(As originally published on LinkedIn, 2 March 2017)

Three things I’ve learned from women in mining and metals

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By: Carol Willson, Associate Partner, Advisory Services at EY Canada

I was recently surrounded by 150 brilliant female minds at EY’s Women on Boards event. My role was to facilitate a discussion with five female executives in the mining and metals industry on the importance of women on mining boards. As the moderator, I had come prepared with a few ideas of my own – including some guiding principles for leaders to action in order to create a more inclusive workplace. However, as the discussion progressed, I realized these principles aren’t limited to leaders. All members of an organization, regardless of industry or gender, have a role to play in accelerating gender parity. Below, I’ve shared three examples of principles to advance women in the workplace.

  1. There are no bad questions, but there are better questions.

    One of the panelists, Wendy Kei, corporate director, chair of the Audit Committee and member of HR Compensation and Corporate Governance Committees at Guyana Goldfields Inc., expressed how working close to the mine sites isn’t always ideal. The rotation schedule, tied with a lack of daily transportation to remote sites – think Yellowknife – makes it difficult for families with children to work at mine sites. Faced with minimal options, her organization investigated the cost of daily flights to the mine site in order to promote working in the mining industry.

    Often, leaders may not consider childcare arrangements as a barrier because it’s not a problem they’ve had to deal with. We have to bring issues like these to their attention – ask the right questions and start to shift some of the thinking around fostering a more accessible workplace.

  2. If you’ve ever received some sort of sponsorship, it’s important to continue to build on what you’ve learned with others.

    According to a global EY report, Has mining discovered its next great resource?, 60% of women identified a lack of sponsorship as one of the main barriers to reaching senior positions in the industry. Leaders need to put some skin in the game, and find time to provide effective sponsorship to help foster inclusive growth. That means identifying a woman and making her career growth your objective.

    Panelist, Andrea Almeida, director of finance for Base Metals and Chief Finance Officer, Vale Canada Limited, said there are good managers, and there are not so good managers – but it’s what you learn from these experiences that makes you a great leader. Being part of management means it’s your job to demonstrate the qualities you want to see in your teams and sponsoring others in reaching their potential.

  3. Distance doesn’t mean isolation; take advantage of today’s technological world to close the gap.

    A challenge specific to the mining industry is the remote and dispersed location of operations – I can confirm that from my own experience. Apart from being away from family, geographic barriers can also impact team development and engagement.

    My tip to overcome the geographical barriers is to go digital. While face-to-face conversations are usually more ideal, they’re not always realistic. Use your organization’s phone and video conferencing technology to facilitate communication with your teams, wherever they may be. This can help to reduce travel while facilitating inclusive development across teams.

    Panelists speaking at the event helped remind me that this issue isn’t gendered. We’re all, both men and women, part of the solution to solving gender parity. And how we act today, will better position ourselves and our peers tomorrow. Together, we can create inclusive growth and accelerate gender parity. Because let’s face it, having more women in the boardroom just makes good business sense.