Is the longwall industry sexist?

GO UNDERGROUND to any Australian longwall mine, or any longwall mine worldwide, and you will be hard pressed to find a female in sight.
Is the longwall industry sexist? Is the longwall industry sexist? Is the longwall industry sexist? Is the longwall industry sexist? Is the longwall industry sexist?

Haul truck driver at Hail Creek Mine

Angie Tomlinson

The lack of females in the underground coal sector and right across the minerals industry is a matter that has only seen marginal improvements over the last few years.

Five years ago the Pattenden Report found the minerals industry was the most highly sex-segregated industry in the country. It found whilst significantly more women were studying ‘non-traditional’ courses like geology and mining and minerals processing, these gains were not reflected in employment figures.

The report also revealed harassment and discrimination were significant problems across the minerals industry.

Queensland Mining Council chief executive Susan Johnston said in a speech delivered at the South Australian Chamber of Mines & Energy conference in Adelaide recently, that the minerals industry was facing a looming shortage of skilled employees. One way of dealing with the scarcity was to encourage women into the mining sector.

“Increasing the pool of tertiary graduates is a priority for the Queensland Mining Council and other industry bodies. The industry need to be seen as an attractive employer of both women and men,” Johnston said.

Johnston also related some anecdotal evidence during her presentation: “There were a couple of men who told me that women were not welcome underground” and “There are plenty of jokes about tits and bums, how you react depends on the intent behind it.” This anecdotal evidence suggests while sexual harassment and discrimination was not as obvious as it once may have been, it was still a problem.

One company pro-actively ensuring women are employed in their mine workforce has been Pacific Coal at their new Hail Creek mine. After an active female recruitment program, 23% of all operators at Hail Creek are women.

Johnston said the way forward for the industry was through promotion of the industry to young women at schools and universities; continuing reinforcement that sexual harassment is unacceptable; overt, publicly stated support for working parents; and subsidised childcare.