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Goldcorp is aiming to get more women working as miners or engineers

Goldcorp Inc. is ramping up efforts to develop a valuable resource in the mining sector: women.

The Vancouver-based precious metals mining company has made new commitments to train and encourage women in its work force – from welders and engineers to executives – at a time when the demand for skilled workers is set to increase. To make a point about its efforts to boost the profile of its women, Goldcorp even went so far as painting one of its mining trucks pink.

"We know that women are underrepresented in mining, and it's in the industry's best interest to attract and retain as many talented and well-qualified individuals [as possible] – the female population is, in some aspects, an untapped resource," said Joanne Klein, Goldcorp's vice-president of people.

Women make up nearly half of the Canadian labour force, but account for just 17 per cent of mining sector workers, according to recent research from the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MIHR). The gender gap widens when clerical and corporate service jobs are stripped out: Women workers hold only 5 per cent of most trade and production roles.

Women have historically shied away from careers in mining not only because of inflexible work arrangements and an often unwelcoming workplace culture, but also because, in many cases, laws prevented women from working in surface mining jobs until the 1970s, according to Women in Mining Canada, a not-for-profit group focused on the advancement of women in the industry.

Goldcorp said it wants to promote diversity across its whole organization. Last week, it became the first mining company in Canada to sign a pledge to improve representation of women in Canadian boardrooms, as outlined by advocacy group Catalyst Canada. The pledge calls on companies to set goals to help bring average representation of women on the boards to 25 per cent by 2017, up from about 16 per cent. Currently, two of Goldcorp's 10 board members are women.

Goldcorp is also expanding its career development and mentorship program for women; the program is called Creating Choices, and it is meant to increase confidence and develop communication skills needed to seize new roles. The company has put 1,200 women through this program in Canada, Guatemala, Barbados, Chile and beyond. A new phase offers training in leadership, career planning and finding work-life balance.

Then, there's the pink truck. Goldcorp painted a Komatsu 930E mining truck at its Penasquito mine in Mexico to celebrate that the majority of the drivers working there are female.

"Women have their own strengths and characteristics that make us unique – there's absolutely no need to [play down] your femininity," said Elena Mayer, founder of a new industry group called Women Who Rock that aims to foster networking and promote mentorship. Last year, Women Who Rock held a charity auction where women attendees could bid on an hour of mentorship time with a major mining executive. Ms. Mayer says many of the executives continued as mentors to the winning bidders even after the hour was over.

Not only would hiring more women in mining improve diversity and equality, female workers could also help lessen the impact of a skilled-labour shortage, which is set to hit the Canadian minerals exploration and mining industry. As the baby boomers retire, there will be greater demand for workers with technical and scientific skills, according to industry groups such as the Mining Association of Canada. Many experts say that including more women could soften that blow if companies dedicated more resources to recruiting and retaining them.

A task force of industry groups that researched women in British Columbia's mining sector, for example, projects that job vacancies in operations positions, such as geoscientists, heavy-equipment operators and truck drivers, will more than double between 2013 and 2021.

The industry is getting better at talking to women about these opportunities, including reaching out to students in universities and high schools, said Marcia Smith, senior vice-president for sustainability and external affairs at Vancouver-based mining giant Teck Resources Ltd. She first joined the mining industry as a summer student at the age of 16, working as a surface labourer.

Two years ago, Ms. Smith was asked to run Teck's Line Creek coal mine in British Columbia's Elk Valley by the company's chief executive, Don Lindsay. It was the first time a woman had done that job at any mine in the region. "He said to me, and more broadly to the company, that the reason he wanted me to do that was that he wanted to demonstrate that a woman could do any job in this company," she said, adding that it was one of the best experiences of her career.

Small changes can have a big impact when it comes to encouraging women in mining. Teck's Chilean copper mine Carmen de Andacollo employs more women than any other in the country, Ms. Smith said. This was achieved by splitting the typical 12-hour work day into two six-hour shifts. For women with young children, these hours are easier to take on, and the pay is higher than that of many other jobs in the community.

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