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Women in mining still experiencing harassment, discrimination, says PhD candidate’s thesis

Sarah de Blois of Sudbury is advocating for more women in mining and more of them in leadership roles 
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Sarah de Blois, left, with her supervisor Dr. Linda Ambrose at the 3MT competition.(Photo Supplied)

A Sudbury woman, working on her PhD thesis, believes a lot more needs to be done for the acceptance of women working in all levels of the mining industry.  

Sarah de Blois was competing this past week in the provincial finals of the 3MT competition (Three Minute Thesis) to outline her dissertation "Women, Mining & Gender: Experiences from Sudbury, Ontario."

De Blois said part of her research shows that women are under-represented in the mining industry, based on information from  the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (2022) showing that only 20.6 per cent of the Canadian mining labour force are women.

"So the purpose of my research was essentially just to understand the culture and climate that's present within the mining industry, specifically from a gendered lens. So understanding the gendered culture and climates. Does it exist? How does this exist? And how does it affect our workplace communication, collaboration, interaction?" de Blois said. 

For the purposes of her research, de Blois said she could not be specific about the nature of discrimination or harassment that has occurred in the mining workplace, because de Blois promised confidentiality to her interview subjects. In the course of her research, de Blois spoke with 25 women and 11 men. 

She said discrimination and harassment is happening and de Blois said it was disheartening to hear about it. 

"So first of all, just the feeling of being othered, to being a gendered outsider. That feeling of standing out and made to feel as though not only do you stand out, but that you're not supposed to be there. It was really surprising, not only the direct comments that some of these women received about, well you don't belong here. You belong barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. That was reiterated plenty of times."

De Blois also spoke about the term "benevolent sexism," which she described as behaviour not meant to be any sort of put down, but that still had the effect of making someone feel like an outsider. De Blois said this could be opening the door to the lunchroom, or taking on an extra share of the physically demanding work, leaving the impression that the woman is too small or frail to handle it. 

While such actions might be considered helpful, de Blois said it can send the wrong message.

"Fine and dandy, but it definitely makes them (women) feel like do I really belong? Am I being accepted here? Be sure if you're being helpful. Perception is a really important thing here," de Blois said.

She added that in her interviews, she discovered many of the women working in mining expressed great job satisfaction. Many women said they loved their jobs even after going through the various challenges, hurdles and barriers. She added that she heard stories of many women who got strong support from other women, and other men, while working in mining. 

"Things seem to be, you know, the culture climate is getting better. But it's slow, and it's still not where it should or needs to be. And I think there's a lot to be said about that and improvements and changes still need to be made," de Blois said.

She added she does not have all the answers to make things better, but de Blois said there are things that can be done to help.

"More women in leadership roles, I believe, is one step that should and could be made to better support the industry's not only gender and composition, but also inclusivity, diversity, and equity, generally. 

De Blois said there are a disproportionate number of women in leadership roles in the industry. 

"And then just more awareness, more training, more knowledge disseminated about this, that hopefully will be heard and be understood and be be respected as something that's important," she said.  

Len Gillis covers mining and health care for Sudbury.com.

 


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Len Gillis

About the Author: Len Gillis

Graduating from the Journalism program at Canadore College in the 1970s, Gillis has spent most of his career reporting on news events across Northern Ontario with several radio, television and newspaper companies. He also spent time as a hardrock miner.
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