"It's not a man's world anymore: women in the mining industry"
Have you seen the movie North Country? Not? See if the nerves are strong. The action takes place in the 1980s in a small American town living on prey – something like our Kiselevsk. The main character is a young girl who gets a job at a mine and faces discrimination. Gender, for the most part. The plot is based on a real story.
Perhaps, in Russia, in the USSR, this could hardly have happened: first, ideology, and later the war blurred in our country the idea of which profession is female and which is male. But still, there are not so many women in the mining industry. Comments like: “I would give birth to children, instead of climbing into the mine,” are still heard.
Members of the Women in Mining Russia association insist that every person, regardless of gender, should have the right to choose, and this project was created in order to support the professional development of women in the mining and mining and metallurgical industries. We talked in more detail about the project with Maria Lodkina, Member of the Management Board of WIM Russia, Director for Financial Control and Strategic Reporting at Polymetal.
— Maria, I see a lot of Polymetal employees in the list of members of the association, I know that the company stood at the origins of the project. What is it connected with?
— Polymetal is a public company, our shares are traded on the London Stock Exchange, and foreign experts are on the company’s board of directors. We take into account European trends and see which ones are applicable in Russia.
Is the women’s movement in mining still a European trend?
– Rather global. Similar associations already exist in other countries, this movement is developing especially actively where mining is taking place: in Australia, Latin America, and South Africa. The United Kingdom is on the same list, since there are many offices of mining companies in London.
Polymetal applies the best global practices. It is not always about what is written in the legislation, it can be just something that is in the air. In the UK there is an association Women in Mining. It was created to support women in the extractive industry. We thought that such an organization must exist in Russia.
— Women in Mining Russia, as far as I know, the project is quite young…
— Yes, the idea took shape in 2019. Me and my colleague Daria Goncharova [Director of Sustainable Development at Polymetal — ed. ed.] became the initiators of the project, it was important for us to talk about progressive ideas in remote regions of the company’s presence. In London and Magadan, the issue of gender equality is treated differently. Our board of directors and top managers supported the Women in Mining Russia project, but then everything turned out to be not so simple.
First, we needed partners: Polymetal is a large company, but one miner cannot set the trend.
Secondly, there is a specificity that is formed by the Russian reality. We talked with colleagues from the UK and realized that we cannot simply copy their experience. At least due to geographical features, the territory of Russia is huge, and each region has its own agenda and tasks.
The tasks were solved step by step. First, Norilsk Nickel and the consulting company Deloitte, as well as the creators of SAP software products, joined us. Together we formed the tasks, the format that is relevant for us, events, and so on. Further, the list of our partners began to expand rapidly.
– It turns out that the active phase of the formation of the association fell just at the peak of the pandemic and the restrictions associated with it?
— Yes, it happened. We were not prepared for such a large amount of online communication. However, despite the pandemic, we did a lot last year.
In 2020, we set a goal to make ourselves known and launch a number of online events. We have hosted over 20 webinars over the year. Some of them are devoted to soft-skills: we work on issues related to women’s leadership, self-development, break stereotypes, develop self-confidence, and so on. Others are directly related to business processes, finance, investments.
We also held an event dedicated to working with universities. We invited employers, young professionals and teachers of higher educational institutions. We discussed the prospects of mining professions, the opportunities that the industry opens up, our partners from SAP spoke about current trends, the digitalization of mining. The focus of the association is on female professionalism, so most of our listeners are girls, although we also invite young people to such seminars.
— Maria, what is the overall situation in the industry in Russia? Are there any gender restrictions, do women in prey face prejudice, stereotypes? Does the association aim to debunk these stereotypes?
“Our goal is broader: it is the development of professional competencies, the popularization of engineering professions among women, and the development of women’s leadership.
With regard to gender restrictions, the Russian mining industry is specific companies and their employees from the central and other regions, with different tasks and agendas. I represent not only the association, but also Polymetal, and I can say that we have been systematically working to provide equal rights and career opportunities to all employees for a long time. For example, top managers have goals for team diversification, and this is discussed at the highest level. But if you cut the industry as a whole, there is sexism, and prejudices, and stereotypes.
It’s not just about the infringement of women’s rights. There is such a phrase “to rest against the glass ceiling.” Let’s imagine that the company’s specialists enter the meeting room, the men take the main places, and the women sit modestly in the corner. This happens not because they are less competent, but because it is customary. Therefore, the popularization of success stories, the experience of women who have reached heights in various fields, helps to change the situation.
Another example. In every industry, not just mining, there are stories of a woman leaving a successful career for motherhood. She goes on maternity leave, drops out for several years, and then it can be difficult to return. I am a mother myself, but at the same time I love my job very much, and I did not want to leave it for three years. I started discussing a compromise option with the management: flexible schedule, remote work format, and a solution was found.
Five years ago, this approach seemed unusual. It got easier two years ago. Now many companies are launching maternity support programs that allow you to quickly exit the decree.
Is digitalization of the industry driving change?
— Of course, the very image of a professional miner is changing. Today, it becomes possible to manage a mining enterprise from a remote control, which, perhaps, is not even located next to the facility. There are numerous studies confirming that women are better at this kind of work: they are by nature more attentive and diligent. And the industry will need such professionals tomorrow, which means that they need to be brought in now.
Not so long ago, I took advanced training courses at St. Petersburg Mining University and saw that in many faculties, girls make up half of the course, or even more. And then I got into a conversation with the teachers and heard that graduates in their specialty rarely go to work. Why? Somewhere girls do not see themselves in the industry, somewhere they are afraid. And students need to be told that mining today is not necessarily a shift, hard work and a face in coal dust. You can work in the industry, but at the same time get a comfortable office, a decent salary and professional development.
— There is a certain list of mining professions that are traditionally considered female. Let’s say dispatchers are usually girls. Representatives of the weaker sex are not uncommon at enrichment factories. But do women compete with men in the same engineering professions, and is there a list of mining professions where women do not go?
– There are some ideas about which profession is more suitable for women and which for men, but the list of professions “forbidden” for women is shrinking due to automation and digitalization of production. Not so long ago we were preparing an article about Tatyana Oleinik. She has been working at the Albynsky mine of the Petropavlovsk company since 2012, and she has, perhaps, the most unfeminine profession – an underground dump truck driver. The article was called “The concept of” unteachable “does not apply to a woman.” That is, a few years ago this work seemed exclusively male, but now the boundaries are blurred. And it’s worth talking about.
— Is the Talented Woman in the Extractive Industry award, which was established by the association, also a way to popularize engineering professions among women?
— Yes, we try to do it in various ways: we launch programs and competitions, we ourselves take part in various events.
Our award also has a foreign prototype, the UK-based 100 Inspiring Women in the Extractive Industry. In 2018, my colleague Daria Goncharova got into this rating, in 2020 – and I myself am among several other girls from Russia.
Before creating the Russian version of the award, Daria and I discussed that over the years in our country, in our company, the attitude towards such issues has changed significantly. If in 2018 they did not attach much importance to such professional achievements, in 2020 everything changed, and the inclusion in the international rating of professional women from Russia became a reason for pride.
We realized that the time has come to launch a similar initiative in Russia, because there are no analogues. In Russia, there are not so many industry events where you can gather specialists on one professional platform, not to mention discussing the successes of women in the industry. And it turns out that no one knows about them: our girls are modest, and when last year we launched a series of interviews with successful women professionals, few people came and said they wanted to share their story. And they have something to tell: someone has implemented a successful project, someone has climbed the career ladder and now holds a managerial position, someone has been in the industry for 30 years.
– The award you created also implies a certain rating?
— No, we abandoned this idea. Instead, we have developed nominations to highlight merit in specific areas. We will determine the winner in accordance with the methodology developed by Deloitte. There are criteria for evaluating nominations, each of them has its own weight. The jury will bring together representatives of the largest mining companies in Russia and experts from the field of HR, technology and consulting.
– Applications are now closed. Are there many candidates?
– We have just started sorting applications, but it is already clear that there are many candidates, in each of the nominations there is someone to choose from. And among them there are enough non-standard, very interesting stories, which we will also try to highlight somehow.
An amazing thing: when we announced the award, there were many calls, questions, but there were few applications themselves. And all because our girls are really modest, they do not consider their work to be something outstanding. And we realized that we need to “rock them”, to say that telling our story does not mean boasting (although, why not?). We need success stories because they can serve as an example, a start for someone who is just starting their career path. As a result, in recent days there has been a real flurry of applications, and we have extended the deadline for admission.
— We started with the fact that the Women in Mining movement started abroad. And what is the situation in the world today, and how does Russia look against this background?
— I constantly work with foreign stakeholders and can observe what is happening in the world. It seems to me that there has been a “gender bias” in the opposite direction. In Europe, you can’t even joke about the fact that the world of business is, rather, the world of men with cigars, and there is no place for a woman here. 200 percent censorship.
What is happening today at some enterprises in Western countries? The regulator lowers specific goals, for example, it is necessary to increase the percentage of women in top management to 39%. This is the same discrimination, only now the rights of men are being infringed upon. In my opinion, this is too much: career advancement should be determined by competencies, personal achievements, and not by gender.
In order for talented women managers to appear, they need to be nurtured, and this must happen naturally. Ten years ago, girls were afraid to go into the profession, they believed that they had no place in the “male world”, and now they need to recruit a predetermined percentage of female leaders somewhere. There should be no artificial kinks.
There must always be a choice. This is what we often say within our team. It is not necessary to connect your life with the extractive industry and build a career as a manager or production worker. But the thought that this is a world in which the girl has no way should not be an obstacle. We need to move away from surprised or judgmental looks and form a normal idea that a woman can make her choice and that this is in the order of things.
Interviewed by Anna Kuchumova