Being one of the more controversial sectors of the mining industry, uranium has its fair share of challenges. Perhaps it needs a woman’s touch?
Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) chair Vanessa Guthrie is well-versed in the area of uranium, having headed junior Toro Energy (ASX:TOE) and served as a director on the board of Vimy Resources (ASX:VMY).
Uranium mining has come under heavy scrutiny and faced strong opposition because of the inherent risks associated with digging up the radioactive material.
“Being a woman in the uranium sector presented no greater challenges than being a woman in leadership roles in the resources industry at large,” Guthrie told Stockhead.
“In fact, to some degree, being a woman was an advantage, as the greatest opponents of uranium mining have been women, largely in the 25 to 45-year-old cohort.
“And being a woman made it easier to connect with the concerns raised by other women and respond with authenticity and in a way which resonated.”
The proof is in the numbers
According to Guthrie, all of the data points to the fact that more diverse companies with at least 30 per cent women in their senior teams are more productive and successful on every measure of financial performance.
And while the junior end of the market right now is not doing so well at adding more women to their boards, or having women in leadership roles, Guthrie says the mining industry isn’t the worst.
Here’s a list* of ASX small cap miners and oil & gas companies with female directors:
*The list does not include CEOs unless they are also directors.
“I think the premise of the mining industry being the worst in attracting and promoting women is a false one,” she said.
“My experience, and that of other women in leadership roles in other sectors, is that the barriers to the promotion of women to leadership are quite common in many sectors – whether that be sport, higher education, professional services, financial sector or media.”
Kelly Quirk, head of Perth-based recruiting firm Harrier Human Capital, told Stockhead earlier this year that the mining sector is a “lot better than people give it credit for”.
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Guthrie believes the way the mining industry has tackled the issue has been one of the most constructive.
“While progress has been slower than we would like, the industry recognises the business case and has developed some really innovative ways to attract women and promote them into leadership roles,” she said.
“And all in an industry that operates under more difficult conditions than most sectors – conditions such as remote locations, shift work and long periods of isolation from families, and volatile commodity cycles that can impact significantly on financial and operational stability.”
Guthrie has plenty of experience in other sectors, currently serving as a director for the ABC and deputy chair of the Western Australian Cricket Association.
Shifting the dial
With respect to encouraging the promotion of women in the mining sector, Guthrie said the MCA was very conscious that it had a key role to play.
“Our contribution involves not only celebrating the success of women in mining through the state-based and national Women in Resources awards, but also drives change through our diversity working group, which highlights initiatives in structural and policy changes as well as cultural reform to address some of the unconscious biases that are present,” she said.
“In fact, the mining industry is one that is embracing the restructure of work to enable all employees to blend their career and family commitments and become more productive at work as a result.”
There is, however, still the problem of how people view the industry.
“To really shift the dial, we need to start with changing how we socialise girls and boys towards mining careers, and this starts with how we are perceived in the community,” Guthrie said.
“We are no longer a harsh, dirty and rough industry that is only based in the bush; mining is high tech, world-class in its research and at the cutting edge in digital automation, and many of our careers are based in the centre of our largest Australian cities.
“Shifting that imagery is key to attracting more people to work with us and enjoy some of the rich and rewarding experiences that I have enjoyed through my own career in mining.”