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Jobs like this: The mining industry is betting heavily on women

Is there no place for women?

According to experts, next year the mining industry in Russia will need at least 40,000 new employees. We talk about what professions are currently in short supply, why the largest companies are betting heavily on the development of female employment in the industry, and how the Women in Mining Russia Association, created last year, can support the industry and the fair sex.

Metallurgy and mining have traditionally been considered “male” industries, reflecting decades of imagery of hard physical labor, which also often comes with harmful conditions. In ancient times, the Middle Ages, as well as in the First and Second World Wars, women also had to work in mines or mines, but these were rather forced circumstances. As soon as the opportunity arose, women were removed from heavy production, and the stereotype was fixed for the industries: there is no place for women in Metals & Mining.

“What image of heavy industry has always been on people’s minds? From the Soviet times of the first Soviet industrialization (30s of the XX century) and ending with the first decade of the XXI century, men were depicted doing hard physical work on posters and paintings. They are often depicted with a hand-held jackhammer or against the background of pouring hot metal,” says Daria Kryachkova, Vice President for Human Resources at PJSC MMC Norilsk Nickel . – The hero archetype was popularized: work in the industry required courage, courage, overcoming oneself, strong-willed efforts and strong physical strength. That is, everything that was not associated with the female role in any way.

Three years ago, PricewaterhouseCoopers calculated that the world’s top 40 mining companies, which also include Russian mining giants, had 11% of women in senior management. The situation on the boards of directors of the same companies is slightly better – 21% of women. And in this case, we are talking about “white-collar workers”, and not workers in production, which is often classified as harmful and dangerous working conditions.

What is happening and why are there so few women in the industry even in such “non-dusty” positions?

Women can work on the subway too

With the introduction of innovative equipment and advanced technological solutions, the perception of the industry is changing. The latest trends are technologies of unmanned production, remote control of equipment operation, the participation of a large number of “smart” automation projects in the production process. “Many processes at the fields can be controlled remotely, being in another locality in a warm and comfortable office,” says Maria Lodkina, Director for Financial Control and Corporate Reporting at Polymetal. “And it is no longer necessarily a difficult job that requires a lot of physical strength.”

Norilsk Nickel is actively implementing automation, which allows you to manage large enterprises or workshops without being directly at the equipment. “We are one of the good examples of the industry here, when a huge processing plant is controlled from a remote control in a separate room of about 30 square meters, where there is no dangerous equipment, but there are automation and screens,” adds Daria Kryachkova. ‒ By the way, traditionally good operators of such control panels are women, they do an excellent job with such work.

Almost all of Norilsk Nickel’s mines are already implementing the Simulation Modeling System project, which allows, based on the analysis of big data and ore mining plans, to calculate the optimal number of equipment. As part of the same project, the possibility of a “deserted mine” is being tested – the use of underground equipment operating in a remote mode.

“All technologies related to automation and digitalization are generally available to the industry,” emphasizes Daria Kryachkova from Norilsk Nickel. “The introduction of technologies that allow autonomous control of equipment away from dangerous objects makes it possible to hire girls in traditionally considered male professions.”

Indeed, technological progress opens up opportunities for women to master professions that were previously not available to them. “With the growth of digitalization, more and more women are applying their professional skills in various industries, including those that were previously considered exclusively male,” says Nadiya Cherkasova, Deputy President and Chairman of the Board of Otkritie Bank, Chairman of the Opora Rossii Women’s Entrepreneurship Development Committee. ‒ This applies to both the IT industry and industrial production equally. We are no longer surprised if a woman drives a heavy vehicle, special equipment or an airliner.”

She emphasizes that automation, digitalization and flexible working hours give women opportunities for fulfillment. “According to the study of the Women’s Entrepreneurial Activity Index (WBI), which we conduct annually, women note that they are motivated by the desire to realize themselves and earn more to support their families,” Nadia Cherkasova points out.

At the same time, there is a huge shortage of personnel in the mining and metallurgical industry today. According to the HR services of companies in this industry, next year the need for personnel will be at least 40 thousand people. “The industry is experiencing incredible growth and development, almost every company has long-term development plans, and people are needed to implement them. We are developing, the company has many projects in various directions, of different “caliber” – large, medium and small. And people are needed everywhere,” points out Daria Kryachkova.

In general, there is a large shortage of engineering personnel in the country. According to a study conducted by the Russian Technological University MIREA and HeadHunter, on average, there were less than two applicants for one open vacancy for an engineer in 2019-2020, which indicates an acute shortage in this professional field. And engineers are needed everywhere: both in construction, IT, electronics, and in heavy engineering, metallurgy, energy, oil and gas.

“You need to take a seat at the round table”

Nevertheless, women still did not aspire to the “male” industry. Kamilla Zhalilova, Director of Women in Mining Russia, head of the project office for work with key clients and markets of an international consulting company, is sure that the main reasons for this are stereotypes and women’s lack of confidence in their abilities. “Now it is unlikely that somewhere in our families girls are told that, for example, they can study and go to work in metallurgy or a mining enterprise,” she explains. ‒ Most women in the industry do not allow the thought of competing with a man for a leadership position, as there is a pattern in the industry that a woman cannot cope with a male team. And, as a rule, there are more candidates among men than women. The chance of a woman being appointed as a manager to production positions is small.”

Daria Kryachkova from PJSC MMC Norilsk Nickel adds that now the majority of students – future mining engineers, metallurgists – are young men. “Often the choice of profession and the image of the future in children is influenced by parents. “It’s rare to find a parent who knowingly recommends that their daughter go to mining engineering,” she says. – There are many other specialties where it is easier and faster for girls to make a career, for example, in finance or HR. But for a girl to dream and consciously go to study as a metallurgist or a mining engineer – there are very few of them. It is necessary to talk more about the introduction of modern technologies in production, about how they influenced the development of the profession, made it technological, safe and accessible to everyone, regardless of gender.”

Maria Lodkina from Polymetal agrees with her, adding that in leadership positions in the “male” industry, women often feel a kind of “glass ceiling”. “Most executives are men, and when you come to a meeting in a meeting room, you need to take a seat at the round table. Do not sit in a corner, as you sometimes want, but “seize territory”, maintain your authority and specifically focus on this,” she says. “Because if you don’t do this, then the first thing they will think about you is that she will soon go on another decree.”

“There are very few women in our industry who could admit the idea that it is possible to head, for example, a mining and processing plant,” sums up Daria Kryachkova.

At Polymetal, the share of female staff in 2020 was 21%, at PJSC MMC Norilsk Nickel 29%. are the highest in the industry.

“This story is not about feminism”

Ensuring gender equality is one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and ESG principles (environmental, social and corporate governance – Environmental, Social, Governance), which are actively implemented by most large companies in the world today. However, both Polymetal and Norilsk Nickel argue that increasing the share of female staff through quotas (as is common in the West) or placing women in difficult male specialties is not an end in itself. “Companies strive to create the necessary conditions for the development of their employees, and in the “male” industries, conditions are additionally created to unlock the professional potential of women,” emphasizes Daria Kryachkova.

That is why in the spring of 2020, Norilsk Nickel and Polymetal launched a project to support women in the extractive industries Women in Mining Russia (WIM Russia). The goal of the project is to develop equal opportunities in the work environment, support women’s leadership in the mining and metallurgical industries, as well as expand the circle of their professional contacts in Russia and abroad.

“The very fact that we have appeared in Russia is one of the great achievements. In the world, such communities and associations have existed for a long time, but in Russia everything is just beginning,” says Kamilla Zhalilova. – I have always emphasized and I want to emphasize now that this story is not about feminism, not about “women for women”. First of all, we are talking about professional development. And since there is an overwhelming number of male leaders in the extractive industry, it is necessary to interact with them, to convey to them the importance and necessity of female leadership in companies.”

“Girls need as much of our support as possible”

Now the partners of WIM Russia are the key companies of the Russian mining and metallurgical industry, there are participants from the CIS countries, England, Canada – in total more than 2 thousand. Last year, nine months after its launch, WIM Russia took second place in the Donor Forum Association’s competition for the best gender equality program. “The first place was taken by Amway, the third by L’Oreal. These are traditionally “female” industries, the beauty industry. And the fact that we were among them speaks volumes,” says Kamilla Zhalilova.

During the first year and a half of its work, the WIM Russia association held more than 30 training and development webinars with industry professionals. We supported the participation of Russian girls in the international ranking “100 inspiring women in the mining industry”, which is conducted by Women in Mining UK. “In 2018, the rating included two girls from Russia, in 2020 – five,” the director of WIM Russia clarifies.

WIM Russia is especially proud of the first Talented Woman in the Extractive Industry award, which was organized this year. “We collected almost 240 applications from all over Russia, managed to organize a beautiful awards ceremony in Moscow and invited all the women finalists. Of course, emotions overflowed, the girls on stage felt universal recognition,” says Kamilla Zhalilova.

In order to popularize the experience of women in the industry, WIM Russia implemented the project “WIM Faces” – a series of interviews with successful employees of mining companies.

Among the immediate plans for the future is the creation and launch in January 2022 of a mobile application (mentor finder for WIM Russia), which will help any person who is somehow connected with the mining industry to find a mentor in Russia or even abroad or become a mentor himself. The association also plans to create a network of WIM Russia ambassadors throughout Russia. “It is difficult to support the regions only from Moscow and St. Petersburg, and it is precisely in the regions that girls need as much of our support as possible,” points out Kamilla Zhalilova. “And if there are our ambassadors in the regions, we will be able to promote our work much more effectively.”