This story appears in the Spring 2014 issue of Mines magazine.
Are Women the Mining Industry’s Most Underdeveloped Resource?
Once legally barred from working in mines, women have spent decades battling for a place in the industry. Today, mining companies are finding that in addition to bringing valuable skills, female leaders are good for the bottom line.
By Lisa Marshall
In 1969, Betty Gibbs ’69, MS ’72 graduated from Mines armed with the third mining engineering degree the school had ever granted a woman (the first since 1920). She’d toiled nine years for it, juggling her studies with a part-time job and raising her daughter, but as she began to show up for job interviews, she was greeted with superstition and hostility.
Colorado, Wyoming and many other states still had laws on the books expressly prohibiting women from working underground. Myths that they were too fragile or brought bad luck abounded. On two occasions, Gibbs was refused entrance to mines due to her gender. “I know for a fact that most miners would walk off the job if a woman entered their mine,” a spokesman for the Colorado Bureau of Mines told the Rocky Mountain News in a story referencing Gibbs’ graduation.
Nevertheless, she persevered, becoming the first woman to work underground at Colorado’s Climax mine and quietly opening doors for generations of women to come. “I wasn’t out to prove anything,” says Gibbs, now executive director at the Mining and Metallurgical Society of America. “I just did my work, and eventually I was appreciated for it.”
Fast-forward to today when the mining industry not only is more accepting of women, but—in the face of mounting research showing that companies with more gender diversity enjoy greater profitability, improved safety records and higher social and environmental responsibility ratings—is also actively courting them.