Gender Diversity in Mining

25 June, 2024

Gender diversity in mining has become a critical focus for Australia. Some companies advancing their commitments significantly.

Historically, mining jobs in Australia have been perceived as too demanding for women. However, in 2024, many mining businesses are challenging this stereotype, demonstrating that women are equally capable of contributing to one of Australia’s largest industries.

Despite progress, significant barriers still hinder women from entering and remaining in the mining industry, with challenges such as work-life balance impacting their employment and retention. Although modern family dynamics have evolved, women often continue to bear the majority of caregiving responsibilities. Consequently, women, particularly mothers, require flexible working arrangements when pursuing careers in mining.

Emma Walsh, CEO of Parents at Work, highlighted the complexities involved in making the industry more accommodating, given its reliance on remote sites and fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) work.

“The mining sector recognises the need to improve how it attracts and retains women, especially post-parental leave,” Walsh told Australian Mining. “Structural changes in job design are essential to account for caregiving responsibilities.”

Walsh emphasised the necessity for collaboration between the industry and its workforce to address these issues.

“The industry must seize this opportunity to become more family-friendly,” she said, noting that with a pervasive skills shortage, mining operators must create balanced workplaces that attract both men and women.

FORACO Australia, an organisation dedicated to bridging the gender gap, exemplifies this commitment. Founded in France in 1962 and entering the Australian market in 2009, FORACO now operates 25 drill rigs and employs over 250 people, providing a range of drilling services. Nathan Kunst, FORACO’s Eastern Australia manager, stated that gender diversity is a core value for the company, aiming to leverage the entire Australian workforce.

“We have always lived by employing the best person for the job,” Kunst told Australian Mining. “Our values are integrity, innovation, and involvement.

“They are the foundation of our culture, the driving force behind our innovation with equipment, and our commitment to listen and act upon what our employees are telling us.”

“In the last market upturn in 2018, all companies struggled to find suitable workers through the traditional channels, which were ignoring 50 per cent of the population,” he said.

“So part of our decision to improve gender diversity in the business was self-serving, but we had seen the benefits females bring to the role. “Mixed crews generally seem to have more spring in their step, sites are usually more organised, and respect is a given.”

Curtin University’s Centre for Transformative Work Design released the landmark Mental Awareness, Respect and Safety (MARS) study, surveying over 2550 Western Australian mine workers on their perceptions of mental health awareness, respect, and safety. The study found that 41 percent of female mining workers reported being condescended to at work, and 34 percent reported experiencing sexist remarks. These figures highlight the need for the industry to ensure women feel safe and respected.

Kunst stressed that actions speak louder than words in attracting and retaining women in the mining industry.

“You need to show that you respect people’s choices to join your company and show them that you take their safety and well-being seriously,” he said.

“Quality people will not stay long at a company that doesn’t have respect, structure, systems, training, career progression opportunities and equipment that can help them do the job efficiently and safely.”

Kunst said a pivotal moment for the company was when it experienced a drop-off in the number of female staff on its roster.

“This led us to look at how we could innovate to make our drilling operations more appealing to female employees,” Kunst said.

A pivotal moment for FORACO came when they noticed a decline in the number of female staff. This prompted the company to innovate and make drilling operations more appealing to female employees. One innovation involved developing remote-controlled rigs with automated rod handling, reducing the physical demands of drilling operations. The introduction of climate-controlled cabins further improved the working environment, enhancing comfort and productivity.

This innovation led to an increase in female employees, who now make up over 20 percent of FORACO’s workforce. “Continuing the same practices will yield the same results,” Kunst noted. “Improving gender diversity introduces new solutions through diverse perspectives.”

Kunst advised mining businesses aiming to create more hospitable workplaces for women to focus on culture first.

“Establish a strong cultural foundation to attract and retain quality employees,” he said. “The rest will follow naturally.”

Both Kunst and Walsh agree that transforming ideas into reality requires effort and patience, urging the industry to collaborate on building the workforce of the future.

“Leverage your teams’ knowledge and insights,” Kunst advised. “Change requires a different mindset to discover alternative solutions.”