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Sobering thoughts

It's 2019. Almost 20 years since the worries of Y2K, which is personally hard to believe! Last year was not an easy one for our little earth, with #metoo everywhere in the media, tumultuous politics, and ups and downs in the energy sector. But surely, things must have improved since 1995?

Lynda Bloom shared two documents with us. The first is a paper she and a colleague wrote in 1993 about where the women they graduated in geology in 1977 are. Are they still in the industry? Have they attained management level positions? What thoughts do they have for women currently pursuing geoscience educations and careers?

The second document, shared further down, is the editor's response.

Find the full paper here.


The most striking feature is that 10 of the 11 pursued graduate-level education, in geoscience or other fields. Two of the women are now faculty members in geology departments; three work for government agencies; four are consultants or contract employees in a geoscience field; and two are out of geology altogether, in the fields of economics and finance. Six of the women have young children. Notably, none of the group is employed by a mining company. On the basis of the APEO classification, it appears that none of the women in this group has achieved Level D.

The 1977 female graduates were asked if they would advise a young woman to study geology if she was interested in the subject. Many of the comments were cautionary, such as: “There is no impediment for women, even though it is male-dominated profession;” and, “Being female is a definite drawback since it is still men in their 50’s and 60’s making the decisions.”

They were also asked for their recommendations to women entering the field. Most of their answers pertained to men as much as to women:

- Students should get as varied an education as possible, including math, sciences and communication skills. Networking with other students will improve self-confidence and develop contacts.

- A woman’s chances of advancing her career are better in places with affirmative action programs, such as universities and government agencies.

- Volunteer to improve networking opportunities.

- Work hard to establish a career before having children.

- Many women find they prefer being self-employed or working in a small consulting firm. This lacks the security of working for a large organization but has several advantages. There are fewer barriers to advancement; women consultants seem to be more easily accepted as experts than women employees; work hours and travel commitments can be more flexible, to accommodate the needs of young families.

Most of the women interviewed for this paper are at least moderately ambitious, bright and are seeking positions of increasing responsibility and challenge. Despite this, they will probably never achieve management status in the mining industry. There are several reasons: the shrinking number of jobs in the industry, the ‘flattening’ of organizations, and a lack of tradition in promoting women. However, women may have more chances for advancement in future because of two factors: the small number of new geology graduates will lead to an increased demand for geologists; and younger, perhaps less conservative mangers will eventually be in charge of hiring and promotion.

Women currently exist who are capable and experienced. Hopefully another 16 years will not have to pass before others like them are accepted in management positions.


It's been 25 years since that paper was written. Have we seen a drastic improvement in the number of women in management and senior positions? My view is no. The items that Bloom and Werniuk discuss are exactly the things we are investigating and trying to understand today. And change.

Bloom and Werniuk's paper could have had some impact on our industry. It could have been a wake-up call. But it was never published. Why? It was rejected after peer review.

Find the full reject letter here.

The editor thought that the evidence presented was too limited and didn't fully capture the industry in its entirety.

"The editor would also suggest that the point of view expressed here would still be viewed as controversial amongst senior personnel in the industry. If they were surveyed, industry would without doubt talk about their experience or their fear that junior women are not going to be available for the lengthy bush assignments which are common for junior males."

The paper does indeed only focus on the careers of a narrow set of women, but it was a chance to start a conversation, motivate further studies into this, and begin to make a difference for those in university in the early 90s looking at careers in geoscience. How can we make progress if we don't discuss these topics that seem controversial to some? If we don't talk openly, we'd still think Earth is the centre of the universe.

Our hope with WGC is to provide a platform to share experiences, look at the data, and be loud and be heard, even if it seems controversial. In the 25 years since this paper should have appeared, I think we can at least say that most are aware there is a gender gap issue in our industry, like Ken Tubman openly wrote about in the SEG's The Leading Edge this month.

Imagine what your world would look like if that conversation was started much, much earlier. Thank you to the authors Bloom and Werniuk for sharing their paper and editor's response with us.

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