16 Aug THE INCORPORATION OF WOMEN INTO MINING IS “A POINT OF NO RETURN”
Pamela Caro, Director of the Cielo Research Center from the Santo Tomas University, has been researching traditional Chilean labor markets for 25 years, mostly dominated by men. In her latest book “Sustainable Inclusion of Women in Masculinized Industries. Mining in Chile”, she reports the results of research studies on the barriers and positive effects of the inclusion of women into this important economic sector of our country and ensures that we are in an industry that is giving way to diversity and heterogeneity, which requires change management.
In this interview you can learn about the main factors that influence the sustainable inclusion of women in mining and the existing barriers to permanence.
What is the main reason that inspired you to carry out the research published in this book?
I have been doing research on gender issues in labor markets for more than 25 years. First in agriculture and now in mining. The interest is that it’s a century-long industry mostly composed of men, with homosocial rationale interrelations and male leadership models. Therefore, it is very interesting to know the barriers and effects of the inclusion of women in such working environment.
In your opinion, what are the main contributions of women in mining?
We do not see that there are “contributions” as part of the “essence” or “nature” of being a woman. This is because we understand that what women currently contribute and could contribute in the future is equivalent to what men contribute or could contribute, both from a technical and attitudinal point of view (leadership, proactivity, organizational empathy, among others). The most relevant aspect of the change we see is that, from the presence of men and women occupying various positions in mining, including high leadership, we can identify the contribution of both, from their expertise and skills.
You have mentioned that currently 9.5% of the mining workers would be women (according to the ENE – National Employment Survey). How much do you think it should increase in the next 10 years and what measures should be taken to make that happen?
In order to increase the participation of women in industry, it is also necessary an increase in the participation of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers, which is something that is not happening in the latest general measurements. Therefore, the main measure is to encourage more women to take university degrees related to science and technology, generating a change from the foundations of education, for example by modifying the “hidden curriculum” of secondary education, which can discourage the interest of girls in math and science.
Ideally, we should be able to increase the proportion of women in industry, growing from 9.5% to over 12% in the next 10 years.
What is your impression of the opportunities for study, training and preparation for women to join this sector? Have they improved?
A great opportunity is the gender quota that Engineering faculties such as those from the University of Chile and UAI (Adolfo Ibanez University) have introduced, which is an improvement.
On the other hand, what is your point of view from a companies’ perspective? Do you believe that there is a real conviction about the importance of including women in labor management? How would you convince a manager to hire more women?
The incorporation and permanence of women in all the productive and social areas is a “point of no return”, since the transformation is not only from companies, but from the society as a whole, including women themselves. Thus, it is not only a one-way decision (made by companies or their leaders), but also a global social change that is already taking place. The right and smart thing is to be part of that transformation (rather than resist it), managing aspects related to culture, procedures, infrastructure and equipment, among others.
What is the most important aspect to consider in the process of switching from male to mixed companies?
The transformational processes at the staffing composition level should be managed proactively, and not necessarily expect adaptive behaviors from people. This is mainly because we have been socialized from the assessment of the homogeneity (historical value), where we exercised leadership waiting for the formation of the “mini-self”. We are currently in an industry that gives way to diversity and heterogeneity (not only from gender, but this can be a point of openness to other diversities, given that women are not a minority in society, but 51%), which requires change management.
Do you think that automation, new technologies and digitalization will impact the process of inclusion of women in this work area? Do you see it more as a threat or an opportunity?
From the perspective of gender equality in mining, I see it more as an opportunity, because on the one hand, it will contribute to counteract the use of physical force in certain tasks in the operational areas where women of all body builds may participate and, on the other hand, it will contribute to generating remote processes that could be more prone and friendly to the reconciliation of family demands, an issue that would benefit women and men that are active in parenthood.
MAIN CONCLUSIONS FROM THE BOOK ABOUT INCLUSION FACTORS, BARRIERS TO PERMANENCE AND INTEGRATED MANAGEMENT FOR THE INCORPORATION OF WOMEN INTO MINING:
Below, we present a summary of the main conclusions from “Sustainable Inclusion of Women in Masculinized Industries. Mining in Chile” regarding the factors that contribute to the inclusion of women, barriers to permanence and a comprehensive management proposal for the incorporation and retention of the female labor force in mining.
Positive Factors for Inclusion
As a synthesis, these are divided into three large groups:
At the professional development level:
- Have plans, not exclusive for women (also for men), disseminated and known by the personnel.
- Communicate women promotions in a positive way, in order to establish, in the organization’s “common sense”, the participation of women in high positions, and that this becomes less and less an “exception”.
- Continuous training in working hours and flexibility in permit-granting for those who carry out university studies parallel to work (a relevant factor especially in operators who simultaneously carry out continuity of studies, and in blended modalities).
- More women in senior positions, acting as role models, and acting as a “mirror” for other women.
- Lack of biased practices in important decisions of the organization (such as promotion), which involves reviewing both attraction, recruitment, selection and promotion procedures in order to avoid gender biases; and also provide decision makers with training on such matters.
- Address biases in women themselves (i.e. related to application and promotion), through training activities aimed at building personal and transformational leadership.
Concerning work, personal and family life reconciliation:
- Generate and disseminate measures for family, work and personal life reconciliation (associated with family and studies or other motivations of personal life) according to the sociodemographic and family profile of the staff.
- Leaders that are sensitive to reconciliation and empathic to these types of requests and realities, highly valued by the staff.
- Availability of procedures concerning permits (formalize or protocolize) and rest periods.
- Programs for postnatal return (which address not only the physical conditions of postnatal return but also the emotional and labor integration component).
- Awareness across the whole organization about the public dimensions of reconciliation (this is not an exclusively private problem).
And concerning the generation of a Culture of Non-Discrimination:
- Adjusted assessment between training and job position (to avoid overqualification cases).
- A favorable view of the exercise of female leadership and maternity of their female workers (i.e. to disseminate cases about the promotion or hiring of pregnant women).
- A favorable climate to proper treatment, egalitarian and non-paternalistic (or benevolent sexist) and empathetic to female (and male) proactivity.
- More women in mining (women who share a shift or work team) and in various work areas is a positive factor for inclusion.
Major Barriers to Female Workforce Permanence
Concerning professional development, a synthesis of the endogenous permanence barriers identified and triangulated with literature would be the following:
- Lack of formal career development plans for certain positions (feeling of “stagnation”, “too much time doing the same” and lack of work mobility to other areas; an issue that can also be experienced by men).
- Greater difficulties in promotion, as they are the “newcomers”: they do not have years of service, enough performance appraisals, theoretical accreditations or psychological evaluations (Diaz, 2014).
- Greater self-demandingness (productivity, authority) to demonstrate that they are eligible.
- Perception of less recognition or discretion in processes.
- Frustration about having more professional studies (new degree) but no career progression (position and salary).
In this respect, there are also exogenous barriers (in society, families or structural in nature):
- Some women don’t like “positive actions” (i.e. quotas), because they consider that “merit” is questioned. Therefore, this type of measures must be properly communicated and the historical background must be provided.
- The “glass ceiling” phenomenon was evidenced in some workers, which suggest the perception that “they’d rather remain in the same job”, because they are in a safety and comfort zone that is, however, static.
- In some cases, when deciding to have children, they assume that they limit their growth possibilities (and these realms shouldn’t be incompatible in any industry).
In terms of the stress arising from a low family-work reconciliation, the endogenous permanence barriers identified in this study are the following:
- Poor effectiveness of reconciliation measures to improve the perception of the family-work balance (there may be formal measures in place, but these are not always used, or are relevant to the socio-demographic and family profile of the staff).
- Daily distancing from their families, whether by remoteness, shift system, remote field work or long work days, which prevent them from seeing their children daily (and generates anxiety, especially when they are sick).
- Maternity puts stress in careers and exacerbates reconciliation dilemmas (but not paternity).
- Poor understanding that work, family and personal life reconciliation is a public matter.
- Perception of the “maternal wall” phenomenon, that is, the belief that women with young children will be less committed to work.
The exogenous barriers collected revolve around the following aspects:
- Still a weak co-responsibility in the Chilean society (their partners are less engaged in domestic chores and childcare) which can put stress to the professional development of women, pushing them to a possible dropout, especially when there are young children. For example, when they and their partners in the mining industry have the same shift system, they are likely to “sacrifice” work.
- Both men and women interviewed recognize that there is a complaining attitude from children towards the mothers rather than towards the fathers (due to a cultural issue).
- Women believe that they themselves must resolve the tension, individually, not by identifying a clear role from the organization.
- Overcharge, physical and emotional toll, and fear of criticism versus asking permission for a school activity.
- Not all women have family support networks to address the work-personal life stress.
In the face of a work environment free of gender discrimination, the permanence barriers identified by the study are the following:
- Sexist experiences around the difference in physical strength, motherhood, or inappropriate comments about the body, look, menstruation or fertility.
- Hostility experiences against female proactivity.
- Invisibility or inequality when they assume leadership or union positions (ignoring their opinions or indications when they express in public).
- Stereotyped reductionist view: believing that they are prepared for “certain” positions, so sometimes their presence is uncomfortable, especially in operations.
- Lack of validation from subordinates to their skills, especially in operational areas (including the recognition of physical conditions).
- Excess of gentlemanlike (considered as paternalism and subtle discrimination)
The following are identified as exogenous barriers:
- Persistence of the traditional view of gender roles.
- They refuse or hesitate to report inequalities, because of being so few, confidentiality is lost, resulting in their double victimization.
Proposal for a Comprehensive Management Model that Contributes to Lending Sustainability to the Inclusion of Women in Mining
Pamela Caro explains that “this is a preliminary proposal, as a prototype, which requires new inquiries and improvements.” It consists of two parts:
- An early warning system for detecting the non-inclusion of women in mining operations, which allows identifying the factors that, according to prior research, constitute gender barriers that could put at risk or make the permanence of women in mining more difficult. This is a tool for diagnosis and knowledge management, built on input collection and identification of the prevalence of risk factors for women’s dropout or abandonment, based on the gender barriers investigated and, from these, adopt preventive measures.
- The second part is a proposal for actions and measures (usually of an explanatory nature) to prevent the risk of abandonment, that are carried out with the organization as a whole, with the leaders and with the women.