It’s hard to imagine, but mining has been around since ~42,000 BC. And historically, women have long been involved in those mining communities, working alongside their male peers to excavate precious minerals and other valuable resources.
By the 1860s, American women worked as “prospectors, ore processors, miners, managers, and mine owners.” Some were even “grubstakers” who fronted the cash for prospectors, in exchange for a cut of any claims. But then things changed around the latter part of the mid-19th century.
Employers started barring women from certain jobs (like mining), while male-dominated unions also found ways to exclude women. Soon, mining became a mostly-male career field—a trend that lasted for decades. And the longer it went on, the more it seemed as if it had always been that way. The memory of women miners began to fade.
In fact, even the Department of Labor noted it was a combination of “tradition, cultural restraints, and employer resistance” that kept women from job opportunities in the mining world. However, that “tradition” of men only in mining had not been the case for tens of thousands of years!
Turning the Tide
By the 60s and 70s, popular women’s rights movements started turning that tradition back around…but it never quite reached a level of parity.
Flash forward to today. When we think of mining careers, we still often picture a group of men wearing hard hats with flashlights on them. But there ARE women present, and more are coming. In fact, they have to come. The future of the industry depends on it.
Much of the current mining workforce is aging out and must be replenished with smart, tech-skilled, able-bodied employees who are up to the challenge. The mining industry is already starting to feel the pinch, as the talent gap widens and there aren’t enough qualified workers entering the field.
The Benefits of a Mining Career
Many job seekers overlook the incredible benefits and opportunities that a mining career affords—not the least of which is a relatively lucrative paycheck. Glassdoor lists the average salary for miners as $64,594.
That’s a good income for a job that doesn’t require a college degree—and though wages vary, miners can potentially earn far more. Underground copper miner Cory Rockwell of Nevada brings home “as much as $160,000 a year,” according to an Insider article about his career journey.
In addition, there are numerous career paths and promotion opportunities, especially for those who do go on to earn a college degree. For example, the combination of a mining engineer with practical mining work experience would be a highly sought-after asset.
Another bonus is job security. In an era where AI seems to be putting white-collar jobs at risk, companies are scrambling to hire blue-collar workers and offering great compensation to attract them. That said, mining is becoming more high-tech, which is making it safer and more efficient.
Women and Safety
Like any job, mining is not without risks. It’s always been a hazardous line of work, and perhaps that’s another reason to bring in more women. As Pew Research data points out, many Americans feel that “women are better than men at creating safe, respectful workplaces.”
Women may simply be more inclined to bring up concerns about dangers and unsafe conditions they notice—which is great because it helps mitigate workplace mishaps, injuries, and fatalities. Indeed, McKinsey & Co. writes that “[gender] diverse teams were reported to be more productive (11% higher adherence to production schedule) and to have safer practices (67% lower total recordable injury frequency).”
67% fewer injuries? Sounds like something every mining employer should want.
Bring on the Women!
Right now, women only make up roughly 16% of the total mining workforce in America. That number has got to change, and luckily, ladies aren’t in this alone in making that happen.
Organizations around the world are raising awareness that the mining industry must draw more women into the fold. One of the most prominent of these organizations is International Women in Mining (IWiM), a global not-for-profit that’s pushing hard for change.
IWiM Chair Gillian Davidson writes, “Our ambition to transform mining is shared worldwide by visionary men, women, and organizations across the mineral value chain: together we can realize new and unique opportunities for women, for the mining sector employing or affecting them, and for the communities they invigorate and empower.”
Inclusive hiring is clearly a win-win situation, with benefits to both job-seekers and mining businesses that hire more female employees. Women are equally capable of doing the job, and diverse workforces are shown to offer new perspectives and insights, leading to better problem-solving and enhanced productivity.
As we said, the future of mining depends on women taking a larger role in the industry—and that trend is starting to pick up some serious steam!