Women in Metals and Mining

Published June 2020


Metals and mining have historically been difficult industries for women to break into, and female pioneers in the industry have had to surmount prejudice as well as legal and cultural barriers to advance their careers.

Even today, 60 economies have at least one restriction on women working in mining, according to a 2020 World Bank report.

Data from the SAM Corporate Sustainability Assessment (CSA) provides a snapshot of an industry that is gradually improving, but still has far to go to achieve gender parity at the levels of senior management and board.

The SAM CSA, managed by S&P Global, is an annual evaluation of companies' sustainability practices and focuses on criteria that are financially material, applying 61 industry-specific approaches and asking companies on average 100 detailed questions. It includes questions on workforce diversity and gender pay gap.

In 2019, out of 66 companies belonging to the steel or metals and mining sectors that provided information on their workforce gender split, total female participation ranged from 3% to 29%.

Representation of women on the board of directors or supervisory board across the group went from 14% in 2016 to 17% in 2019 on average.

While relatively few of the companies surveyed volunteered private information on their executive remuneration ratios, based on the 20 that did respond, on average male executives across the two sectors earned 21% more than females.

Based on both actively participating companies and publically available information, in 2019 only 40 out of 88 companies in the sector had a board diversity policy that included gender factors.*

Comprehensive diversity policies

The interviews in this special report present 13 women who have demonstrated great leadership in metals and mining, with careers spanning many geographies, subsectors and roles. Many of the women described the discrimination they faced in entering particular jobs or progressing their careers, with several mentioning superstitions that even recently prevented women from working underground.

"When I visited China back in 2003. I was told that the canary could go underground, but I wasn't allowed to because that was bad luck," said Melinda Moore, finance director and head of global outreach at Women in Mining, a voluntary organization that works to advance women's representation in the sector.

It is also important to highlight the additional layer of discrimination faced by many women because of their ethnicity, a challenge mentioned by some of our interviewees.

"Given South Africa's transition to liberation during the early part of my career, I also had to deal with racial discrimination – being designated as a previously disadvantaged person in regulation was disadvantageous at times as there was the perception that my opportunities were "given" and not "earned"," said former Vedanta executive Deshnee Naidoo.

Interviewees highlighted the need for diversity policies to be comprehensive, covering not only gender but also ethnicity and national diversity, LGBTQ+ representation and issues of social mobility, disability and mental health.

Most of the leaders interviewed expressed optimism for the metals and mining industries, however, pointing to concrete changes that are taking place to encourage greater diversity in general. While quotas seem to have limited appeal, a number of the interviewees talked about the importance of measurable targets and comprehensive training, including in unconscious bias awareness.

"I can understand why quotas and metrics are put in place, but more is needed to drive the right change in behavior for the long-term," said World Coal Association CEO Michelle Manook, adding that more is needed in terms of alignment across corporate strategy, culture and leadership.

Milestones and targets

Recent positive moves to achieve equal opportunities in the sector are also plentiful. As well as the many highlights discussed in the interviews, a number of the world's biggest metals and mining companies have publically set themselves hard targets to improve their gender balance. Fortescue Metals Group in 2019 signed the ParityPledge – a commitment to interview at least one qualified woman for every executive position. The company already has over 50% female representation on its board of directors.

BHP in 2016 set a goal to achieve 50% female participation across its workforce by 2025. In the last four years, it has managed to raise the overall proportion from 17.6% to 24.5%. India's Tata Steel aims to have 25% women in its workforce by 2025, compared with 17% currently, according to its latest annual report.

An issue mentioned by more than one of the interviewees was that of safety and practical measures that would help women to feel welcome and secure in the workplace. Newmont chair of the board of directors, Noreen Doyle, noted the importance of providing well-fitting protective clothing so that women feel part of the team, while Moore praised initiatives in Papua New Guinea to regularly assess risks and hazards to women in mines, and conduct annual audits to make sure women are safe.

While the raw figures show there is still a way to go to achieve gender parity in metals and mining companies, momentum appears to be building, and the growing importance of ESG to investors is also likely to help speed up progress.

Above all, the experiences and viewpoints shared in the following interviews represent a range of exceptional achievements – both personal and collective – that should be celebrated. They also stand as examples of what is possible in sometimes extremely challenging circumstances, suggesting even greater possibilities if the current barriers to working in the industry continue to be steadily demolished.

By Emma Slawinski, with analysis by Rosanna Brady, SAM, a part of S&P Global

*Data taken from the SAM Corporate Sustainability Assessment (CSA) 2016-2019, considering companies that actively completed the assessment as well as those assessed based on public information only unless otherwise stated.