"You can’t be what you can’t see.” The Importance of Representation in STEM Careers

Do stereotypes and lack of representation hurt us in creating diverse workforces? Short answer? Yes. 

It’s no secret that mining has a long-standing diversity and inclusion problem. Historically, it has been an industry made up of a predominantly male workforce. It’s arguably the root problem to many issues that mining, as well as many other male dominated STEM-focused industries, face today. 

Consider the tech industry, where facial recognition technologies have been criticized for their discrimination against people of colour. In academia studies have been written up with titles such as “Ignored to Death: Systemic Racism in the Canadian Healthcare System.” In 2018 the Nobel academy acknowledged that women and scientists from some ethnic groups are under-represented among Nobel laureates. The other day The Verge reported how Tesla’s diversity report showed the company’s US leadership to be 59 percent white and 83 percent male. 

And yet, while meaningful change isn’t happening overnight, we can celebrate the victories we’ve had along the way, both internationally and personally: 

The number of female CEOS in Fortune 500 companies reached a record high this year: 37 of the companies are run by women. Google’s 2020 annual diversity report showed some improvement on previous years, albeit there’s room to still improve. Our CEO Alicia Woods took part in an amazing new podcast discussing representation and why it matters (Check it out here!)

Women in Mining UK showcased 400 inspirational women, including over 1,500 nominees, across a variety of roles around the world in their WIM100 2020 edition.

“The imperative of diversity is not just a moral issue. Diversity is a crucial source of strength and adaptability.”

        BCG, WIM100 2020 edition 

Awareness about the importance of diversity and inclusion practices has increased amidst building social pressure. It has led to inspiring news: two years ago Donna Strickland was the first Canadian woman to receive the Nobel Prize for physics; this year the first-ever African Canadian drama series is being filmed in Calgary. 

Moments like these are important. What may seem like an insignificant thing to one person can be incredibly meaningful to another. At Covergalls, we know exactly how “small” problems can impact workers, such as your workwear. Your environment, and whatever details help to make it up, are important. It’s why we started our work and why we continue to think of different ways to help create an inclusive workplace. 

“An inclusive work environment will really draw a more diverse workforce. For example take a look at infrastructure, take a look at facilities, whether it's office spaces or, you know, bathrooms - and workwear is one of them right? Providing your employees with proper and safe fitting tools, and workwear, will create more of an inclusive environment and that will draw diversity,” 

Alicia Woods, Founder and CEO of Covergalls Inc. 

Changes to try and create a more diverse workforce have impact. 

According to McKinsey’s latest diversity study, released in spring 2020, companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity were 36 percent more profitable than those in the bottom quartile. A previous 2015 report found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean.

To succeed where we have failed in the past, to help keep building meaningful change, what approaches do we need to have? 

It helps to know where we are at now to know what change is being made. But it’s not always easy to find exact statistics on the percentage of the mining industry in Canada made up of women. 

According to the Mining Industry Human Resources Council’s (MiHR) 2018 edition of the Canadian Mining Labour Market Outlook, women accounted for only 16 percent of mining’s labour force in 2016 – down 1 percent from 2011. According to 2019 census data, Canadian women 15 years and older represented nearly half of the labor force, compared to 37.6 percent in 1976. This is an over 25 percent increase.

The other big step is identifying and recognizing those numbers as individuals and celebrating them. Why? Because you can’t be what you can’t see.

People who don’t know what a mining worker actually does would likely recognize the quintessential stereotype of one: a muscular, sweaty, smoke-covered man using tools or machinery. Media depictions can often further alienate women from the profession (think of the gender diversity work being done by actress Geena Davis). 

Close your eyes. Picture a CEO, board member, expert scientist, leading engineer. Not a specific person, but the image of who “fits” these roles. Who did you see? What stereotypes did they meet?

Often when young women don’t have other women to look up to, they will self-select themselves out of a technical career path before they even really give it a chance.

"I think it's like, can you envision yourself being there? I mean, if you have to show up and put clothes on that don’t fit, do you feel you belong? No, not really. So I think there's all those little things that people don’t realize were important to them, and they are."

               Alicia Woods, Founder and CEO of Covergalls Inc. 

One thing is for certain: representation matters. We need to see that industry experts and professionals come in all shapes and sizes. 

On that note...

Make sure to check out the new podcast @This_Is_Mining, hosted by @ambermac! The podcast explores stories of human transformation connected to Ontario’s mining industry.



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