THE email Jacqui McGill received from one of her teams at a BHP Billiton coalmine contained great news: output delays were down 75 per cent in a year.
That wasn't the only reason she let out a whoop of excitement.
"I did my little yeehaw because every single person on the email was a woman in a production role," said McGill, asset president for two of the world's biggest mining company's operations in Queensland's Bowen Basin.
"That's the first time that's happened in my career," McGill, an industry veteran of more than 20 years, said of the July email. "I have plenty of men in my business in senior roles, but I thought, that's critical mass."
Mining remains the most male-dominated business, with men holding more than 90 per cent of executive positions. That's starting to change, as retiring employees help open the $1 trillion industry's door to female successors.
From female-only leadership training at Canada's Goldcorp to scholarships offered by South Africa's Lonmin, the world's third-largest platinum producer, mining companies are implementing initiatives aimed at guiding women into senior roles. Rio Tinto, the second-biggest miner, has set a goal of having women make up 20 per cent of its senior managers by 2015, from 14 per cent last year.
In the global mining industry, women hold 8 per cent of executive committee positions reporting directly to the chief executive officer, according to a study by the gender-consulting company 20-first. That compares with 18 per cent in the $2.9 trillion pharmaceutical industry, the best performer in the survey.
Efforts to attract women go beyond recruiting and career- development initiatives. OZ Minerals, Australia's third-biggest copper producer, no longer makes presentations at the nation's main mining conference.
The Diggers & Dealers Mining Forum is held annually in Kalgoorlie, a desert city known for its raucous nightlife. Some bars near the conference employ topless bartenders, known locally as skimpies.
"The entertainment provided by the town was not reflective of our values," said former chief executive officer Terry Burgess, who left his position last month, in an emailed response to questions.
An ageing workforce across the mining sector means producers worldwide face a lack of sufficient candidates for management positions and should seek a more diverse range of employees, including more women, according to Ernst & Young. In Canada alone, about 20 per cent of the mining workforce will be eligible to retire by 2018, the country's Mining Industry Human Resources Council said in a report last year.
"We've been fishing from the same pool for a very long time and it is exhausted," Debbie Butler, a talent manager at Anglo American responsible for coal operations in Canada and Australia, told a Melbourne conference. "Our industry needs to focus on bringing new people into mining and this means looking beyond the traditional demographics."
Glencore, the Swiss commodity producer and trader, in June appointed Patrice Merrin as its first female director, ending its status as the only company on the UK's FTSE 100 Index with an all-male board. At Brazil's Vale, which hired its first female worker in 1928, 13 per cent of employees are women, according to its 2013 sustainability report.
Seeking to promote mining to young women, Gina Rinehart, Asia's wealthiest woman and chairman of the Australian mining company Hancock Prospecting, recently invited students at the private girls' schools where she studied in Perth to take up work placements at her Roy Hill iron ore mine.
Gold producer St Barbara's offer of additional parental leave is helping attract more women, executive general manager for people and business services Katie-Jeyn Romeyn said in an interview.
The company has also reduced the salary gap. Male workers at the Melbourne-based company earn an average of 11.7 per cent more than women, down from 43 per cent in 2007, she said.
"Our target now will be to get that to 8 per cent."
Across all Australian industries, the average wage gap is 18.2 per cent, according to government data.
One of the biggest barriers to women moving into mining may be their perception of the industry, said Laura Tyler, asset president for BHP's Cannington mine, the world's largest silver and lead operation.
"My father was particularly horrified when I told him I was going into mining, and I grew up on the edge of the Lancashire coalfields," in England, said Tyler, who hires the same number of male and female graduates at the mine and began a mentorship program to accelerate women into leadership.
Increasing numbers of women in mining is creating opportunities for new businesses.
After seeing a pregnant colleague at an Anglo American coalmine in Queensland wearing a large, ill-fitting uniform, Kym Clark last year started a business selling luminous, high-visibility work clothing for women in mining and construction, including maternity wear.
"I noticed how comfortable all the men were in their high-viz, and how uncomfortable she looked," said Clark, a former management accountant at Anglo, who began selling uniforms in November to Glencore, BHP and other customers.
Appointing more women to key positions may boost mining companies' income.
"There's a significant correlation between bottom-line profit and how well a company does and having more women and diversity in your senior roles," said Ottawa-based Clare Beckton, executive director at Carleton University's Centre for Women in Politics and Public Leadership.
And with companies looking for ways to cut spending, mining crews with more female staff at BHP have lower maintenance costs, according to the company's Tyler, its first female asset president.
Diversity also breeds better team work, she said.
"The behaviour is not quite as macho," Tyler said. "It feels more like a team that you want to be a part of than some teams that are all middle-aged white guys."
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