According to a new report, women working in large-scale mining have higher educational attainment than men. However, the research shows that women’s higher educational attainment is not necessarily linked to participation in the mining sector, and a deeper understanding of the nuanced relationship between education, skills, and mining should underpin any effort to increase women’s access to employment in mining.
The Women and the Mine of the Future Global Report was recently published by the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development, in partnership with International Women in Mining, the International Labour Organization, and the United Nations Development Programme. The researchers worked to address the global data gap around the gender composition of the large-scale mining workforce by examining data from 12 countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ghana, Mongolia, Peru, South Africa, Sweden, and Zambia.
It is important to note that while women have advanced education such as university degrees, they lag behind men in technical and vocational education and training qualifications.
The report shows that a majority of women working in the large-scale mining industry have higher education than men, as reported for at least eight of the studied countries. For example, in Brazil, the percentage of women with an advanced-level education is as high as 56%, which is more than three times that of men (18%). In South Africa, the educational gap is lower but still favours women: 20% of women, compared to 13% of men, possess advanced education. In Canada, nearly 50% of women in large-scale mining have some level of post-secondary education.
It would be fair to assume that higher education translates into greater representation of women in the mining workforce. However, the report shows that this is not necessarily the case. In Peru, the largest group of working women (39%) has a higher education degree, while the largest group of working men (53%) has only completed secondary education. The same trend exists in Australia, where women with tertiary-level education had the highest share of employment among women (49%), and men with non-school qualifications had the highest share of employment for men (44%).
Although women generally have higher educational attainments than men, they lag behind in fields related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
Additionally, it seems that higher education, while an advantage, may not be a requirement for men’s career advancement in mining. In Australia, 76% of women managers have higher education, compared to 68% for men. In Brazil, we observe that virtually all women in leadership roles (97%) have advanced-level education, compared to men (91%).
This means that there must be other factors at play that explain why educational attainment does not always lead more women into the mining workforce. Firstly, it is important to note that while women have advanced education such as university degrees, they lag behind men in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) qualifications. Core mining activities such as machine operations and other technical roles require TVET skills. Illustrative of this is Australia, where the correlation between advanced education and securing mining employment is not particularly strong. The report shows that about 40% of the Australian mining workforce possess no more than college certificates that enable them to secure jobs as technicians, trade workers, and machine operators. In Ghana, the report indicates that about 92% of the large-scale mining workforce is made up of TVET holders and that women account for only 10% of them.
While it is important to encourage women and girls to pursue higher education, it is also important to recognize that gaining relevant experience and skills is essential for them to obtain and advance employment in the mining industry.
The second factor to consider is the fields in which women with advanced degrees graduate. Although women generally have higher educational attainments than men, they lag behind in fields related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In Peru, for example, only one-third of all women graduates were in STEM. In Mongolia, although women made up about 63.7% of all graduates in 2020, women represented only 29.9% of engineering, manufacturing, and design graduates and just 27.8% of information and communication technology graduates. Data from Canada also indicate that the mining industry has a lower representation of women in STEM fields than other industries, which means that women with STEM education might not choose to work in the mining sector.
Exploring education and skill development for women’s employment in the mining industry is emphasized by the global report, which provides a basis for understanding the structural barriers against women’s participation in the mining workforce. While it is important to encourage women and girls to pursue higher education, it is also important to recognize that gaining relevant experience and skills is essential for them to obtain and advance employment in the mining industry.
With this data, policy-makers can make evidence-based decisions to support women in mining. Governments, industry, and civil society can double down on the importance of providing TVET education and skills for women, especially for local women, to gain access to job opportunities in mining. Governments need to develop a collaborative strategy with the industry and educational institutions to increase female participation in both STEM and TVET education to ensure that the education to be provided is tailored to the needs of the industry. At the national level, this could require conducting a national gap analysis to uncover the state of women’s participation in the mining workforce and identify areas where gendered skills gaps exist.