It's not surprising that mining is a male-dominated sector—women comprise no more than 17% of employment, depending on the country. But what may be surprising—and is certainly disheartening—is that many women who start don't stick with it, much more so than men.
This matters for several reasons.
First, mining is already struggling to attract the talent it needs to address its many challenges, ranging from the coming wave of retirements to the pressure to be more sustainable to incorporate digital technologies. Second, according to one recent industry study, men and women teams are more productive, more engaged, and operate more safely.
And finally, there is a growing body of evidence that having a significant number of women leaders is good for business. McKinsey's research has found that companies with a critical mass of women executives are more likely to earn above-average profitability.
So, how can the mining industry attract and retain more women? To answer that question, McKinsey surveyed 1,000 people—both men and women, and at all levels—in 52 countries, followed by in-depth interviews with women in Australia, Brazil, Canada, and the United States. In doing so, we were able to identify three major problems and some answers.
Problem 1: Pay and opportunity. Women get into mining for the work itself, opportunities for advancement, and pay. The latter was particularly attractive to women across Latin America and Africa. But the gender pay gap is large—25% in Britain, for example—compared to other industries.
It is also interesting that women with fewer years on the job (five or less) tend to value opportunities for advancement more highly. But they appear to run into a particularly firm glass ceiling: 44% of female respondents do not believe they have received equal promotion opportunities, compared with their male colleagues.
Solutions: Track key metrics related to women to define and measure progress and set specific goals. Ensure women are on recruiting and promotion boards. Define roles that draw on a wider set of expertise in order to attract a broader, cross-trained talent pool. Do a compensation analysis. If there are pay differentials, establish if there is a cogent reason for them and, if not, narrow the gap. It's a cliché to say that what gets measured gets managed—but it's true.
Problem 2: Retention. From entry-level to the C-suite, the percentage of women in mining drops steadily. The most common reason cited (by 50% of women) is the type and variety of work. . Not surprisingly, pay (37%) and advancement (42%) are also prominently mentioned.
It's encouraging that the least cited reason is bias—between 4 and 6 percent depending on length of tenure. But the fact that 10% of women surveyed mentioned "not fitting in" suggests that there may be more subtle factors at work. And that doesn't make it easy for those who do stay. The interviews brought this out most clearly, with women reporting feeling sidelined, particularly in technical and operational roles, and discouraged from travel. With pay, opportunities to advance, and a niggling sense of not being welcome in the sandbox, fewer and fewer women keep going.
Solutions: To address the work issue, creating rotational programs across business units, functions, or geographies can help keep people interested and find a place in the company that fits their needs. Ensure women are on recruiting and promotion boards. Work with leadership coaches to catalyze the advancement of high-potential women and support executives to retain them. Create programs to re-integrate staff after parental or academic leaves: this will benefit both men and women.
Problem 3. Promotion. Regardless of length of tenure, one in five women surveyed said that they are not given the right growth opportunities. In the interviews, a common thread was that women felt held to higher promotion standards, particularly in technical, operational, and executive roles. There was also a sense of isolation. As one senior woman told us: "It takes a lot of effort to be the ‘diverse one' at the table." Because women are most apt to leave before they hit middle management; that inevitably narrows the pipeline to senior management.
Solutions: Harness the benefits of sponsorship, particularly for entry-level staff, where the sponsorship gap is large—and thus a factor in attrition. Sponsors find opportunities for their colleagues, and this is particularly important in mining, where too many women feel like outsiders.
More than 45% of women respondents experienced inconsistent or no sponsorship—and those who are considering leaving report the least level of sponsorship. Hold leaders accountable for the performance of their units or departments against stated targets.
All these actions can help. But real progress requires going deeper. To attract and keep women, mining companies need to take a hard look at their culture. Successful efforts work by creating a company-wide conversation and commitment to making inclusion a priority. Women who felt that this wasn't happening were twice as likely to consider leaving.
Mining companies face a daunting future: declining productivity, technological change, sustainability. To meet these challenges, they need a wide and deep talent pool. In short, they need women.
Marta Mussacaleca is a partner in McKinsey & Company's Toronto office, where Hannah Ellix is an associate partner. Both Marta and Hannah are part of McKinsey's Basic Materials Practice.