Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada: Women in Mining Reception
Speaking Notes for the Honourable Lisa Raitt, Minister of Labour
Toronto, Ontario, March 5, 2013
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Thank you for that kind introduction.
I'd like to begin by commending our hosts, Women in Mining Canada, for their efforts to promote career opportunities for women in the industry.
It's great to see how far your organization has come in only a few years.
I'd also like to welcome delegates from abroad who are gathered here today to discuss new ideas and opportunities for investment in the mining sector.
It's no accident that Toronto is one of the world's primary centres for mining finance.
Canada, as you know, has one of the largest mining sectors in the world, and it is a vital contributor to our economic prosperity.
The Canadian mining industry produces more than 60 different metals and minerals for markets around the globe.
And as the global recovery gains traction, markets will need these natural resources more than ever.
The numbers tell the story.
In Canada, the mining sector accounts for 4.5 percent of our Gross Domestic Product and 23 percent of what we exported in 2011.
It also employs some 363,000 Canadians in more than 115 Canadian communities.
And yet, our mining industry is facing a giant challenge: skills and labour shortages.
One piece of the puzzle is the simple fact that our mining workforce is aging.
The average Canadian miner is over 45 years old.
A recent Mining Industry Human Resources study points out that 40 percent of the current mining workforce will be eligible to retire by 2014.
This could mean the mining industry will need to hire 60,000 to 90,000 new workers by 2017.
This is a serious situation for a sector that is vital to the Canadian economy.
The Government of Canada believes that one way to meet this challenge is to make better use of the human resources we already have.
For new talent, the mining industry should consider looking towards human resources that have not been fully tapped into, including women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities.
As Minister of Labour, I am responsible for administering the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Equity Act.
These laws are designed to protect the rights of workers and help create fair, safe and healthy workplaces.
The purpose of the Employment Equity Act is to achieve workplace equity for the four designated groups and help identify barriers to employment.
No one should be denied employment opportunities or benefits for reasons unrelated to their skills and abilities.
Adopting employment equity practices contributes to our prosperity by encouraging employers to take full advantage of Canada's increasingly diverse human capital.
Employment equity practices in the workplace also help ensure that all Canadians can contribute to and benefit from economic growth.
I strongly believe it pays to open pathways to jobs for a diverse workforce in all sectors of the economy.
We need to embrace diversity to maintain our competitive advantage in a global economy, especially in the light of increasing labour force shortages.
And embracing diversity includes being open to hiring women in non-traditional roles.
Traditionally, mining has been man's work.
When we talk about the mining industry, we tend to visualize heavy equipment, trucks with king-sized wheels—all operated by strong men with sooty faces.
It is changing, but it's still a male-dominated industry.
Yes, the proportion of women in mining and exploration in Canada has slowly increased from less than 11 percent in 1996 to more than 14 percent in 2006.
However, their representation in this sector is still significantly lower than in the overall workforce, where women account for 47 percent.
Why are there so few women in mining?
It's certainly not because there are no jobs women could do.
Sophisticated technology has replaced the pick-axe and shovel type of labour that many people still associate with mining.
Brute strength is far less important now than it used to be.
Times have changed, fortunately. As the Minister responsible for enforcing the Canada Labour Code, I am proud to say that today, mining enjoys one of the best safety records in Canada's heavy industry.
That being said, in order for more women to consider this industry as a viable career, extra work needs to be done to address their concerns.
But to be fair, women's under-representation in mining and exploration is partly the result of personal choice.
Regrettably, very few students—either male or female—are interested in the skilled trades.
In Canada, only 1 percent of people aged 25 to 34 are pursuing a trade certification.
Young women are seldom drawn to mining as a career.
To understand why, let's look at a study conducted by the Conference Board of Canada on behalf of Women in Mining Canada, Mining Industry Human Resources and other stakeholders.
Entitled, Ramp-Up: A Study on the Status of Women in Canada's Mining and Exploration Sector, it surveyed more than 2,000 female employees, employers, students and educators.
Its findings are very interesting.
One-quarter of respondents to the Women in Mining study, who had rejected mining as a career, said they did so because the working environment or culture was unappealing. Many of them also said it was an industry in which they felt they would be subject to discrimination.
If the Canadian mining industry is to continue succeeding, it therefore needs to look at the obstacles to inclusion and advancement faced by women.
Two-thirds of women currently or previously employed in the mining sector said there were many barriers to career success.
Two major issues emerged: the need for flexible work arrangements and the need for a more supportive workplace culture.
Work-life balance has long been seen as a "women's issue."
But as gender roles are changing, so called "women's issues" in the workplace are becoming men's issues as well.
Men also want to be involved at home and be available to care for their families.
In today's younger generation, both women and men generally prefer employment opportunities that allow for better work-life balance.
People who balance their home lives as well as their careers are better overall workers.
They are happier, more engaged and more productive.
Now let's talk about work culture.
In the 21st century, the mining industry has a new sense of social and environmental responsibility and a strong focus on health and safety, as I pointed out earlier.
But when it comes to dealing with women workers, old habits die hard.
In the survey I mentioned previously, for example, several female employees stated that supervisors do not offer site experience to women with children.
Because these field roles are seen as essential experience for people who want to move up, women are barred from a traditional path to management positions.
Supervisory roles in the field are currently occupied almost exclusively by men.
And there are very few women in the executive ranks.
This means young women entering the field have few role models or mentors of their own sex.
And that can make the job very lonely.
Although I am not an expert on mining, I do know first-hand what it's like to work in a traditionally male-dominated environment.
I can see parallels with my own experience in the ports industry.
Prior to my political career, I was the harbour-master for the Port of Toronto, the first female harbour-master of a Canadian port.
It's hard to be "the first" or "the only."
It's a big responsibility and the expectations are often unfair.
But I'm glad to have had the chance to prove myself, and I want other women to have that chance as well.
The face of Canada's workforce is changing.
I can see that the port industry is slowly opening to women and to those who were traditionally under-represented in the workforce.
The port industry is now focused on looking for skilled workers—whether male or female—who want to build a career.
Stereotypes must be overcome, especially if they are hampering our progress.
In May 2011, following the federal election, I was honoured when Prime Minister Harper asked me again to lead the Labour portfolio.
My appointment was also part of a growing trend.
Today, more and more women are employed in pivotal positions in various sectors of our economy.
There's no reason why that can't happen in the mining industry as well.
There is actually evidence that companies with more women on their board of directors and in top management level positions perform better than those with an exclusively male power structure.
Quite simply, having more women at the top makes these companies more productive.
That said, hiring more women and promoting more women will be good for the mining industry, as it is in every industry.
I also believe women should consider mining as a career.
There are wonderful opportunities for women in the mining and resources sector.
Higher wages than the national average is one example!
The Government of Canada's top priorities are job creation, economic growth and long-term prosperity.
It is also critical to address the growing skills and labour shortages faced by many industries across the country.
We need to find innovative ways to meet these shortages, and that includes strategies to attract and retain women in non-traditional jobs.
The Business and Industry Committee to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development stated last year in a report on Women's Economic Empowerment:
"With ageing populations and emerging skills shortages, effective talent management is a dominant business issue, and a strategic imperative.
Women are a critical human capital asset and should be recognised as such more consistently than is currently prevalent."
Encouraging employers to take full advantage of Canada's diverse workforce contributes to the country's prosperity.
I truly believe that the labour force of tomorrow will be more diverse, innovative and productive.
And that it will provide more opportunities for both men and women to fulfill their dreams, to the benefit of all.
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