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Despite diversification efforts, fewer than 1 in 5 mining leaders are women

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Women coal technologists Sakiba Colic, left, and Semsa Hadzo check airflow and temperature at 450 meters underground in the shaft of a coal mine in Bosnia in early 2013.
Source: AP Photo

Women fill less than one-fifth of the leadership roles across global mining companies, according to a new S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis of executives and board members.

Gender diversity has increasingly been a focus for investors screening for environmental, social and governance factors and has long been a challenge for the mining sector. However, women make up just 14.9% of mining companies' executive ranks, 18.1% of the industry's board positions and 13.2% of the sector's C-suite executive roles, according to the analysis of company data.

The low rate of women in leadership roles is one of many ESG challenges the mining sector faces. In February, S&P Global Ratings published a report card on the sector's ESG matters, noting that the sector faces above-average exposure to environmental concerns and that social tensions frequently arise due to inherent risk and the potential rewards for communities that grant mining companies the social license to operate.

Companies in the space have been working to improve their rates of female employment across the board. For example, Vale SA recently set a goal to double the number of women it employs from 13% to 26% by 2030. That sort of work requires the effort of the entire enterprise but also allows companies to innovate more, generate better business solutions and attract the best talent while increasing productivity, according to Marina Quental, Vale's people director.

"Valuing diversity and promoting inclusion is an ethical imperative for a sustainable business," Quental told Market Intelligence. "Eradicating gender inequalities is a huge challenge, but at Vale, we believe that an approach of inclusion is key to eliminate the barriers that hinder the hiring and retention of women, resulting in performance improvement due to gender diversity."

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The trends vary by region. While the Latin America and Caribbean region has lower rates of women working in top positions in the mining sector, African mining companies rank the highest for women working in executive positions broadly and on company boards and in the C-suite. A September 2019 report from international law firm Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP noted that regulatory diversity requirements drive a higher percentage of women directors in South Africa, a hub for African mining companies.

While women only fill about 12.9% of the C-suite positions in Europe and 11.5% of the C-suite roles in the U.S. and Canada, they are more likely to have better representation in executive roles more broadly and on company boards, according to our analysis. Still, just 21.5% of mining company board members are women in the U.S. and Canada region.

"Historically, mining was an all-male industry," the Osler report noted. "While that's changed, women in mining have continued to deal with implicit and explicit bias, a lack of mentors and work-life conflict. Even today, culture is still widely seen as the biggest reason young graduates opt for work in other sectors and many women choose to leave the industry in mid-career."

Companies across the mining sector are making an effort to increase the number of women in the workforce. One approach Vale has taken includes a policy to replace a woman employee with another woman, while the replacement of a role filled by a man has a defined percentage of replacement per woman, Quental said. The company also recently held a diversity and inclusion workshop to address issues including bias that could impact the hiring of women, and it rolled out supporting policies.

"We believe that diverse perspectives enrich any discussion, improve results and help the company make more sustainable decisions," Quental said.

Colorado-based gold miner Newmont Corp. noted in its 2019 sustainability report that it missed its enterprisewide target of a 16.1% female workforce but noted that much of that was attributable to its focus on a major acquisition. Still, the company identifies achieving gender equality as a critical part of tackling the challenge of "retaining and attracting top female talent in the mining industry."

Newmont spokesperson Omar Jabara told Market Intelligence that 60% of the company's board is female or of diverse ethnicity. The company's 11-member board of directors includes four women, such as chair Noreen Doyle, and women chair all but one of the company's standing board committees. Women also fill three of the company's executive leadership roles, comprising the CFO, general counsel, and executive vice president for human resources.

"We believe the tone set from the top is central for the organization to embrace inclusion and diversity," Jabara said. "This is a core company value that starts with our board and has been cascaded throughout the organization."

There is often a relatively small pool of experienced women to select from a company's ranks in the mining sector. In the U.S., women made up just 15.8% of the workforce in mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction industries in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Minerals Council South Africa estimated that women accounted for 12% of the global mining industry in 2018.

Osler noted that many women mining executives come from other professions, such as accounting, law or finance. That tends to happen among midsize and larger companies, while junior mining company boards are often more heavily skewed toward backgrounds where women are underrepresented, such as geologists and mining engineers.

Women in Mining Canada laid out a road map in late 2016 to boost the number of women in leadership roles in the sector and highlighted several benefits. The nonprofit organization said research indicated that inclusive workplaces tend to "have a culture that is more congruent with a safety mindset," and companies with higher percentages of women decision-makers tend to outperform industry peers.

"We cannot afford to miss out on half of the country's work capacity," the report stated. "To succeed in a complex and dynamic business environment, Canada's mining industry needs to gain access to at least its fair share of talented women."

Methodology

S&P Global Market Intelligence's analysis is based on our people data for 262 companies in the global mining industry. For the selected companies, the analysis identified board members, senior managers and other key executives as of April 27. The latter two categories included people holding 65 roles tracked by Market Intelligence. Our broader executive analysis included 2,332 executives across 247 companies. The C-suite analysis included 960 of those individuals holding at least one of 27 top executive roles tracked by Market Intelligence. The board analysis included 2,159 board members across 256 companies.

We identified the gender of the individuals covered in the analysis based on several factors, including honorifics, pronouns and first names. The analysis excluded companies for which we were not able to identify gender categories for all relevant individuals. For example, if gender classification was only possible for nine out of 10 of a given company's board members, that company was excluded from our board-focused analysis.