As a lawyer with over 20 years of experience in corporate law and as general counsel for an investment firm, Lisa Davis was used to working with more men than women. But it wasn’t until five years ago when she joined PearTree Securities — a company that works mostly with junior miners — that she really saw how imbalanced the sector was in terms of gender.
“It was always noticeable that I wasn’t in the majority in the room in terms of the gender division, but I really saw that magnified once I started working more within the mining industry,” says Davis, who is PearTree’s CEO. “You do see much more of a sort of old boy’s network.”
PearTree, which facilitates charitable giving through flow-through share donation arrangements, works mostly with mineral exploration and development companies.
Along with Ernst & Young, PearTree is also one of the founding sponsors of a new initiative by the International Women in Mining (WIM) Community to help get more women into influential positions in the industry — especially on the boards of mining companies.
As part of the International WIM Community’s Women on Boards project, the group is offering a nine-part webinar series to give women the skills and knowledge they need to help them land a board position.
The mining sector is the “worst offender” when it comes to female directors, says Barbara Dischinger, founder of WIM UK and of the International WIM Community. “It’s the sector with the lowest percentage of women on boards of all sectors of the economy,” she notes.
In 2014, women made up 11.1% of board members in the top 100 global mining companies by market cap, and only 7.9% of the top 500. Those numbers have improved since 2011, when the respective figures were 8% and 4.9%.
In Canada, women are 15.3% of directors in the top 100 Canadian mining companies, and 10.1% in the top 500.
The series will cover the basics of being a director in the mining sector: what boards do, legal aspects of being a director and broader legal issues in mining.
It will also address any gaps in governance skills or knowledge in order to prepare participants for their first board role.
“We’re tired of hearing the statements that … there aren’t enough qualified women in the industry to sit on a board, or that women have no governance experience, when we know there are plenty out there,” Dischinger says.
While Dischinger says that those gaps are often perceived rather than real, she acknowledges that with the general trend of the professionalization of boards, all directors should have some training before joining a board.
Although the training doesn’t qualify as board certification, it will be good training to become a director of a private or small-cap company, or of a non-profit organization.
The webinar runs once a month for nine months and started on May 26, with a general introduction to boards and the role of board members. Sessions can be bought individually for $75 each, or in packages of three, five or the full series of nine. Participants can access previous sessions if they join later in the year.
The next session, on June 22, focuses on the kind of attributes and skills boards seek, and outlines how to build an action plan to get a seat. A strategy for landing a director’s seat is just as important as technical and governance skills and experience, as most board roles are filled through informal networks.
“Part of the program is to explain how to network to get a role, which men do naturally,” Dischinger says.
Women looking for a board spot tend to pursue more formal channels, such as going via headhunters or answering an ad, rather than tapping into informal channels, Dischinger says.
In addition, women often aren’t “vocal enough,” and don’t tell the right people that they’re looking for a board seat.
“They might mention it to me, they might mention it to their family or friends, but they don’t always mention it to their employer, or for example chairmen or people who sit on the nomination committees of mining companies,” Dischinger says.
PearTree’s Davis, who sits on the board of the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada, agrees that women network and access opportunities differently than men in the industry.
“There’s been a number of recent initiatives that have given women a little bit more of an opportunity to network within the industry, but I think that’s new and it’s had to be put into more of a formal structure, because that informal mentoring/networking kind of thing isn’t really happening amongst women.”
Davis says there are many women who have a lot to contribute as potential board members but they are held back, not necessarily by a lack of technical and governance skills, but more by a lack of understanding of how to promote themselves and look for champions that can help them advance.
“They’re not learning how to gain visibility and how to put themselves out there in a way that allows them to be recognized,” she says.
Broad, voluntary initiatives have been launched in Canada, Australia and the U.K. to get more women on boards.
Canada’s regulators have adopted a “comply or explain” regime for TSX issuers, requiring companies to detail their efforts to recruit more female directors. The regime does not apply to the Venture issuers that make up a large part of companies in the mining sector, however, Davis notes.
Another international initiative, the 30% Club, aims through executive-level leadership to achieve 30% women on boards. The organization is launching in Canada later this year.
Aside from regulatory shifts and the general issue of fairness, there are good business reasons for the focus on including more women on boards in the mining sector.
Research has shown that better balanced boards achieve better financial performance, as well as better terms of social licence to operate — a huge issue in the mining sector.
“Boards that have women, especially if there’s more than one, have better environmental and social sustainability records, better governance and better risk management — and in return, better social licence to operate in the countries where they are,” Dischinger says.
In addition to organizing the webinar, WIM International is putting together a searchable, international database of “board-ready” women in the sector to counter the perception that there aren’t enough qualified women out there. Dischinger hopes to launch the database by year-end.
While the WIM webinar focuses on getting women into positions of influence in mining, Goldcorp (TSX: G; NYSE: GG) has developed a training, development and mentorship program called “Creating Choices” for its female employees at all levels.
The voluntary program encourages and equips female employees to step up and achieve the career path they want, and seeks to empower women in their everyday lives, says Goldcorp’s vice-president of regulatory affairs and corporate secretary Anna Tudela, who started the program in 2010.
“Creating Choices basically addresses the disproportionately high number of men employed over women in the mining sector and facilitates networking, and encourages personal growth through six modules
,” she explains. “Those modules cover topics ranging from personal empowerment to leadership.”
When Tudela — who is originally from Peru — first came up with the idea for the program, she thought it would only be needed at Goldcorp’s Central and South American locations.
“Little did I know that when I started developing this program, I saw exactly the same issues in North America,” she said.
“There’s a lot more that needs to be done to encourage women’s career development in traditionally male-dominated industries — not only in Canada, but also globally,” Tudela says.
The first-of-its-kind program is for all female employees at Goldcorp — from mine site kitchen staff to underground mine workers, and board members to geologists — and at two hours per module, takes 12 hours to complete.
Mentoring is an important part of the program. Tudela pairs up applicants with volunteer mentors within the company, many of whom are men who want to help.
Tudela says Goldcorp management supported the program, which was adapted from one created by a leadership and communications company and tailored to the mining company, to make the best use of its talented workforce.
So far, more than 1,200 women have finished the program.
“Women started realizing that everyone that took the program moved ahead and changed their professional careers,” Tudela says.
With the program’s success, this year Goldcorp launched a continuation of Creating Choices: Growing Choices. The second part of the program addresses topics the program participants were asking for — such as how to achieve a better work-life balance, or developing effective relationships through mentorship.
“As an industry, we need to do better to realize our full potential by supporting the path of women in the workforce,” Tudela says.
For more information on International WIM Community’s board seminar, see www.womeninmining.net.