Women in Mining breaks more than one stigma

By |  March 5, 2015

A mostly female organization educates the public on the mining and aggregate industries.

Few people are aware that toothpaste is made with the same mineral they walk on every day.

Members of Women in Mining (WIM), a national organization, use this fact as an educational tool for teaching students how to make their own toothpaste out of calcium carbonate and baking soda.

“‘If it can’t be grown, it has to be mined.’ That’s our motto,” says Julia Lakes-Martinez, California chapter president of WIM and environmental manager for the Southern California Materials Division at CalPortland.

Women in Mining was founded in 1972 in Denver. It aims to educate its members and the public about the mining and aggregate industries.

“The purpose is really to change peoples’ view or outlook on the mining industry and educate people on the importance of mining minerals and aggregates,” Lakes-Martinez says. “[We want to] change peoples’ negative view of the mining industry.”

Educating the public

Women in Mining has chapters throughout the United States, with locations in California, Colorado, Kentucky, Missouri, Nevada and Virginia.

One of its main goals is to support students wanting to excel in the mining and aggregates industries. In 2014, the California chapter awarded $10,000 in scholarships to students studying mining-related fields, including geology, engineering and environmental studies.

“I would say about 50 percent of the money we raise goes directly into scholarships for college kids and high school kids,” says Stephen Tibbals, vice president of the Nevada chapter and senior account representative at Solenis.

More importantly, the organization focuses on eliminating the negative stigma that can be associated with mining and quarrying.
“In California, especially, it’s very difficult to overcome some of those preconceived ideas about mining and tearing up the earth and then leaving this big empty pit somewhere,” Lakes-Martinez says.

That’s why one of the organization’s main goals is to educate teachers and students.

“We really reach out to teachers,” says Darlene Bray, president of WIM National and environmental engineer at Cemex. “We help educate them and give them information about mining, which they can carry on in their classrooms.”

WIM’s California chapter often collaborates with the Mojave Environmental Education Consortium (MEEC) to conduct teacher workshops. They provide materials and instruct teachers on how to carry out aggregates-related activities.

In addition, members of the organization travel to schools to give presentations, conduct hands-on activities and carry out demonstrations. Making toothpaste is one of the organization’s most effective tools.

“The kids were pretty much amazed that you can eat it as well as walk on it,” says Nancy Windus, sixth-grade science and math teacher at Temecula Middle School in California. “They were really engaged in what they were doing.”

It isn’t always easy, though.

Students typically associate the industry with blowing up mountains and destroying natural resources, says Lakes-Martinez, which is why the need to eliminate the negativity is dire.

“We need to educate them on how this really works, and [explain] that aggregate mines cannot be located out in the middle of nowhere,” Lakes-Martinez says. “They need to be close, where they will be used. We need aggregates to make all of the buildings and everything people want to build in their homes.”

Women in Mining

The negativity concerning the mining and aggregate industries isn’t the only stigma the organization tries to break. Being a minority in the aggregates industry has both its challenges and rewards.

“It’s a male-dominated industry,” Bray says. “There’s no doubt about that.”

According to the latest data by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in 2013, there were 441,846 men working in the mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction industries, compared to only 74,188 women.


Men vs. Women in the Mining, Quarrying, and Oil and Gas Extraction Industries according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Women in Mining has helped disprove the notion that only men can work in the tough environments associated with the industry.

“At the time that I came into the mine industry, things were already changing, so I wasn’t the first woman to work in coal and cement for CalPortland, but I was like the fifth,” says Lakes-Martinez, who has also worked on the ready-mix and aggregates side for five years. “You really have to work to prove yourself.”

The organization isn’t limited to women, though. Men are welcome to join, and Paul Miller, operations manager of the ready-mix division at CalPortland, took advantage of the opportunity after his daughter expressed interest in the organization.

“They do a lot of outreach programs, and that’s part of the reason I liked it, and I know my daughter was interested in some of it,” he says.
It’s also changed his attitude on women working in the industry.

“I’ve always thought of it as a male-dominated society in this industry, but there are a lot more women in it in really high, important positions that I never would have thought were in it,” Miller says.

And, as the organization grows, it continues to affect the number of women working in mining and aggregates.

“You see women [working] in all phases [of the industry], and I think that’s increased fairly steadily,” Tibbals says, “We see a lot of girls that we gave scholarships to are now senior people in the industry.”

Members of the organization have seen this impact, and they hope to continue to break the negative stigmas associated with aggregates and mining, as well as influence women to work in the male-dominated industry.

“I don’t think it’s that the industry tries to exclude women at all,” Lakes-Martinez says. “I think women just need to be more interested in being involved.”

Take note

One of the organization’s main goals is to support students wanting to excel in the mining and aggregates industries.

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Allison Kral

About the Author:

Allison Kral is the former senior digital media manager for North Coast Media (NCM). She completed her undergraduate degree at Ohio University where she received a Bachelor of Science in magazine journalism from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. She works across a number of digital platforms, which include creating e-newsletters, writing articles and posting across social media sites. She also creates content for NCM's Portable Plants magazine, GPS World magazine and Geospatial Solutions. Her understanding of the ever-changing digital media world allows her to quickly grasp what a target audience desires and create content that is appealing and relevant for any client across any platform.

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