The challenges of gender equality in Chilean mining

Chilean Professional Woman at Santiago Airport

The Covid-19 pandemic’s effect on the global economy has been devastating in many ways, including a considerable impact on the female workforce. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2021 from the World Economic Forum, the pandemic has increased the timeframe for achieving gender equality in the world by 36 years. 

In contrast with the world average, the setback in the Latin American region will be more than a decade according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), which places LATAM in a better but still challenging position.

There was a significant departure of women from the workforce in 2020, who, according to ECLAC´s Covid-19 Ninth Special Report, did not resume their jobs mainly due to demands at home. 

Chile´s female labour force participation is 49%, a figure below the average for Latin America (55%) and the OECD countries (61%). Participation in historically male-dominated industries, such as mining, is even more concerning. (CASEN 2015).

In 2019 the participation of Chilean women in the large mining workforce was 8.4% (8.9% in mining companies and 7.4% in suppliers). Although this represents an increase on the 2017 figures, there is still a significant gap compared with other mining countries such as Canada (17.9%) and Australia (16.6%).

Female participation in International Mining (2019)

Source: Estudio Fuerza Laboral de la Minería Chilena 2019 – 2028 (Chapter 3 Caracterización de la fuerza laboral) del CCM del Consejo Minero.

Given that mining is one of the main economic activities in the country, and the fact that Chile is the largest copper producer in the world, these figures represent a great challenge for the country. The demand for copper is set to increase due to new uses for the metal in electric vehicles for example. 

Accordingly, many public and private mining companies, as well as professional and union associations, regulatory and state organisations, have intensified their efforts to generate policies and programmes for the incorporation and retention of female talent, thus contributing to the recovery and sustainable increase of equity of gender and the country’s GDP.

Initiatives range from visits to schools, study centres and universities to encourage young and teenage girls to study STEM professions, through to programmes and policies for recruitment, selection, retention and career development in mining companies and mining suppliers.Studies such as that of the Council of Mining Competencies (CCM) Chilean Mining Labour Force Study 2019 – 2028 provide relevant information for establishing a strategy. For instance, one striking piece of data is that the participation of Chilean women in decision-making positions is increasing and is higher than their global average participation in the industry.

Source: Estudio Fuerza Laboral de la Minería Chilena 2019 – 2028 (Chapter 3. Caracterización de la fuerza laboral) del CCM del Consejo Minero.

Based on this information, companies can design their strategies according to their own reality, being able to place more emphasis on recruitment and selection or on succession plans and policies for retention and labour flexibility accordingly.

Furthermore, in December 2018 the CCM – which was born under the wing of the Mining Council, a trade association that brings together the largest productive mining companies in Chile – promoted among its members the signing of the “Decalogue of the Mining Industry for the Incorporation of Women and the Reconciliation of Work, Family and Personal Life”, an outcome of the work in the National Board of Good Labour Practices with Gender Equality of the Ministry of Women.

Decalogue of the mining industry for the incorporation of women the conciliation of work, family and personal life

  1. Promote greater female participation in the mining industry.
  2. Ensure good labour practices and the reconciliation of work, family, and personal life.
  3. Advance in the dissemination of Chilean standard 3262*
  4. Promote female representation in union leadership, fostering leadership in female workers.
  5. Promote the presence of women in decision-making positions.
  6. Move towards an inclusive organizational culture prone to diversity between men and women.
  7. Provide adequate infrastructure for a mixed workforce in optimal conditions of safety, hygiene, and comfort.
  8. Promote the return to work of men and women after exercising parental rights in an environment of integration.
  9. Promote work with educational institutions to encourage women.
  10. Contribute to sustainability and local development through work with women who are part of the area of ​​influence of mining operations.

Source: Estudio Fuerza Laboral de la Minería Chilena 2019 – 2028 (Chapter 3. Caracterización de la fuerza laboral) del CCM del Consejo Minero.

*The Chilean Standard 3262 seeks to promote equality between men and women, and generate a positive impact on organizations, people, and their environment. This initiative proposes the implementation of a Gender Equality and Conciliation Management System (SIGIGC), of work, family, and personal life of shared responsibility within the organisations.

Faced with the decline in women’s labour participation worldwide because of the Covid-19 pandemic, these policies make a concrete contribution to the challenge of making up for lost time and accelerating the pace towards global gender equality and particularly in mining. Initiatives of collective participation of different organizations involved in the mining industry, such as professional chats, webinars and workshops have put this issue in a priority place, with an optimistic approach and willingness to continue the path towards achieving this objective.