One mining veteran reckons the sector is doing pretty well at attracting women, but it needs to step up when it comes to keeping them and advancing their careers.

“I think it’s not that hard to attract them, but it’s quite hard to retain women in the mining industry,” Lynda Burnett, managing director of junior gold and base metals explorer Sipa Resources (ASX:SRI), told Stockhead.

“I think that you have to get men on board to believing that this is not just women potentially taking their jobs, but women getting involved in all levels of the mining industry.

“Potentially they’re there because the work conditions have changed and they’re more favourable to everybody.

“I think it’s a win-win for everybody, but if men don’t want women there, they just make it hard for them.

“So men have got to see the value proposition otherwise nothing is going to change.”

Lynda Burnett, Sipa Resources
Lynda Burnett, managing director of Sipa Resources. Pic: Sipa Resources.

Burnett has spent the past three decades in the mining industry, starting out as a fresh-faced geo straight out of university at what is now Newcrest Mining’s (ASX:NCM) Telfer gold mine in Western Australia.

She has come a long way since then to now head up Sipa.

Sipa’s four-person board has equal male and female representation and one of the two female board members is an executive director – an issue brought to the fore by another mining veteran, Bronwyn Barnes, in Stockhead’s last “Women in Leadership” article.

READ: Here’s one reason why you don’t see many women cashing in on big share options


More women = ‘better boardroom conversation’

One thing Burnett has noticed during her time in mining board rooms is that the more women that sit on the board, the better the interaction from all sides is.

“I’ve noticed that if there is more than about 30 per cent women in that meeting or in that room then there’s a proper interaction going on, but if you’re the only woman in the room often you don’t feel comfortable contributing,” she explained.

“It’s highly subjective and clearly depends on the size of the group and nature of what you’re trying to achieve.

“But say if you had a meeting of 10 people, if there’s three women there then the tone of the meeting will change, whereas if it’s all men it will have a different tone.”

Linda McLeod, managing director of Australia’s most successful pot stock, Elixinol Global (ASX:EXL), told Stockhead earlier this year that women can bring a lot to the table in all industries.

“They bring a different skill set over and above whether or not they’ve got an aptitude in a particular area like finance or marketing or whatever it might be,” she said.

“I think women’s problem-solving ability is different to men and I just think that provides a good balance to any board or any workplace.”


Not casting the net far enough

At the junior end, the mining sector may be faring a little better with respect to having more women on boards than other industries, but the smaller guys still have a lot of work to do.

An analysis done by Stockhead earlier this year showed that nearly 28 per cent of the 406 small cap companies that had females on their board were explorers and miners, including oil and gas players.

“Junior companies don’t have very much money, they don’t have very many resources, so it’s easier to go through your immediate network when you’re recruiting for other directors, and the boards are so small that really they can pay lip service to the guidelines,” Burnett said.

“There’s so much in terms of what you’re supposed to do, but if you’re that tiny you really don’t have the resources to go through and tick every box.

“So you can really get away with saying ‘we’re too small, we’ve got three directors, it doesn’t apply to us’.

“That’s sort of the attitude that the smaller companies have, whereas the bigger companies are much more likely to have a recruitment process, succession planning, diversity KPIs and they will pay a recruiter to expand their candidate pool.”

Burnett does believe there is a sufficient pool of female talent out there, it’s just a matter of the junior miners needing to expand their search.

“I think from the junior company’s perspective, they really just don’t know who to ask and they don’t want to pay a recruiter,” she explained.

“The people are there, there just has to be a commitment from the people who are looking to go further afield. So the network needs to be widened.”