Canadian mining industry needs more women, aboriginals, immigrants, says Iron Ore exec
Posted Monday, Nov 18th
By the Star | Link to Article
OTTAWA—Zoë Yujnovich has a challenge for the Canadian mining industry: diversify.
Not holdings, projects or commodities, but ranks, as in workers, supervisors, company directors.
Hire more women, more aboriginals and more immigrant workers to improve the bottom line.
It’s a challenge the 38-year-old mother of three children makes not as an outsider.
As head of Montreal-based Iron Ore Canada — the job former prime minister Brian Mulroney once held — and chair of the Canadian Mining Association, her message comes right from the top.
In a speech she’ll deliver to an influential audience of policy-makers and mining executives Tuesday in Ottawa on the mining industry’s lobby day, Yujnovich intends to press for certain government assistance to bottom-line profitability: tax incentives to boost private-sector infrastructure in the North; more consistent application of the 12-month timelines promised for environmental reviews of new mining projects; and an overall regulatory structure that helps the industry.
But she’s got an important message for her peers, too. Diversity, she believes, is key to Canada’s competitive advantage in a global industry facing a dip in commodity demands, tight margins and mobile investment.
In fact, in a list that includes improvements in the regulatory and tax regime and the need for northern power, roads and ports to get mining product to market, the need to harness a more diverse workforce is her first “to do” item.
The way Yujnovich sees it, that’s what will bring new ideas and perspectives that will prompt innovation necessary for a competitive edge, and fill the estimated gap of more than 145,000 workers the industry expects over the next decade. That’s just to keep up.
There’s “plenty of evidence” to show more women in senior ranks of management and at the board level improves “the rigour and execution of decision-making” and financial performance, she says.
“I feel like I’ve moved past the business case for this because it’s just so damn obvious,” she says in an interview with the Star.
Yujnovich doesn’t advocate mandatory quotas, but she confesses a certain “impatience” with the slow pace of change.
She says there are “mixed views” whether Norway’s experiment with a law that mandated 40 per cent female participation on boards of directors was a success.
However, grumbling that was widespread at the outset has since fallen silent, and the Norwegian experiment reveals “unconscious barriers” to change that she says Canadian executives should take note of.
Yujnovich says she met Elin Hurvenes, founder and chair of the Professional Boards Forum in Norway, which drove the initiative there.
Hurvenes interviewed chairmen of existing boards and found they demanded women directors ought to have a “laundry list” of qualifications: at least one degree, if not two, 20 years’ experience, and a level of financial skills and accountability that they themselves didn’t have.
“Why was the benchmark higher for women?” asks Yujnovich. She argues it’s a “natural unconscious barrier to change.”
“I appreciate when you’re driving change, it’s unsettling . . . you ‘overskill’ the resources needed in transition periods . . . who wants to appoint the first useless woman to the board. Not me.”
She says “people tend to want to recruit the kind of people they are.” Yet she suggests increasing the number of women will make companies more sustainable in the long term.
In Norway, a decade after the quota was instituted, she says it’s gained broad acceptance, and the calibre of women on company boards is just as high as their male counterparts.
In Canada, she says the industry has made strides: female participation in mining grew by 60 per cent from 1996 to 2012, and women now account for 16 per cent of the industry’s workforce.
She says two of the five Rio Tinto-owned companies are led by female CEOs, including herself.
Her own start as an engineer 20 years ago at a smelter in Tasmania was an eye-opener: there were no female toilets and she was the only woman on site who didn’t type or answer phones. But Yujnovich dwells little on that. She says she was well-received, and supervisors on the floor taught her how to “plan work, deliver safely, schedule plant and labour efficiently and — most importantly — how to lead.”
As part of that leadership role, Yujnovich has taken on some of the grunt work to increase women in her industry. She teaches at McGill University’s school of business and gives talks to TedX conferences for women and youth, encouraging young women to keep their minds open to science and maths and consider careers in mining.
Likewise, she calls for more industry support for training more aboriginal workers and to address “unconscious barriers” to employment of aboriginal people in the industry. She points to a program developed jointly by the Aboriginal Human Resource Council and the Mining Industry Human Resources Council to “help guide companies in their efforts to make their workplaces more inclusive of aboriginal people.”
“We need to do more of this.”
She may not be “necessarily” an advocate of quotas, but she is launching a challenge to her industry to take “a more disciplined approach to forcing results.”