o3 BLOG | Educational

Women in STEM — Gender Gap in the Mining Sector

March 3, 2022

O3 Mining

Women in STEM — STEM education has long been a hot topic in the education community. We all know intuitively that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education is critical in the high-tech, twenty-first-century economy. What may be less obvious is the crucial role mining and miners play in the high-tech world.

Mining is the engine that drives the high-tech economy. A company like Tesla can’t even make a single battery, let alone one of its sleek electric cars, without a thriving mining industry. Likewise, smartphones would be nonexistent without the critical minerals mined worldwide. Miners work daily to meet our demand for sleeker, faster, more powerful machines, from lifesaving medical equipment to drones and renewable energy.

Many people still think of the mining sector as an “old” industry, picturing a prospector with a rusted pickaxe as his tool. Still, today’s mining industry is the polar opposite of that image. Every day, hard-working people arrive at mine sites, laboratories, and offices, equipped with tools and knowledge exemplified by STEM education. Our mining industry relies on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Geology, physics, and chemistry are advanced sciences that tell us where to find minerals and extract them. All manner of advanced technology enables us to perform our daily tasks as efficiently and, most importantly, as safely as possible. Engineers and geologists from all levels play a role in constructing and maintaining mines, paying close attention to every detail. Just as minerals set the foundation to live a 21st-century lifestyle, STEM is the thread that connects all of our efforts.

Vital STEM education is critical for our workforce and our industry’s growth. Mining is one of the world’s industries that men heavily dominate due to various factors. While more women than ever before are pursuing their STEM interests to build a better, stronger future,

women make up approximately 15% of the Canadian mining workforce, a low number but a significant increase from previous years. However, only a small proportion of those women are in technical roles. Such jobs frequently significantly impact our world’s future, making it even more critical that women’s voices are heard and receive adequate representation across the many STEM fields.

But how can we increase women’s participation in STEM jobs while inspiring them to reach their full potential? Before answering this question, we must first examine how it came to be. To make tomorrow a better place for women in STEM, we must first understand the challenges they face today. To do so, we must examine the history of women in STEM. If the future is our destination, the past is the best source of information for our current location. Understanding the issue of women’s underrepresentation in STEM is similar. Historically, the extent of women’s education varied according to region, time, and culture. One thing is sure: when compared to men, women’s academic pursuits and intellectual freedoms have consistently trailed behind men if not completely suppressed.

 

With that in mind, let’s take a quick stroll through the history of women’s education, focusing on the sciences.

The fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century marked the start of the Middle Ages. Education was limited to affluent and privileged young men and ecclesiastics during this period. The only way for women to get an education was to join a convent. The first female academics were nuns, and their areas of study were math, astronomy, herbal medicine, and natural history. Academic pursuits expanded as the Age of Enlightenment dawned. Women from wealthy families and noble backgrounds were frequently permitted to pursue various interests, including mathematics and literature. Such women in STEM included Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise du Châtelet (17 December 1706 – 10 September 1749), a French mathematician and philosopher and Caroline Herschel (16 March 1750 – 9 January 1848), a German astronomer and the first woman to discover a comet. These women are still honoured for their contributions to mathematics, astronomy, and geology, paving the way for future female STEM researchers today. 

Florence Bascom (born July 14, 1862, Williamstown, Massachusetts, U.S.— died June 18, 1945, Northhampton, Massachusetts), was an educator and geological survey scientist, who is widely regarded as the first American woman geologist.

Bascom received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin, and she later became the first woman to receive a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore (1893). Bascom then taught at Ohio State University (1893–95) before moving to Bryn Mawr College, where she established the department of geology, which gained national acclaim under her leadership. She was also an associate editor of the American Geologist from 1896 to 1908.

Throughout Europe and North America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, women began to champion their rights to equal educational opportunities actively. With the establishment of all-girls colleges, female scientists could finally work alongside men and pursue clear career paths. 

Right now, the majority of women in STEM careers work in health-related fields, while the percentage of females entering other mathematical, computing, and engineering fields still trails behind. However, what educators do in their classrooms today can help these figures rise even further. Equal representation in STEM fields is critical to gaining female perspectives and strengths. We need to consider the impact that women’s work will have on the environment, humanity, and so much more if their voices are heard. Educators hold the key to making this future a reality by directing girls’ enormous dedication, empathy, and creativity toward the opportunities STEM careers offer. But how can this be accomplished?

By simply changing the conversations in the classroom about STEM, educators can empower more female students to develop a love of mathematics and science. They can encourage more females by offering female STEM role models to provide early exposure to STEM inspiration. STEM immersion requires time and resources. Allowing girls to explore their STEM options and interests at a young age is the most effective way to increase participation. What can we do to combat this? According to research, family members, educators, peers, and others who champion a learner’s mathematics or technology-related studies can directly impact that learner’s decision to pursue a career in STEM. The classroom is one of the most powerful environments for influencing STEM interests, and educators, by extension, are role models who can guide and support girls in this area. 

To help fill the gender gap in the mining industry and STEM as a whole, Women in Mining Canada, Canada’s leading non-profit organization for women in mining, has created programs and scholarships to encourage women to work in the mining industry across the country. Women In Mining Canada is working towards increasing the representation of women at all levels through education and empowerment. They believe in including enthusiastic individuals who actively support the minerals and mining industries.

Learn more about Women in Mining Canada and how they are helping build a more diverse industry that doesn’t stop at gender and includes other marginalized groups in our next blog post: Gender Diversity and Inclusion in the Mining Sector. We also interviewed Melissa Ng, Chief Geologist at Cameco Corp., as she shares her experiences as a woman in Canada’s mining sector.

 

Sources: 

Women Leaders in Mining — An Interview with Myrzah Bello, VP Sustainability, O3 Mining

https://mihr.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/MIHR_National_Report_web2.pdf

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/emilie-du-chatelet/

Women’s Colleges Then and Now: Access Then, Equity Now

Emily A. Langdon, 2001— https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ644171

https://www.nps.gov/people/the-stone-lady-florence-bascom.htm

Fry, R., Kennedy, B., & Funk, C. (2021, April 1). Stem jobs see uneven progress in increasing gender, racial and ethnic diversity. Pew Research Center Science Society. https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2021/04/01/stem-jobs-see-uneven-progress-in-increasing-gender-racial-and-ethnic-diversity/

Advancing Women in STEM in the Government of Canada

https://www.canada.ca/en/shared-services/corporate/publications/advancing-women-stem.html

Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

https://www.aauw.org/research/why-so-few/

https://wimcanada.org/

https://mihr.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/MIHR_National_Report_web2.pdf

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    2020
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