Canadian Mining Journal

Feature

First Nations women are an untapped resource



First Nations women are an untapped resource

We are staring down the barrel of a skilled labour shortage that could leave as many as 100, 000 Canadian mining jobs empty in the coming decade. It’s too late to sit back and hope someone else solves the problem. Mining companies need to find new talent and create inclusive working environments that people want to be in if they’re going to leverage the best talent– including those that are traditionally overlooked.

Two of those key talent pools that are worth building a strategy around: women and First Nations communities close to remote mine sites. Combine the two of them and it’s like finding gold when commodity prices are high! Before you find solutions, you have to face the problems.

Why are women so under-represented in our sector? Because it’s an alpha male style culture; Uniforms, boots and mine sites themselves aren’t designed for women. There are no bathrooms underground. At first glance those things seem petty and inconsequential, but it sends strong message about who is welcome.

Companies need to attract a new type of worker by creating a place the target demographic wants to be. Start considering a culture change.

Engaging First Nations women deserves separate consideration because of the long, tumultuous relationship between aboriginal communities and industry. “Historically, First Nations people were economically excluded because of the Indian Act structure under the federal government,” says Kim Baird, Former Chief of the Tsawwassen First Nation and EY Consultant.

“Because of the Supreme Court’s recognition of aboriginal title, that’s changing. Proposed developments must now consider how a project might impact and benefit First Nations communities.” Baird says an Aboriginal strategy for women needs to do four things: s Make it clear women are welcome s Capitalize on existing role models already in the industry by having a marketing campaign that shows First Nations women in the pictures, and tells their stories s Start recruiting at a young age s Show the positive impact women can have by contributing a meaningful income to their families So how do you change the culture? This innovation can’t come from the HR department. A true culture shift has to start with and have the efforts of senior management.

That’s because it also has to tie into the rest of the organization’s values and goals. There’s no doubt that strategy includes engaging local communities and First Nations, bringing the change full circle.

One utility company has a case study that others should use as a template. Wanting to capitalize on local talent, they prioritized engaging a First Nations community. Outreach efforts included going into schools and telling teens about potential careers. The students were also told what classes they would need in order to be ready for those opportunities. The outreach didn’t end there. The company did extensive follow-up and internships and, over the course of several years, managed to groom a new generation of linesmen. This strategy is still used today.

How do you maintain that shift over the longer term? Once new employees are on board, you’re over the first hurdle.

The next one is to keep them there. As with any employee, women need to see a career path and have sponsors and mentors guiding them. By understanding and adapting to changing life stages, companies can start to build a workplace that women can see themselves long term.

The benefits of engaging more women in the mining industry go well beyond helping fill a labour shortage. Studies show women promote a more collaborative style of management and can be pivotal in gaining community and stakeholder trust.

Industry and networking groups need to see the benefits of a diverse and inclusive culture, and foster an environment that embraces it.

If need be, choose a location or region to start a program.

There will be critics who resist change. There will be questions about the increased costs of these new ideas. In the long run though, it’s more expensive to do nothing.


Bruce Sprague, is a Partner and EY’s Canadian Mining & Metals Leader. He is based in Vancouver.

 

 


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1 Comment » for First Nations women are an untapped resource
  1. Anne G says:

    I want to correct a misleading comment that perpetuates our industry:

    “Why are women so under-represented in our sector? Because it’s an alpha male style culture; Uniforms, boots and mine sites themselves aren’t designed for women. There are no bathrooms underground. At first glance those things seem petty and inconsequential, but it sends strong message about who is welcome.”

    The mining industry has clothing and boots suitable for women. There are numerous companies that specialize in exactly this (i.e. Covergalls). Most companies go out of there way to ensure women are fitted properly to ensure their safety and the safety of others.

    We also have washrooms underground and above ground. Most mining companies have suitable facilities for anyone. If you are reading this article, please don’t let things like this scare you away. This represents the past, please let me introduce you to modern mining.

    Mining employs a very diverse workforce. In Saskatchewan, mines located in the north actively recruit locally – this is they way all industry should be. While there is always work to do, mining is moving along with society and sees the benefits of an inclusive and diverse workforce. You are correct, mining will need workers in the future. Groups such as Women in Mining Canada and their local branches reach out to communities to encourage students to consider a career in mining. We are doing our best to dispel the myths many hold about our industry and share our stories. We appreciate articles such as this to get the conversation started and point out that while we have made great strides, there is always room for improvement.

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