By Corrine Casanova
It’s no secret that mining has been an important part of Nevada’s rich history. In a 2016 Fraser Institute Annual Survey of Mining Companies, Nevada ranked #4 in the world for being the most attractive for mining investment. Nevada is the second-largest silver producer in the United States and contributes over $100 million to the economy. Mining directly employs about 28,000 people in Nevada. Of those employees, about 13-14 percent are women.
Women at Work: Percentage of Women’s Representation in Selected Occupations
|HVAC and refrigeration mechanics and installers||1%|
Women in Management Occupations
|Human resources managers||74%|
|Social and community service managers||71%|
|Food service managers||46%|
|Marketing and sales managers||45%|
|Computer and information systems managers||26%|
Courtesy of the United States Department of Labor
Women play a crucial role in creating a diverse workforce in mining both here in Nevada and across the nation. Dr. Dana Bennett, president of the Nevada Mining Association, is the first woman president of the organization. She noted that mining has changed over the years both in the diversity of the workforce and the types of jobs available since the Association was first organized in 1913. When asked why it took over 100 years for a woman president to be elected she responded, “The Association operated as the Mine Operator’s Association for 40 years so it’s no surprise to look at that and not see a lot of women mine operators at that time. Mining has been a male dominated industry. When gold production really took off in this state in 1965, about one percent of the workforce in mining was female. And that’s not surprising as in the states surrounding us, there were actual laws against women working in mine sites. Nevada didn’t have such a law but we had laws to that effect. What happens in the mining industry certainly affects what happens in the Association and the percentage of women in the mining workforce has grown during the last 20 years. There is a lot of interest from our members to increase the number of women who are working in mining. It all has to do with wanting a diversity of opinions and viewpoints. Diversity is incredibly important to our members.”
Bennett’s attraction to the mining industry has a lot to do with history as she is a trained historian. She wrote her PhD dissertation on women and tax policy before the 1960s. “History doesn’t say anything, it’s the historians who look at the evidence and present what they believe they have found. Historians are the ones who look at the evidence and present what they believe they have found. It’s not surprising that in history the stories were focused on great men because men were the people reporting. There’s a great book by Sally Zanjani, called Mine of Her Own: Women Prospectors in the American West, 1850-1950 where she shares a story of Maggie Johnson who was born a slave in Louisiana and placed a claim on one of the first gold mines in the Nevada which was in Tonopah. And then there was Belle Butler who located the Mizpah claim in Tonopah. When they celebrate Jim Butler Days in Tonopah, they are really talking about Jim and Belle Butler days” said Bennett.
There are many stories to tell in mining simply because of the estimated 120 occupations ranging from skilled trades to high tech positions. These positions include geologists, mining and mineral engineers, heavy equipment operators, crane operators, underground miners, lawyers, environmental managers, financial analysts, refiners, computer programmers and the list goes on.
While the average salary is $96,000 and the benefits are superior, building a mining workforce has its challenges. Most of these jobs are in rural areas. “We are always looking at ways to develop our workforce. We have training opportunities for our current workforce, work with educational institutions to help prepare the future workforce and provide safe worksites. We have great partnerships with the University of Nevada, Reno and community colleges throughout Nevada to help create programs that will develop our future diversified workforce,” said Bennett.
Another organization, the Women’s Mining Coalition was created in part to share diverse viewpoints from women with our national lawmakers. As a grassroots organization it lobbies and educates legislators on supporting environmentally responsible mining. This national organization has members from 25 states who come from all different disciplines but have the same goal in mind—be creative, work the logistics out and get things done. Geologist Ruth Carraher, one of the founding members, recently won the Prazon Award from the National Mining Hall of Fame & Museum for her ongoing, innovative work on educating others about the importance of mining in our daily lives.
In 1993, when Geologist Kathy Benedetto recruited Carraher and fellow geologist Debra Struhsacker to educate newly elected women lawmakers in Washington D.C. about minerals exploration and mining, the organization’s impact expanded. The original idea was to put a new face on the mining industry by organizing annual Fly-Ins to the nation’s capital. They succeeded in doing that and more by educating female lawmakers and telling stories. Carraher said, “On our first trip to Congress we shared a story of a single woman with five children. She was working four to five part-time jobs earning about $25,000 a year and no benefits prior to working at a mine near Elko. By landing a job in mining (in 1993), she was now making about $55,000 a year with full benefits. Eventually, four of her five children got college scholarships. That’s an excellent example of what mining can do for families.”
After that first trip, they knew that not just female lawmakers could benefit from their message so they decided to cast a wider net and share their knowledge and stories with all of Congress. How can business owners in northern Nevada get involved in mining, if you aren’t already? For starters, you can attend the National Mining Association convention September 6-9 at Lake Tahoe. Carraher suggests, “Women who are working for your organizations can help Congress recognize how important mining is to each industry. If you are going to make a product, you need materials and resources to do so. And it’s not going to be just gold and silver. For instance, right now, myself and two other geologists are working with a company to look at feasibility of extracting lithium from a clay mine. Lithium goes into batteries so all the cell phones and cameras, not just batteries for cars. It’s everywhere. Everything begins with mining, everything!”
Both Bennett and Carraher share a similar passion for the mining industry. There’s a certain camaraderie there. The Nevada Mining Association helps educate legislators and the public about it in a myriad of ways. For example, for 30 years they have hosted an annual mineral education workshop for teachers, one in northern Nevada and one in southern Nevada. This workshop is open to all educators regardless of where they teach. They educate them about mining, science and develop lesson plans and activities so they can take it back to their classrooms and use it right away. They also organize field trips to mine as many people have never seen how a modern mine works. Activities like these underscores their commitment to education and Nevada’s future workforce.
Bennett concludes, “I really enjoy presenting what we do to others. It is great fun because I can talk about it as a historian and as a member of the Association. I can talk about our past, heritage and future because we are producing those metals and minerals that are needed for our emerging sectors and we are proud of our history. We are also proud to be a part of our state’s future.”
Save the Date:
Join the Nevada Mining Association for their annual convention, September 6-9, 2017. They are returning to Harrah’s Lake Tahoe for three jam-packed days of networking and education. You can also register for the annual golf tournament at the famed Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, or for their popular Reverse Expo. These events provide mining industry suppliers and operators the opportunity to meet, build relationships, and better understand the needs of each other. Go to nevadamining.org to register for this annual event.