We have had many industry conversations over gender and the belief, by some, that the manual nature of quarrying work is “better suited” to men. In my experience, I have not encountered any tasks in a quarry that could not be carried out competently by both men and women. And let’s face it, most of the heavy manual tasks have been re-engineered to reduce the risk of injury and long term strain on workers.
In Australia, women comprise 45 per cent of the national workforce. In mining, women comprise only 18 per cent of the workforce and only three per cent of the site-based workforce. There is no specific quarrying data but I would guess the statistics are not dissimilar to those of mining. IQA membership also reflects the low representation of women in the industry, with this group comprising only 4.5 per cent of our current members. On a positive note, however, the increasing number of younger members has raised the percentage of female members.
There are a number of reasons why women would be attracted to quarrying as opposed to more “traditional” careers. For those women who have a preference for non-office-based work environments, have a family history in quarrying and/or live in or prefer to work in rural environments, quarrying represents a real career alternative. Our industry also offers opportunities in engineering, surveying, geology, human resources, safety and health and administration.
Why then are so few women working in the quarrying industry?
My view is that we have not promoted gender diversity in the quarrying industry because of the historical male dominance and the view that women are “harder to manage” than men. We have failed to recognise the advantages of a diverse workforce, such as exposure to a larger talent pool, reduced staff turnover, improved workplace behaviours and continuous improvement through the challenging of norms and the status quo. We have also failed to promote the quarrying industry to new entrants to the workforce, and young people generally.
There are management issues involved with a gender-diverse workplace but I believe the benefits far outweigh these issues.
I was pleased to hear recently of a company rearranging its work to facilitate a job-sharing role for two young female workers returning from maternity leave. I am also aware of quarrying operations that have flexible shift arrangements to facilitate male
and female workers whose partners work shifts in other mines, or to facilitate picking up children, etc.
I believe we need to consider more flexible work practices, including innovative shift arrangements. We also need to promote the quarrying industry as a real alternative for female workers by promoting female role models within the industry and through schools and universities, targeting women in our local communities and ensuring that recruitment ads include the fact women are encouraged to apply.
In recent years we have focused on attracting younger people to the quarrying industry. Now it is time to increase our efforts in the attraction of women to our industry, as our failure to do so in the past has meant we have severely reduced the pool of potential workers we have targeted.