Women and mining have something in common: the search for social acceptance.
This connection became clear during a Nevada Mining Association and Barrick Gold Corp. event this fall during which women influencers from all over the state toured an underground gold mine to learn about the industry (Read more about the tour in Mining Quarterly, Page 5).
As more women succeed in the workforce — including in the male-dominated mining industry — society changes its perception of women’s contributions. Similarly, as mining succeeds in the arena of corporate social responsibility — including safety and reclamation — society changes its outlook on the value of the mineral extraction industry.
Dana Bennett, NvMA’s president and first woman leader of the organization in its more than 100-year history, launched the women influencers’ tour last year as part of an effort to educate the public about modern mining. Previously, no opportunity existed for a group of women like this to visit a mine, ask questions and share what they learn with their circles of influence all over the state.
During the two-day event in late September, mining professionals had the opportunity to shed light on a gold mine operation; the women also took home affirmation of the importance of their roles as leaders.
In addition to Bennett, the assembly featured several women who are the first females in leadership roles at their respective organizations.
“It’s always inspiring when a group spontaneously sparks into what feels like another dimension,” Bennett said. “It’s truly a rare and wonderful experience.”
Di An Putman was the first woman mayor of Winnemucca; Melissa Harmon the first woman general manager at Newmont Mining Corp.’s Twin Creeks mine (and one of only two in the state); and Kristen Averyt the first female president of the Desert Research Institute.
Putman reminded her peers that they are role models paving the way for women to advance in leadership roles. “You truly have made a difference,” she said.
Harmon shared how she rose in the ranks of a mining, acknowledging that her route to success was different than most. The University of Nevada, Reno, mining engineering graduate traveled around the world for her career before landing in Winnemucca for the general manager position at Twin Creeks.
Her success is twofold, climbing to an executive position and rising in the ranks of mining — a historically male-dominated industry, where superstition used to dictate that a women even setting foot underground was bad luck.
In North America, 14 percent of Newmont’s workforce is women, with 13 percent in management and 26 percent in executive roles.
Barrick’s global workforce is made up of 12 percent women, including 15 percent in management, and 13 percent in executive roles and 13 percent of Barrick’s board of directors. In the U.S. Barrick’s workforce is about 15 percent female.
Because Harmon has overcome roadblocks, she tries to identify, call out and eliminate barriers for qualified women on the rise. “Join me in setting similar goals,” she said.
Following suit, the women told about their lives in their introductions, and offered advice and encouragement. Shared experiences set a tone of camaraderie right from the start, as stories of challenges and successes were met with understanding nods and supportive applause.
“If you take the safe road, you are not going to make the road for those behind you,” said Jan Morrison, economic development officer for the Humboldt Development Authority.
Clara Andriola, executive director of the Reno Rodeo Foundation, said women should work equally hard to educate men while uplifting one another.
Truckee Meadows Community College president Karin Hilgersom said it is important to “get people to reimagine their destinies.”
The mining industry also had to reimagine its destiny, and earning social acceptance is an important component.
Early mining’s poor safety, environmental and social records left a legacy of mistrust, but responsible, modern mining companies have made strides in improving the statistics in both spheres.
The deadliest year in the history of mining was 1907, when an estimated 3,242 people lost their lives in the coal industry, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Fatalities and injuries have decreased substantially over the years, reaching historic lows of 35 total deaths per year across all mining sectors in 2009 and 2012, MSHA reports.
Many mining companies now say that even one fatality is too many, and they strive for a record of zero harm with safety programs that keep companies and individuals accountable.
Some mines also left a wake of environmental concerns, including land disturbance, water contamination and harm to people and wildlife.
Today, regulatory agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Land Management, and Nevada Division of Environmental Protection in this state, oversee mine closures to help ensure that they’re done responsibly.
Environmental laws in Nevada require that mine operators reclaim mined land to a condition that is safe, stable and suitable for productive use while protecting the public, according to the NvMA. Operators must submit reclamation plans and bonds to the state for approval before starting a project.
These checks on the system help ensure that mines operate responsibly and leave a legacy that society can better accept.
Both women and the mining industry still have a long way to go in their journey of social acceptance, but the NvMA and Barrick’s women influencers tour of an underground gold mine proved that each sector has made respectable strides.
The event also showed that the two can help each other, by women sharing the news when mining is done right and mining recognizing female talent in the industry.