and progressive for years to come.

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Aggregate Industries

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