Women in Mining (WIM) The new movement
Mining is the main livelihood of millions of men and women in many mining countries and communities across the world, Mexico is not the exception, and this has been the case for centuries. Yet women, despite their significant contribution to the extraction of valuable resources and raw materials, for decades have frequently been excluded from the same opportunities that men have, and even worst, have been excluded from underground mining and many other forms of mining, and continue to face discrimination and barriers to decent work in the mining sector today, some because of the emergence of the stereotyped male breadwinner model, and sadly, in most cases they found extremely difficult barriers to occupy positions of leadership on boards and in senior management positions within the industry.
This is wrong, this is not fair, and this cannot continue. According to the ILO (International Labour Organization) in LSM (large scale mining) operations, women rarely make up more than 10 per cent of mineworkers and are most frequently employed in administrative positions, and there are some extreme cases in which, according to the World Bank, nearly 60 countries still have laws in force that restrict the women’s employment in mining. In addition, in artisanal and small-scale mining in the informal economy, women constitute up to a third of the mining workforce, which speaks about how these legal or de facto prohibitions have forced women into work that is more dangerous and less formal, less regulated, and less lucrative.
However, women have strong and extraordinary voices and advocates around the globe. In 2006, Women in Mining organization was founded in London under the name of “WIM UK”, which is auto defined as an organization that advocates and speaks for women in the mining sector, informing industry participants and decision-makers of the challenges and opportunities women are finding in pursuing careers in mining companies and other mining-related businesses, providing thought leadership, analysis and research on the business case for diversity, inclusion and the economic advancement of women in the sector, offering a strong network which is used to progress professional goals and career aspirations. If you are wondering, membership is complimentary to both women and men.
In Mexico, in 2016 at the International Mining Convention of Sonora, at the city of Hermosillo, a brave group of extraordinary and talented women, took the lead to incorporate and found a chapter of this international organization, and named it WIM Mexico. Since the creation of the Mexican chapter of WIM, the organization has had extraordinary advances and results and has extended its influence in the country by opening and operating regional chapters of WIM in 13 out of the 32 different States of Mexico, having up to this date more than 600 active members, both women and men.
According to the IMSS (Social Security Institute), in 2015, there were 344,912 direct jobs registered in the metallurgical-mining sector in Mexico, of which 12.8% (44,149) were occupied by women. By the year 2021, there were over 406,179 direct jobs in the same sector, of which around 16.3% (66,207) were occupied by women, and the ascending trend continues to rise, however, a bigger number does not necessarily mean a bigger equality and recognition.
I had the honor to participate for the first time at the General Assembly of Associates of WIM Mexico, held at the International Mining Convention at Sonora, last October 21st, 2022 in the city of Hermosillo, and, among many items of the agenda, Ana María Gonzalez presented on behalf of her team the amazing work and results report for the ending of the 3 year period in which she served as President of the organization, and the new Board of Directors of WIM Mexico was elected for the period 2022-2025, led by the new President, Doris Vega, and the extraordinary group of women that incorporate her teamwork that took office at the event.
I have to confess, that during the event I was both excited and stunned by the outstanding energy, care, commitment, and enthusiasm of the Associates, Presidents of the regional chapters and the leaders of WIM Mexico, and when they introduced their vision and working plan for the following three years, I understood that the 66k women working in the mining sector in our country have a serious, professional, dedicated and powerful voice through the group of representatives that will achieve their ambitious vision: “to be an organization of the Mining Industry that brings together all the women miners in Mexico, who work in all stages and areas of the mining processes; both operational, administrative, executive, value chain, and other support areas (ESG), as well as academics and students, promoting their entry, permanence and development in the sector”.
Their working plan is based in five pillars including: identity, skills development, awareness/leadership, alliances, and impulse to mining suppliers. But the fact that most impressed me, was the swearing speech of the new President, Doris Vega, where she announced that WIM was evolving from being just an association, to become a movement, a new movement to achieve a new standard of fairness, inclusion, and equality for women in the sector.
She also announced the new “Sello WIM” or “WIM Seal”, which is a certification that will be granted by WIM to those mining companies that comply with the standards and the decalogue of values of WIM, having an internal regulatory framework focused on equality, gender equality and diversity, including a working culture of active listening, evolution of quotas, accountability, visibility of aggressions and aggressors, coaching networks, setting clear and measurable goals and elimination of stereotypes.
Talking about stereotypes, in her book, Lean In: “Women, Work and the Will to lead”, author Sheryl Sandberg described that “the gender stereotypes introduced in childhood are reinforced throughout our lives and become self-fulfilling prophesies. Most leadership positions are held by men, so women don’t expect to achieve them, and that becomes one of the reasons they don’t” and within the mining industry, there is a huge gap in this sense.
A study of women on the boards of mining companies by PricewaterhouseCoopers made in 2013 and published by the ILO, found that women held only 5 per cent of seats on boards at the top 500 mining companies and it concluded, in a worrying way, that the mining industry had the lowest number of women on boards of any sector in the world.
In a separate report performed by the ILO on the top 40 global mining companies, it was reported that as of 2019, they found that only 11 per cent of the mining companies included in the survey had a female CEO, which is lower than the average of 16 per cent in the large enterprises surveyed and eleven of the top 40 mining companies did not have any women in senior management positions.
Together, men and women, we need to honestly work together with organizations such as WIM to stop the conformism that exists in our mining industry towards achieving a real fairness for women, gender equality and diversity at all levels. It is not enough to celebrate that every year there are more women working in mining in Mexico and in the world, and state at forums and conventions that this is the right thing to do, while in practice there are still, every day, strong and unfair glass ceilings that prevent the women that have the capacity and skills to occupy real leadership and power positions within the mining companies. It is not enough to give strong speeches about gender equality and to hope that someone, except from us, do anything to make it real.
Hope is not a strategy; words are not actions. We need to shape the reality of our industry with real actions that create a real impact in favor of the equality and inclusion, and only then, we will be transforming the mining industry and set an example to the world. For this reason, I invite you, men, or women, to join the new movement and become another advocate of this meaningful change.