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Gender Equality in the Nordic Mining Industry

The mining industry has long been characterised by macho masculinity and a rough-and-tough jargon. However, change is underway. Thirty-five years ago, only men were allowed to work underground. Today, the mining companies are actively recruiting women.

Foto: Colourbox
Photo: Colourbox

‘We have finally gained some momentum in this area,’ says Eira Andersson, who has just received a research grant for a study on gender equality in the Nordic mining industry.
Thanks to technological advances and a strong determination to make the sector more gender equal, mining is no longer just a business for dirty hyper-masculine men. But supporters of further change are up against a long and proud tradition of male bonding and masculine ideals of bravery.
‘Admittedly, there is some resistance, but overall there is a strong interest in gender equality in the mining industry,’ says Andersson.
Anderson works as a researcher at Luleå University of Technology. She studies gender and technology and is in charge of the two-year project Nordic Mining and the Search for Women. 

‘Many mining companies would like to recruit women, but they don’t really know how.’

Gender equality effort in Nordic mining industry unique

Andersson and her colleagues will study the gender equality ambitions and gender equality efforts in the Nordic mining industry. They will assess the proportion of women in the sector and look for positive examples of gender equality work that could help guide future initiatives. The project is funded via NordMin – a network of expertise launched by the Nordic Council of Ministers to promote a sustainable mining and mineral industry in the Nordic Region. NordMin identifies gender equality as a focus area and the emphasis on social sustainability makes the network stand out in an international perspective, says Sabine Mayer, project leader at NordMin.
‘Ecologic sustainability receives a lot of attention because there is strong legislation in that area. There’s not nearly the same focus on social sustainability,’ she says, adding that gender and gender equality have become key issues across the Nordic region.
In 2013, 13 of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ projects were granted funding from the so-called priority budget for intensified gender mainstreaming efforts. NordMin was one of them and had its work evaluated by a gender equality strategist.
‘Sometimes gender equality initiatives seem to be nothing but empty words, but I don’t feel that’s the case here’ says Mayer.

Attracting women essential for the mining industry

The intention is for the network to pave the way for more women in mining.

‘It’s tough to be in the minority. With proper research and a focus on these issues, maybe we can attract more women, but also men, to the mining industry,’ she says.
Compared with other sectors, the share of women is low in Nordic mining. However, the Nordic countries stand out in a global perspective.
‘Many mines lack women completely, and some countries ban women from working underground,’ says Andersson.
The Nordic region also has a history of such laws, the effects of which can still be noticed, says Andersson, but adds that today there is a strong ambition to change all of this. The Nordic mining industry is expanding, and the companies need to recruit more local workers but also from the rest of the country and the world.

‘They need to attract women in order to grow, but having female workers also has symbolic value,’ says Andersson and explains that women can help boost a company’s image of being modern.

‘They want to change the perception that the mining industry is made up of a bunch of old men, since the younger labour force is turned off by that notion,’ she says.

The industry is also hoping that getting more women in the sector will help change the negative workplace culture, plagued by unnecessary risk-taking and a dysfunctionally rough jargon. With more women in the mines, there are hopes that the workers will act more carefully and also take better care of the machinery. Yet Andersson finds this argument problematic.

‘Sure, it’s important to view women as an underutilised resource in the mining industry, but new stereotypes of women and men will not benefit the gender equality work in the long term,’ she says.
The two-year project Nordic mining and the search for women will start in May. In her previous research, Andersson has focused on the mining companies in the Swedish province of Norrbotten. The Nordic countries have never been compared before, and she thinks the project will shed light on some interesting similarities and differences.

‘I believe we can learn a lot by comparing the work in the different countries,’ she says.

Updated 15 February 2024