Missing in Mining: Women's Livelihoods in Regional, Industrial Communities

Melanie attended the 2017 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women 61st Session where she represented CQ University. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Public Health (Health Promotion).

Abstract

Australian women are subject to gender inequality in most realms of life due to a strong, engrained patriarchal culture. A gender divide is evident in the mining industry, where women are profoundly underrepresented in the workforce, impacting not only on their employment prospects but also their abilities to thrive in industrial-reliant regions and maintain economic empowerment. This report discusses women in the mining industry and the associated industry aspects that influence women’s livelihoods. Ultimately, women are missing in mining due to three key barriers: 1) an entrenched, masculine culture which reflects women as domestic homemakers and not fit for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematic) roles, 2) limitations in opportunities including shortages in training options, inflexible industry structures, and a lack of supportive family provisions, and 3) the economic, social and health impacts associated with living in mining- dependent communities. It is vital that women receive equal opportunities within the industry, and that strategies are developed to build diversity within the workforce, workplace and the adjoining communities.

Recommendations

Culture

  1. Implement gender equality strategies to build diversity within regional enterprises and workforces.

  2. Implement family equality strategies to transform preconceived cultures and support employees with caring and family responsibilities.

  3. Set measureable gender target goals across the sector to ensure the future sustainability of women within the mining industry.

Opportunity Limitations

  1. Provide industry-specific training incentives to foster women’s interests in STEM careers and ensure future skill set development.

  2. Revolutionise industry structures and apply flexible, working rosters to increase the number

    of women within the workforce.

Economic, Social and Health Impacts Associated with Mining

  1. Conduct an analysis on mining remuneration gaps to comprehensively measure industry inequalities and the causal impacts it has on women.

  2. Channel growth into mining-reliant regions by increasing service provisions to address the interdependence of community and family on industry.

Introduction

Over the past decade, the mining industry within Australia has established a strong growth of resource production in copper, uranium, gold, silver, bauxite, iron ore, oil, gas and black coal (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 2013). Mining booms have occurred in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia, bringing an abundance of job opportunities (ABS, 2013). While the industry provides many employment prospects, men control the sector with an 85% male- dominated labour workforce (ABS, 2012). There is evidence that the mining industry presents unique cultural, economic and social environments which negatively impacts women and emphasises gender inequality (Sharma, 2010). This hinders women’s abilities to succeed in these regions, with many experiencing a lack of employment possibilities, social integration, and empowerment.

Focusing on gender inequality in Australian contexts, this report will explore the absence of women in mining and outline the barriers women in industrial communities’ face. An embedded masculine culture, opportunity limitations, and the interplay between industry, family and community has major bearings on women living within regional, industrial communities and is the reason behind women missing in mining.

Gender Inequality in Australia

Societal structures which disseminate gender bias have long been embedded in Australian life and have determined the roles men and women play within the home, society and institutional settings. Whilst various policies and social movements have challenged patriarchal foundations and gained some momentum in working towards gender equality, an unconscious bias remains at the centre of the Australian culture (Germov & Poole, 2011). That is, the imbalanced segregation of power and hierarchy whereby men, characterised by strength, power and performance, continue to control realms of society over women, who are otherwise symbolised as nurturing, emotional and delicate. Regional Australia is no exception to this, with an intensification of gender roles which significantly impacts the livelihoods of women within these areas.

The Mining Industry

The mining industry is an exemplar model of gender inequality within regional Australia. Women living within mining localities are burdened by distinct societal structures which limit their participation within the sector and accentuate gaps in opportunity, income potential and independence (ABS, 2013; Lord, Jefferson, & Eastham, 2012; Sharma, 2010). There are three main factors which contribute to the mining-gender divide:

Culture

The discourse of regional Australia has been centralised on an iconic, rugged identity with a strong, unyielding bush man at the forefront (Maidment & Bay, 2012). The mining industry has been grounded on such masculine-based mythologies, yet differs from the orthodox agricultural depictions of ‘rurality’. Instead, the Australian mining industry models an alternative concept, with transient, uninvested workforces working long hours in rotating shifts. This has seen an exclusive, mining culture emerge within Australia which has transformed the way in which many regional communities function and survive. While conservative cultures have somewhat loosened in metropolitan areas, mining communities remain influenced by an entrenched masculine-focused culture which undoubtedly perpetuates discrimination that interrelates with the wellbeing of the population (Maidment & Bay, 2012; Sharma, 2010).

At the core of this cultural inequity, women are portrayed as the minority, weaker sex in mining communities. Gender stereotypes within these mining communities clearly differentiate the roles men and women play inside the family context, with men performing primary breadwinning duties in full time employment, and women carrying out domestic, homemaking responsibilities (Sharma, 2010). Several studies have found that family life in mining communities revolves around industry practices and the long working hours and shift rosters for men; with women being driven, sometimes unintentionally, into unpaid labour within the home to support their husbands (Bryant & Jaworski, 2011; Jenkins, 2014; Reeson, Measham, & Hosking, 2012; Sharma, 2010).

Further, occupations within mining are perceived as labour intensive and so, are directed toward men who are deemed capable of STEM-related tasks (Sharma, 2010). Women, on the other hand, are considered unsuitable for such demands due to their softer, reproducing bodily nature (Bryant & Jaworski, 2011). Of the very few women in the industry (15%), occupations are based on stereotypical characteristics with women predominantly in administration or clerical roles, with 99% of mining personal assistants being female (ABS, 2013; Lord et al., 2012). The same applies for industry management, whereby men are traditionally favoured for hierarchy roles due to their seeming confidence and capacity to work long hours in uncompromising conditions (Sharma, 2010). Only 2.5% of mining CEO positions are held by women (Workplace Gender Equality Agency [WGEA], 2016). Based on this, it is clear that mining corporations often discriminate because of gender identity philosophies and cultural values. Despite efforts from companies to illustrate gender equality and women in industry, common portrayals of the ‘ideal mining woman’ are shown wearing safety apparel in a clichéd, office setting (Mayes & Pini, 2014). Such attempts to dismiss gender bias within the industry, not only heighten stigma and power dynamics within the workplace, but also limit the decision-making roles and agency of women within the community boundaries. Thus, it’s not surprising that women are unseen, overlooked and devalued in the mining sector (Jenkins, 2014).

Addressing culture is a complex issue which requires a multilayered approach to transform preconceived ideas about women’s place in the mining industry. Building diversity across the entire sector is a vital measure in increasing gender equality both in the workforce, workplace, and the interdepending communities. Men play an important role in culture change by not only accepting women into masculine-based roles, but also in supporting family and domestic balance within the home, which will allow women a greater level of independence and opportunity. Initially, mining companies must acknowledge their responsibilities in culture change and commit to increasing workplace diversity. With less than 30% of mining companies having gender equality strategies in place, and only 9% having strategies to support employees with caring responsibilities, reconfiguring and implementing further fairness measures with stakeholders, human resource personnel and the current workforce, is a must (Bryant & Jaworski, 2011; International Finance Corporation, 2009; WGEA, 2016). Furthermore, less than 20% of employers have gender composition targets set (WGEA, 2016). With mining corporation BHP recently setting a target goal to achieve a 50% female workforce by 2025, many companies can follow such aspiring paradigms and set clear gender composition objectives (Priestley, 2016).

Opportunity Limitations

While the mining industry offers growth and sustainability for regional communities, another concern is the lack of opportunities for women within mining precincts. According to Bryant and Jaworski (2011) women are not represented in mining occupations due to skill shortages in STEM trades. An occupational segregation can be seen in the sector with very few women represented in roles such as machinery operations and technical trades, 10.4% and 4.7% respectively (ABS, 2013; WGEA, 2016). While the gendered divisions of labour are based on cultural ideals, mining companies are also to blame for opportunity limitations due to the inadequate promotion and encouragement of women in the workforce, and the shortage of STEM training options devoted solely to women (Bryant & Jaworski, 2011).

Aside from this, the structural basis of the industry limits women’s capacities to succeed in mining. This is due to the extreme productivity demands of the resource sector which mean 12-hour, inflexible working shifts are often inevitable, and greatly impractical for the juggling woman (Bryant & Jaworski, 2011). Currently, only 2% of mining positions are offered on a part-time basis, with over 95% of roles being full-time (WGEA, 2016). For women returning to work after having a baby, adaptable working occupations and part-time career arrangements are ideal to help manage the financial, cultural, familial and social expectations of life (Malatzky, 2013). So, the general unavailability of part-time positions in mining makes it near impossible for women with children, to seize employment opportunities.

Furthermore, the underrepresentation of women in mining is due to a lack of resources within regional mining communities which are distanced from large urban cities. While the industry can have direct disadvantages for women, mining can indirectly impact women due to the isolated nature and location of resource-focused communities (Maidment & Bay, 2012). This can be the service limitations of childcare and after-school facilities catering for working parents in the area, which leave women burdened with caring responsibilities and unable to gain purposeful employment in the industry (Sharma, 2010). Only 3.4% of mining companies subsidise childcare, while only 1% offer on-site childcare facilities (WGEA, 2016). Further, only 2.2% of employers support employees in securing school holiday care for children (WGEA, 2016). As Bryant and Jaworski (2011) point out, family relations are often overlooked within the industry, with the recruitment of women being shaped by underlying factors including childcare provisions. According to the ABS (2010) 21% of parents’ report having no childcare facilities within their areas.

There are several ways to overcome these problems and enhance opportunities for women within the sector. Firstly, attracting young women’s interest in mining careers and trades is paramount to skill development and future employment. Mining companies should invest in universities to encourage women into STEM degrees, whilst also offering onsite apprenticeships and traineeships specific to women (International Finance Corporation, 2009). Secondly, there needs to be a structural transformation to provide flexible rosters and shorter working shifts within the industry, which will accommodate for both men and women with caring responsibilities and extend familial balance within the home. Companies must acknowledge the structural boundaries of the industry and deliver flexible working arrangements to encourage women into the workplace (Bryant & Jaworski, 2011). Also, childcare outlets can be sponsored and resourced by companies to support women with children in entering the industry.

Economic, Social and Health Impacts Associated with Mining

Remote mining communities have several features which make them unique, including harsh and unattractive environmental settings, isolation from major towns, deprivation and/or high costs of services, transportation, opportunity and resource barriers, and an unbalanced population with little community cohesion. As a result of this, women living in mining-dependent communities experience several disadvantages and poorer life outcomes (Maidment & Bay, 2012; Sharma, 2010).

Gaps in economic empowerment is one obstacle women in mining communities experience, with men advancing in the sector and reaping the benefits of the associated high-incomes. Currently, women earn 15.8% less than men in the mining sector (WGEA, 2016). In this case, the gender pay gap is largely attributable to the occupational segregation and the stereotypical disposition of mining roles. However, even women in mining administrative roles earn up to 18% less than males in the same role (WGEA, 2016). For the majority of women within these areas, employment choices outside of the mining sector are the only option, if any. These occupations too attract lower wages, with many regional women rendering themselves dependent on husbands as the main source of income (Sharma, 2010). This results in poorer economic outcomes for women situated in these areas and highly intensifies gender ideals and bias (Reeson et al., 2012). Women who are financially dependent on partners and have domestic obligations amidst a masculine- dominated community, can then experience significant social isolation and condensed social capital. This can include a loss of identity, disempowerment, poor self-confidence, and a vulnerability to discrimination as well as domestic violence. In a study by Lockie (2011), women residing in mining towns were found to be highly susceptible to both physical and psychological abuse from men employed in the industry. Correspondingly, a lack of self-autonomy can produce a culture of silence amongst women which directly implicates their mental health and welfare outcomes, and impedes their capacities to succeed in mining regions (Lockie, 2011; Sharma, 2010).

Another aspect of living in a resource-dependent community is the lack of service sectors which would otherwise be available in metropolitan areas (Maidment & Bay, 2012). With the tyranny of distance and limited public transport options, regional populations find it difficult to access basic services including education and health care (Hughes, 2014). There is also an uneven distribution of health care professionals across Australia, with regional areas having fewer, less experienced specialists available (Hughes, 2014). These problems are all evident in regional, mining communities due to a transient population which results in an unpredictable local economy with fewer service provisions. While this impacts the whole population, for women who are already economically disempowered and socially disadvantaged, a lack of social and professional support services can lead to further susceptibility, insecurity and deprivation (Jenkins, 2014; Lockie, 2011; Maidment & Bay, 2012).

To enable positive future prospects for women living in mining communities, the interchange between industry, family and community must be addressed by mining corporations and the public sector. With only 31.2% of mining companies having conducted a remuneration gap analysis in the past 12 months, corporations must take action on pay equity by thoroughly measuring the gaps in workplace gender equality and the underlying impacts it has on women’s outcomes (WGEA, 2016). It is also vital that growth be channelled into remote, industrial communities through safe and empowering resource programs which enhance the human and social capital of women (Sharma, 2010). This can include Government investment in regional enterprises which offer women supplementary educational and employment possibilities. Furthermore, departments need to increase service provisions to regional areas, including transportation, childcare and health-care facilities. By increasing resources, women will gain independence and empowerment, which will lead to sustainable livelihoods in mining regions (Sharma, 2010).

Conclusion

Australia is renowned for its long-held patriarchal culture which has hindered women’s participation in society and facilitated gender imbalance in all domains. Today, gender inequality remains prevalent in regional Australia, and is evident in the mining industry with very little female workforce engagement. While mining is a fundamental sector for the Australian economy, women experience direct and indirect disadvantages from the industry which constrain independence and impact future prospects. Addressing the entrenched masculine culture, the lack of opportunities for women including shortages in skills, the structural basis of the industry and the lack of childcare provisions, as well as the economic, social and health impacts associated with mining are the key to the future sustainability of women’s livelihoods within industrial regions of Australia.

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