Jean Lucas is the president of Women in Mining Canada (WIM Canada) and the executive vice president of business development for Ontario-based environmental technology company Eco Waste Solutions. Lucas talked to editor/producer Nicole V. Rohr about WIM Canada’s recent reception at the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) 2012 conference, and about changes affecting the mining and mineral exploration industries in Canada.

Q: What is the mission of Women in Mining Canada?

A: We are a national not-for-profit organization. We’re strictly focused on addressing the attraction, retention and advancement of women in the mining and minerals sector. There are 12 local Women in Mining branches all over Canada, with another couple set to come online this year. Women in Canada provides the linkage among all these branches… and we have a broader focus that includes advocacy and research. We produce one of the most important pieces of gender research for the mining industry in Canada called RAMP-UP, which is the foundation of our advocacy work.

Q: What are some of WIM Canada’s recent initiatives?

A: We’re really trying to increase the visibility of women in the mining sector, and raise the profile of individuals themselves. We work directly with employers to find solutions [and] launched a new reward program this year, which was revealed at PDAC 2012 where at our reception we had over 800 people this year. It was unbelievable. We announced the new Women in Mining Canada Trailblazer Award, where we recognize women who have made a particular impact on the industry. We’re also planning to have an award to recognize companies, but the first thing we’re going to do is work toward having an annual report card where we’ll report on the progress of companies in the industry and recognize those who are leading the way. The interest in women in mining in general is just growing by leaps and bounds all the time.

Q: How does mining and mineral exploration impact the Canadian economy?

A: [Mining] employs about 200,000 people here in Canada. The impacts are wide ranging. It’s very interesting, in the mining and minerals sector, we’re seeing more and more exploration going on. And of course, as the reserves go down, we’re going further and further afield in order to find those resources. So, we’re finding that now we’re tapping into resources in remote places, maybe in South America or in other regions. And in Canada, that happens to be very much in the northern region. That has a huge impact because the mining industry is making a very positive difference in the lives of people where normally there would be no employment whatsoever in these areas where people are living. And those areas often don’t have access to training or employment, so now they’re able to have that in their community.

It’s very interesting in Canada because many of the mineral-rich regions are on aboriginal land, so we’re seeing a lot of new money flowing into these communities and [increased] access to training. It’s very empowering to the women in those communities because they’re able to get jobs, and there’s undeniable evidence connecting empowering women with training and employment to not only improving her life and her family’s life, but also to the impact on the broader community. It’s very powerful what mining is able to do.

Q: How does women’s involvement in mining help the industry advance?

A: Women are interesting because they’re more visible. They tend to stand out, so our message can stand out a little better. What we’ve found in our research report was that public perception of mining in general is fairly negative, even more so than the oil and gas industries. Students in post-secondary education in Canada, for example, in engineering, which is an area where we really need to attract talent in the mining industry, are actually pretty unaware of the jobs and careers available in the mining industry. They’re unaware of how rewarding those can be and of the fact that they exist. There really is an inaccurate perception of mining as being dirty, dangerous, and low-tech. In fact, it’s evolved dramatically and it’s actually got an excellent safety record now in comparison to other industries. So, other industries are doing a better job of attracting this talent away, and that’s a critical concern for the mining industry. They’re looking at a shortfall of about 92,000 jobs in the next decade due to baby boomers retiring, and they’re not going to be able to fill that with the current influx of post-graduates. They need to start looking at women and other historically underrepresented categories to fill those jobs.

Q: What social responsibility information do mining companies in Canada have to report, and how would you like to see these reports enhanced?

A: Companies in Canada are primarily publicly traded companies, and there is a lot of regulatory pressures on companies to report on their [social responsibility] measures and how they’re doing in this area. The same applies for environmental issues. There’s a project developing now where [companies] have to report what plans they have during the mine life to deal with potential impacts, and also how they will restore that land back as close as possible to how they found it.

There are also certain perceptions that are happening in the mining industry because of the fact that it’s a male-dominated industry. We’d like to see the industry itself really commit to making a change, because we need to capitalize on these contributions that women can make. So, we’d like to see the industry in general, mining companies in particular, really prove that they’re serious about this and commit to being accountable. We’d love to see them actually consider reporting on standards of diversity measures in their annual report… and work with organizations like ours to develop their research-based tools to affect real change.

We do see ourselves as people who can speed up change. All mining companies are much more globalized, so they’re having to get familiar with diversity issues and literally figure out ways to tackle it. How do we navigate all these different cultures and make people feel comfortable and integrate them correctly? Gender is just one in the whole spectrum of diversity, and a key one, absolutely. It can help in mending issues for gender, or issues across diversity.

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