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Three things women in business need to know – and why some mining men struggle with strong women

Female miner in PPE

This article quotes directly from a blog post by Naomi Simson, founder of online gift retailer RedBalloon. See Naomi’s blog at naomisimson.com or visit RedBalloon at redballoon.com.au

While Naomi’s focus is women in the broader business community, the comments apply equally to women in all fields of work.

The mining industry provides numerous excellent opportunities for women to contribute considerably and to be well paid as a result. I also see a lot of men really struggle with the concept of powerful and confident women – it seems to scare some of them, but more on that below.

Firstly to quote Naomi:

As a young woman in business I wish someone had taken me aside and shared the following:

  1. Speak out

How many preconceived notions exist because we stereotype boys as boisterous and girls as quiet. I remember my son’s teacher admitting – we control boys we teach girls. I was once called to my daughter’s school and asked to ‘explain’ her outspoken nature. I questioned what the school was teaching their students if it was not to follow their dreams and speak up for themselves.

Lois Frankel, Ph.D., president of Corporate Coaching International and author of the best-selling Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office, stresses the importance of being assertive in a work environment. ‘There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Excuse me, let me jump in here.”’ It is not ‘pushing’ to speak up for yourself.

  1. Don’t use 20 words when ten will do

Women tend to use more words than men, which can dilute a message. I’m sure our foremothers shared stories whilst gathering berries, whilst “shooting the breeze” between our forefathers’ hunting packs was frowned upon in case it alerted the prey. In business try using 25 per cent fewer words in conversations and e-mails than you normally would, and see what happens.

Take your time when you respond to a question – and structure your argument. Pause and say “The three points I wish to cover are …” and stick to three points. Being succinct is key to being heard.

  1. Money is not a dirty word

Women will negotiate for less money when offered the same position as a man for fear of coming off as greedy, according to research by Lisa Barron of the University of California, Irvine. The study shows women being less comfortable equating a dollar amount with their self-worth. Also, because they see themselves in relationship to others, they feel less comfortable promoting their self-interests when it may be detrimental to others. Again, I wonder if the latter is a generational barrier that will dissolve over time as more women improve their negotiation skills.

Frankel says to keep in mind that “whatever money you accept will be your baseline for what you do next.”

The statistics are staggering: women leave somewhere around $500,000 on the table by the time they’re 60 if they don’t negotiate an equitable first salary, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon University Professor of Economics Linda Babcock and writer Sara Laschever.

It is outrageous that there are not more women on boards and running large companies - we don’t have to give up our feminine characteristics to achieve what we want – but to get there – you need to be heard now.

Why some mining men struggle with this!

Well this could be a whole blog post in itself. Are they scared, do they see their nagging mothers or do they have a genuine rolled gold mental bias that was bred into them by their parents and grandparents? I think we’ll leave these questions to others.

I do though think to blame men entirely is probably unfair. Quoting from an article posted on miningaustralia.com.au on 28th November 2012:

“A new report released yesterday shows WA is lacking in gender diversity with women only representing 4 per cent of board members compared with 15.3 per cent in Victoria, 14.8 per cent in NSW, while the national average stands at 12.3 per cent.

Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency’s Director Helen Conway said companies had to do more to attract women into the industry.”

While there is no doubt that in the past there has been a serious gender bias and rampant discrimination throughout the mining industry, I do though see this as a generational thing, which is changing.

It also seems reasonable to argue though that the mining industry remains a relatively technical one and so perhaps for board representation to increase, more women need to join the industry at the professional level. This is where the technical expertise is gathered and if they subsequently remain in the industry they’re far more likely to enter the candidate pool for potential senior appointments, including board roles.

This however doesn’t explain why more women from accounting, finance and law backgrounds aren’t making it through to board roles in their professions. It could be argued that these professions remain centres of more conservative thinking with older men remaining in high level roles in those professions for longer than those who occupy influential operational mining roles. Perhaps the generational flow of change will simply take a little longer here.  

Positively though, during my research for this article I have encountered quotes from high profile women that acknowledged that much has changed in recent years with a lot of the overt sexism and resultant discrimination being pushed out. Clearly this is generational, where as many conservatively educated men leave the industry (or are pushed out due to their inability to open their minds to workplace diversification) the pace of change picks up. Again the full article posted on 28th November 2012 at miningaustralia.com.au, shares some interesting quotes.

While it is a truism that trends are difficult to buck, I am quite sure that the growing number of women working within the mining industry across all disciplines is a sign that they are not simply going to sit around and wait.   

At its most basic level, the mining industry simply needs more people in it. Therefore, opening it up to additional markets of great potential candidates is surely a good thing.

All (polite) comments are most welcome
to info@miningpeople.com.au
or to myself directly at
steve.heather@miningpeople.com.au

Steve Heather
Managing Director/Principal Executive Search
Mining People International