Lesley Stokes’ commentary last week entitled “Gratitude for women pioneers” is a thoughtful insight and response to the letter published a week earlier, “Daughters: Avoid geology or mining as a career.”
This is a complex issue.
My personal experience as a woman in the mining industry has had both challenges and highlights. I’ve had the opportunity to travel, meet diverse and interesting people, earn a good salary (at times) and experience things that I may not have otherwise. I’ve also been laid off at least five times due to industry downturns, sometimes with no notice, and have had to move across continents and oceans to keep working.
I’m not sure that any of these things are unique to being a female geologist, but what does give me concern right now is that most of the men working in the industry that I know are still employed, whereas my female geologist friends are unemployed or have taken jobs in peripheral industries to remain employed, as have I.
I know of at least two women who were laid off immediately upon returning from maternity leave, and I have, on more than one occasion, been paid less than my male counterparts for doing the same job, the justification being, when I challenged this with my boss, that they had wives and families at home and had to be paid more as an incentive to take the job.
Workplace culture, both in the field and in corporate settings, is still absurdly sexist, given that we are well into the 21st century.
I do believe that the mining and exploration industries can offer wonderful opportunities to anyone who is willing to take them up, but there is a caveat — long-term job security depends partly on when you graduated and entered the workforce — during an upswing or a downturn — and sadly it is still a challenging industry for women for many reasons, although this can depend on who you work for, what you want to do in the mining industry and how willing you are to put up with some degree of inequality.
Joanna Hodge, PhD, PGeo
Professor of Geology, Fleming College