Sep 23, 2019
Mining is a tough, cyclical business. Companies need expertise, capital and good fortune to succeed. Yet from a distance, a lot of their stories are much the same.
Lucara Diamond Corp. is anything but. Its Karowe mine in Botswana produces 270,000 carats of diamonds annually, supports a regular dividend and yielded the second-largest diamond in history, the 1,109-carat Lesedi La Rona. Lucara is also a tech company, with a proprietary diamond sales platform, called Clara, built on blockchain technology that uses computer algorithms to match its diamond production to buyer preferences.
The link between the diamonds and the technology is Lucara’s president and CEO Eira Thomas. Thomas, a geologist and 25-year industry veteran, co-founded Lucara in 2008 and, a decade later, was developing Clara when Lucara’s board recruited her to replace retiring CEO William Lamb and bought Clara in the process.
Lucara also stands out among mining companies because Thomas is a woman and three of its top six executives are female. Thomas isn’t the only woman CEO in Canadian mining, but they are nearly as rare as diamonds like the Lesedi La Rona.
This isn’t a new story. Canada’s mining sector consistently ranks in the bottom tier of TSX-listed companies in both the number and percentage of women directors and women in senior executive positions. Modest gains are happening, particularly on mining boards, but familiar obstacles remain.
Historically, mining was an all-male industry. While that’s changed, women in mining have continued to deal with implicit and explicit bias, a lack of mentors and work-life conflict. Even today, culture is still widely seen as the biggest reason young graduates opt for work in other sectors and many women choose to leave the industry in mid-career.
The scope of this problem was highlighted in a 2016 industry action plan from Women in Mining Canada. It cited Mining Industry Human Resources Council research that found “mining companies have a lower representation of women compared to the very same occupation in other industries ... whether the occupation is traditionally associated with a higher ... or a lower representation of women.”
Naturally, these circumstances limit the pool of experienced women coming up through the ranks to become executives and directors. It also means women in the industry with board potential tend to have smaller networks and less visibility when new board seats are up for grabs.
This might also help to explain why career profiles of women mining executives suggest some enter the field in senior roles directly from other professions, such as accounting, law or finance. Many have worked with mining clients while at consulting firms, accounting firms or banks and therefore have the industry knowledge and necessary acumen to make the transition. Placements for these women tend to be among the mid-size and larger firms, where there is more of a focus on governance and a diverse matrix of skillsets among directors. The make-up of most junior mining boards, by comparison, skews more heavily to a tighter circle of geologists and mining engineers — fields where, as noted, women are under-represented.
Latest diversity data
The disparity in diversity levels between Canadian mining companies and other TSX-listed firms is most pronounced for women directors. Data compiled for Osler’s 2019 Diversity Disclosure Practices report shows that just 13% of directors at mining companies in 2019 were women, (up from 11% in 2018), compared to 17% for TSX-listed companies as a whole and 29% at S&P/TSX 60 companies. On a per-board basis, the number of women directors was 0.91, versus 1.44 women directors per board for TSX-listed companies overall and 3.34 for S&P/TSX 60 companies.
Breakdown of number and percentages of women directors in 2019
The percentage of women executive officers at mining companies was 14% (up from 13% in 2018), somewhat below the TSX-listed average of 17% (695 companies disclosed). On a per-company basis, the number of women executive officers was 0.99, compared to an average of 1.73 for all TSX-listed companies. By comparison, the average number of women executive officers was 3.15 and the average percentage was 19% at S&P/TSX 60 companies.
Breakdown of number and percentages of women executive officers in 2019
Trends since 2015
Osler’s survey data for directors does indicate a substantial overall improvement since 2015. That year, only 7% of directors at mining companies were women. The rate of increase to 11% (a >50% improvement) compares favourably to the improvement rate for all TSX-listed companies, where percentage representation rose to 17% in 2019 from 12% in 2015.
The story for women executive officers in the mining sector is much more static. Since 2015, despite minor fluctuations, there has been no overall change (13% in 2015, 14% in 2016, 12% in 2017, 13% in 2018, 14% in 2019). This result is in line with TSX-listed companies overall, where the percentage of women executive officers has moved from 15% in 2015 to 17% in 2019.
Women executive officers in mining
Data compiled by the Canadian Board Diversity Council, focusing on FP500 companies, show similar patterns. In that group, representation of female directors on mining boards in 2018 was 17.3%, up from 13.1% in 2016. The percentage of women executives in mining companies among FP500 in 2018 was 13.2%, versus 11.6% in 2016.
The lower percentage of women directors at the companies in Osler’s report compared to the FP500 tally also reflects a different reality among junior miners. Namely, they tend to have smaller boards, more limited resources, a narrower project focus and less institutional representation — all of which results in reduced emphasis on diversity as a priority in favour of running a lean company and achieving project success.
Best practices and sector leaders
Women in Mining Canada’s action plan offers a twofold prescription to boost female representation: “Outward-focused action to fill the talent pipeline [and] ... inward-focused action that changes workplace cultures.”
Osler’s research has identified a number of Canadian mining companies that are consistent leaders in best practices to support such efforts. These include:
- Cameco Corp. — diversity and inclusion training, featuring extensive online resources and other awareness initiatives via posters and displays
- Teck Resources Ltd. — promoting culture change with gender-neutral approach to job titles and descriptions, as well as family-friendly policies for mid-career women
- Kinross Gold Corp. — diversity and inclusion programs that include assessments of women’s views on their workplace and exit interviews to determine reasons for leaving
- Kirkland Lake Gold — strong emphasis on mentorship programs, career development for women
Under-representation of women in senior mining roles is an issue for the industry globally. Only one mining company on the FTSE100 in 2018, for example, had a higher-than-average proportion of female directors among that index, while just two on the FTSE250 exceeded that indexes average.
Among individual countries, mining companies based in South Africa typically rank at or near the top for the percentage of women directors, due in strong measure to regulatory diversity requirements. Larger Canadian companies also rank relatively high. In 2016, for example, a PwC survey of the top 40 global mining companies by market capitalization found that at the six Canadian companies on the list women filled 21% of the board of director seats, compared with 16% for the rest.
Looking ahead, the key to greater progress for Canadian mining companies overall looks to be replicating the practices and diversity performance of our largest miners at the mid-tier and junior levels.